The Crazies (1979)
Director: George A. Romero
Writers: Paul McCollough and George A. Romero
Starring: Lane Carroll, Will MacMillan, Harold Wayne Jones, and Lynn Lowry

The Plot: The Crazies follows two separate narratives that detail the same events. In the main story we are introduced to David (Will McMillan), his girlfriend, nurse Judy (Lane Caroll,)and David’s best friend/coworker at the fire department, Clank (Harold Wayne Jones). Things are going okay for this trio, until the small town of Evans City, Pennsylvania is hit with a massive virus named Trixie that causes the infected to go insane and become highly violent. This trio manages to escape the military containment units, but they find themselves on the run from an imposing military force as well as the lunatics who are all showing symptoms from the virus. At the same time as all of this, there is also another story unfolding behind the military industrial complex that is desperately trying to regain some stability. Yet, with every second that they battle amongst each other, Trixie becomes more and more powerful.

The Review
When it comes to horror cinema, I feel that modern horror fans would do better to have a slight iconoclastic mentality when it comes to the “great” filmmakers of the genre. Looking back on the past couple of decades, we have been celebrating the same filmmakers for work that they did when they were in their twenties. Since then, these filmmakers have lost something. While George A. Romero’s fall from grace hasn’t been quite as spectacular as Dario Argento’s or John Carpenter’s, he has still shown a lack of creativity in his older age. What causes all of this? Is it simply the age factor? If age were the main detriment, how does one explain the extended creativity of Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, or even Clint Eastwood? Whatever it is that has reduced these horror gods, the best that fans can really do is to remove these horror icons from the pedestal that they have been on for years, and instead enjoy the films for what they were and not what the filmmakers are today. With all of this said, you would hardly believe that I am leading into a positive review for George A. Romero’s The Crazies, but that is exactly what I am doing. Despite removing Romero from any horror movie totem pole, I will always acknowledge his better work. Night of the Living Dead, Martin, and Dawn of the Dead will forever be favorite horror movies of mine. Yet, when I finally sat down with The Crazies, around two years ago, I had already formed an opinion of Romero that no longer revered him as a genius auteur. Instead, The Crazies shows a young director putting forth every effort to try and subvert the horror genre and do something unique, and that is a timeless goal.

There are numerous underlying themes at play in Romero’s The Crazies. Similar to his more popular films from this early half of his career, Romero shows that he was always interested in making something more than braindead horror. Although that might be in conflict to the excessive violence that he displayed in Dawn of the Dead, Romero found a very special way of blending philosophical ideas with genre flare. The Crazies is no different. The movie even opens up by tapping into our own fear of big brother, as the film shows countless homes being invaded by gas mask wearing men in white who abduct men, women, and children from their homes without explanation. Throughout the movie, Romero shows a general distrust for authority, and continually the movie goes back and forth with debates against those who are in charge. The system is confronted, and Romero’s movie establishes itself with an interesting central thesis. Confronting bureaucracy throughout most of the story, Romero attempts to take the material and make it something a bit more important than it likely would have been if not for his re-writes of the script and his control of the production.

There is no doubt in my mind that The Crazies is George A. Romero’s honest followup to Night of the Living Dead. Although the script was not an original creation from Romero, the genesis for the film certainly took influence from Romero’s classic zombie title. Unlike the Dead films, this feature doesn’t focus on the audience’s natural fear of death, but instead focuses on the thin balance between sanity and the abnormal. Romero’s focus is also very different in terms of his narrative eye. Instead of showcasing the plight of the survivors alone, his film becomes much more procedural by also focusing on the authorities who do their best to assume some kind of control over this illogical situation. This focus on central authority, which was perhaps not a favorite subject for Romero, actually turns out to be one of the more interesting angles that the director has ever focused on. In his focus on a government operation trying to retain some semblance of sanity, Romero finds a new way of exploring older ideas, and the movie comes across as slightly more interesting than anything Romero made post-Dawn of the Dead. A strong comment, but I will stand by it.
The film is ultimately concentrated on moral conflict. What is the right thing to do in the face of such a situation? Is it right to rebel, are the military men doing the right thing in protecting the world from more harm, etc. These ideas are bounced around for the majority of the running time. Although we do know that the development of such a weapon as this “Trixie” is the reason why these horrible things have happened and that we should all be wary of such activity, but what precautions does one take in trying to save the rest of mankind once a large infection breaks out? As the story develops, drastic actions are discussed, and a moral conflict comes out of this. While looking at the government, the film shows a premonition that is far ahead of its time. The government, despite knowing how to create such diseases and cause problems, show that they are unreliable and ill prepared in times of extreme crisis. In lieu of what we have seen in situations like what was displayed during Hurricane Katrina, we know that there are some things which large government bodies simply will not be able to predict or control, no matter how much power they have or want. Romero was ahead of the curve on this one, and he shows that his finger was on the pulse while writing his script.

The Conclusion
The Crazies is not a film that is without respect. It is a movie that I should have discovered ten years ago, but have only been able to claim it as a favorite within recent years. I won’t say that it is an alltime classic and all audiences should rush out to see it, but it is incredibly well made. I give it a high four out of five. It almost became a perfect score, but unfortunately it just barely misses that mark due to its lack of true importance. Romero has done more with similar material, but this title at least shows him on top of his game. Regardless, it is absolutely worth checking out.

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