Highly contagious virus--bio-engineered by the U.S. military--is accidentally released into the water supply of Evans City, Pennsylvania because the military plane that was carrying it crashed in nearby mountains. The army quickly and violently impose martial law, and the U.S. Government gets busy organising a massive political cover-up to save face. But panic and anger takes hold as the infected citizens of Evans City begin to succumb to the effects of the virus: insanity and eventually... death! Against this backdrop, a small band of citizens attempt to escape the quarantine and flee the town, evading infected townsfolk and armed soldiers alike...
"The Crazies" is the 'rediscovered' George Romero film. It effortlessly slides between — and obviously begs to be considered in the light of — the first two instalments of the "Dead" Trilogy... and for good reason! Some of the themes developed in those films, were, if anything, even more prominently on display in this low-budget cult epic and although quite flawed, the film highlights Romero's misanthropic realism just as effectively as any of his zombie movies. The documentary style of "Night Of The Living Dead" is employed once again to great effect, and the film contains some of Romero's most memorable sequences--forcing home the director's bleak nightmare vision of societal breakdown, and the often complete inappropriateness of human reactions to extreme events. In fact, Romero made the film in some of the same locales he used in NOTLD -- and you can see the guy who played the zombie from the cemetery (actually the director of photography) crop up again as an infected gunman!
As with the "Dead" films, "The Crazies" mainly creates tension and suspense by using an extreme situation to generate moral dilemmas for the film's main characters which, in turn, offers an opportunity for the movie to play around with the audience's expectations and sympathies. For example: we can't help identifying with the characters struggling to escape the quarantine, especially Judy, David and Clank (played by Lane Carroll, Will MacMillan and Harold Wayne Jones), who we get to know early on in the film; as a result, we come to care about what happens to them. Naturally, we want them to escape the brutal clampdown--which is portrayed by numerous examples of military excess (such as masked soldiers breaking into peoples' homes and breaking or stealing their possessions). But, at the same time, the General in charge of the operation is also sympathetically portrayed: he's trying to do the best he can, with the limited resources available, to stop the virus spreading beyond the town's perimeters--and that means making some tough decisions. So, with that in mind, surely we should really be hoping that our "heroes" on the run don't escape and thereby help spread the virus! This is typical Romero: setting up un-solvable moral conundrums, finding good and bad in every viewpoint, and highlighting the unavoidable misunderstandings and resentments that are doomed to blight human relationships whenever more than one person has to live in the same place! With typical Romero irony, it is one of the original developers of the bio-weapon who, in the end, offers the only hope of finding an antidote to it.
"The Crazies" was a pretty low-budget affair and often suffers as a result: Romero was forced to use poor quality audio-effects for gun shots and explosions, etc., and the score was cobbled together from various library music sources. To try to create the effect of a town plunging into chaos with only a small cast (padded out with many non-actors), the director employs a "rapid-fire" editing technique with constant, frenetic, Peckinpah-style cutting. It works quite well, but can get quite wearisome--especially during the first half hour of the film which often seems too disjointed. Once the film gets going though, Romero's skill for creating unnerving set-pieces takes over: there are many memorable sequences here, including a horrifying pre-credit scene where two children rush to find comfort from their mother after witnessing their father go crazy for no apparent reason ... only to find her murdered in her bed! Romero's formula for horror in his early films often revolved around taking ordinary situations and introducing an extraordinary element of terror into them. The madness epidemic is a brilliant way of doing this: an old woman passively sitting in a chair knitting, becomes a terrifying spectacle when you realise that she's just calmly stabbed someone to death with a knitting needle! As the panic in the town increases and social norms break down, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell who's actions are a result of infection and who's aren't, and the concept of madness appears more and more relative. The film is full of references to the social unrest of the times and certainly captures a sense of civilisation spinning out of control.
Anchor Bay UK present "The Crazies" in a wonderfully crisp and colourful anamorphic transfer. This is the same transfer as the one used on the recent Blue Underground Region 1 release, and Bill Lustig and the team did an incredible job in sprucing up the film--often making it look better than it originally did! The audio options include 5.1 DTS sound and an audio commentary by George A. Romero and Bill Lustig. Romero looks back with fondness on times when, though restricted by small budgets, at least he could still find a way of making the movie he wanted to make without interference from producers and studios.
The selection of extras include an entertaining 15 minute featurette on the career of b- movie starlet Lynne Lowery; a selection of theatrical trailers; TV spots; stills gallery; film notes, and a biography of Romero. All in all, this is another fine disc of an interesting, previously lost, gem from the director of some of the most influential horror movies of all time.