Could there be a more appropriate time for a film like George Romero's The Crazies to surface on DVD? With much of the world's attention focused on chemical weapons, military occupation and a deadly virus that has doctors scratching their heads, Romero's low-budget riff on the Vietnam War seems eerily precogniscent and, perhaps, even more relevant today than it was back in 1973.
In Evans, PA, a small military plane has crashed into the mountains. It's cargo, a germ warfare agent codenamed Trixie, has spilled into the towns water supply, and the military is called in to quarantine the area. The combination of distrust for the soldiers (dressed in gas masks and white jumpsuits to make them seem less than human) and the delirium inducing effects of Trixie lead to a widespread revolt from the townspeople, which is met by lethal force from the military. A pregnant nurse (Carrol) and her ex-military fiance (MacMillan, who is the spitting image of Ted Bundy) lead a small band of the infected in an attempt to escape from the quarantined town, while scientists work against the clock to stop Trixie from spreading across the country.
The Crazies, shot in a quasi cinema verite style reminscent of Romero's early documentary work, is a highly charged and disturbing film shot on shoestring budget. Romero's film is carried by it's genuinely terrifying premise (which does a lot to alleviate the effects of mucho terrible acting and painfully bad dialogue) and is one of his most visually accomplished works. The sight of a dozen armed men in chemical suits fanning out across an otherwise serene chunk of small town real estate is enough to send chills down the spine of even the hardest of horror afficionados, and, just in case, Romero dumps enough of the red stuff to drive his point home.
The film is presented in a anamorphic widescreen transfer from the original vault negative. The picture quality is absolutely gorgeous with very few artifacts, but, sadly, the sound was beyond repair. Romero relied heavily on stock sound effects and dubbing that sounded lousy then and sounds just as lousy today. It's in no way the fault of Blue Underground, who have done a marvelous job of cleaning up and isolating certain tracks, but, as Beavis and Butthead would tell you, you can't polish a turd. While much of the dialogue and music are fine, the sound effects used for guns and explosions are a muffled mess and the dialogue spoken by the gas mask wearing soldiers sounds as though it were recorded in an echo chamber. This may have been an artistic decision by Romero to make his soldiers sound somewhat robotic, but instead they are merely incomprehensible. This is a problem that has always plagued the film, and short of redubbing the entire movie, will always be one.
Blue Underground also includes a full commentary by Romero, a pair of trailers for the film, a stills gallery, and a 14 minute career retrospective with the beautiful Lynn Lowry.
Sound issues aside, The Crazies is a fantastic piece of protest cinema and is proof that man's inhumanity to man is something that will, sadly, never go out of style.