As I write this, the release of the remake of George A. Romero’s The Crazies is just around the corner, and, while early looks at the film seem promising, I’m confident that Romero’s original will still have an edge in terms of both the director’s signature social commentary and the grungy realism of its guerilla-style aesthete. I’ve always found The Crazies to be a frightening and dour meditation on mankind’s pursuit of new and better ways to kill one another, but, with the current H1N1 scare, and the ever-present threat of new and even more virulent diseases in the offing, the film’s core scenario scares on an entirely new level.
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 fiancé (MacMillan) 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 – by any means possible.
Made on a shoestring budget and filmed in a quasi vérité style reminiscent of Romero's early industrial documentary work, The Crazies is a highly charged and disturbing piece of horror cinema. Romero's film is carried by its genuinely terrifying premise, and emerges as 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 aficionados, but, just in case, Romero slops on enough of the red stuff to drive his point home. Sadly, the majority of the actors, as well as the script, itself, aren’t up to the task, compromising what is, otherwise, a brilliant and unsettling film.
Blue Underground’s previously released DVD sported a surprisingly clean 1.66:1 transfer marred only by some heavy doses of grain and the occasional artifact. This Blu-ray release’s 1080p 1.66:1 transfer looks marvelous, with sharp, defined edges, and bold, vibrant colors. Detail is quite exceptional, especially when one considers the source is a 35mm negative closing in on 40 years old. Contrast levels are perfectly balanced, with pristine whites and lush, deep blacks, and grain, while still present, is unobtrusive.
The sound quality on the DVD release was spotty, at best, with harsh dialogue, distorted score, and “canned” sound effects, making for a less-than-pleasurable aural experience. With the release of The Crazies on Blu-ray, Blue Underground have managed to pull off a bit of a minor miracle in terms of cleaning up the wretched source audio, but it’s still far from perfect. This DTS HD soundtrack offers crisper, cleaner dialogue, deeper and more natural sounding bass, and a much better sense of separation between channels, making for a far less busy sounding mix. There’s still a fair degree of rasp to the dialogue, especially in louder sequences, and the sound effects still have a flanged, almost metallic quality to them, but, given what they had to work with, this is about as good as one can expect.
Extras are all carried over from the DVD release, and include an informative and conversational commentary track from Romero, as well as a short featurette - The Cult Film Legacy of Lynn Lowry" (SD) – and the film’s theatrical trailer and television spots.
The Crazies offers yet another example of George A. Romero’s skillful blending of socially relevant issues and horror filmmaking, and it’s these deeper, often universal and timeless messages that Romero entrenches in his films that makes them as scary and vital today as they were when the films were first released. Blue Underground’s Blu-ray presentation is, much like the film, itself, slightly flawed, but this is due to the lackluster audio source material, and not through any fault of the company. When compared to the previous DVD release, the Blu-ray offers a huge improvement in terms of both clarity and fidelity, which is reason enough for fans of the film to seriously consider the upgrade.