Judge Clark Douglas isn't crazy. He just likes the taste of barbed wire.
"We're dealing with an often-lethal, always-debilitating mutation that's going to drive this entire town mad!"
Receiving a high-definition release to coincide with the 2010 remake, George A. Romero's original version of The Crazies offers a tense tale of violence and paranoia. The story takes place in the Evans City, Pennsylvania, where a horrible virus given the code name "Trixie" has broken out. The virus affects people in one of two ways: it either kills them or drives them insane. At a frighteningly rapid rate, the citizens of Evans City are going mad. Meanwhile, the military does what it can to contain the virus. As things get worse, the military begins to contemplate the unthinkable: wiping out all of Evans City in the hopes of preventing the virus from spreading to the rest of the country. Can a cure be found before drastic action has to be taken?
Well, no fair giving you the answer to that question, but I can tell you that The Crazies is one of Romero's stronger films outside his zombie classics (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead). The blend of social commentary and gruesome violence the director is known for can be found on full display in The Crazies, though this time there's a bit more emphasis on the violence and a bit less emphasis on the commentary. Frankly, the social message Romero has to offer is pretty simple: the military is a group of blundering idiots who are more (unintentionally) dangerous to American society than any of our enemies might be. There's some validity to some of Romero's criticisms, but it's a too-simplistic viewpoint that comes across as too forced at times.
In this case, Romero's film succeeds thanks to his more fundamental skills as an action/horror filmmaker. The movie does a terrific job of creating a sense of crackling energy, with editing that moves at an astonishing speed for a film made in 1973. It's nervous, twitchy stuff that cuts frantically between sweaty, panicky, angry characters shouting terse warnings at each other. These impressively feverish dialogue exchanges are punctuated by increasingly frequent instances of crazed violence. The violence is occasionally undercut by the low-budget special effects (a pre-credits sequence in which we discover that a man has gone mad and murdered his wife is nearly made laughable when we see the goopy substance posing as blood spattered all over the woman's neck), but Romero's intense direction goes a long way towards compensating for that.
The film's opening suggests that the film is a gratuitous B-movie: the aforementioned pre-credits sequence also involves the attempted murder of two super-innocent young children, while we get a generous dose of nudity in the scene that immediately follows. While the film does indulge in moments that feel exploitative, there are powerfully iconic images to be found that transcend the film's trashier tendencies (the scene in which a priest burns himself alive as a sacrifice to God, or the moment in which a woman wanders through a blood-soaked field with a broom, senselessly attempting to sweep away the mess).
Acting is merely adequate throughout, with no-name actors Harold Wayne Jones, Lane Carroll, and Will McMillan taking the lead roles (all three had little to no film experience when they were cast in The Crazies, though McMillan has enjoyed a somewhat active career playing bit roles in the years since). Everyone delivers their lines competently (save for a small handful of amusingly bad readings), but it's all very basic work completely lacking in nuance or complexity.
The transfer isn't going to knock anyone's socks off, but it must be remembered that The Crazies is a little, low-budget film. Keeping the age and limitations of the film's budget in mind, the movie looks reasonably good and has been very well-preserved. There's a steady stream of scratches and flecks throughout, but they aren't too distracting. Likewise, the slightly thick grain avoids being detrimental to the viewing experience. Flesh tones are a bit reddish, but blacks are reasonably deep and detail is decent throughout. The mono audio is also adequate, but suffers from slight distortion at times. The score also sounds slightly weak at times, particularly some of the martial material that appears so frequently. Gunshots are pretty loud in contrast to everything else. All of the extras are hauled over from the previous DVD release: a commentary with Romero, a featurette called "The Cult Film Legacy of Lynn Lowry," and some trailers.
Though it has a number of minor issues that prevent it from becoming a horror classic, The Crazies is a compelling film that's worth a look (particularly for Romero fans that haven't yet had a chance to see it). The Blu-ray doesn't bring anything too new to the party, but it's the best way to go if you haven't seen it yet.
Call me crazy, but I say it's not guilty.
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