Monday, October 7, 2013
The Crazies (1973)
In other movies such as Creepshow and Dawn of the Dead, Romero utilized blood, gore, and other shocking imagery in a comic book, Grand Guignol style of excess and black humor. In The Crazies, he uses a more psychological approach to generating tension. There's no shortage of blood in this film, but the sense of dread stems from not knowing who might be infected. At every level, whether military, medical, or civilian, people behave in irrational ways that could be virus-induced or could be perfectly understandable responses to an extremely emotional and dangerous situation. Zombies at least have the decency to die first so you know who they are.
Six days after a military plane carrying an experimental bioweapon crashes just outside the Evans City, the military, led by combat officer Col. Peckem (Lloyd Hollar), moves in to quarantine the small town when residents begin showing symptoms of being infected. Dr. Watts (Orson Welles scholar Richard France), a member of the scientific team that worked on the virus, codenamed Trixie, is brought in to see if he can find a cure, but he and Peckem are hampered by an inept, self-serving leadership in Washington D.C. that inflicts one bureaucratic blunder after another. While soldiers and townsfolk clash in several firefights, a group of people - former Green Beret David (W.G. McMillan), his pregnant fiancé Judy (Lane Carroll) and his best friend Clanker (Harold Wayne Jones) along with Artie (Day of the Dead's Richard Liberty) and his kooky daughter Kathy (Lynn Lowry) - tries to escape a town that's turned into a war zone.
On the flip side of the Orwellian, totalitarian government and military turning is citizenry into prisoners, there is also the inept, red tape of the government. Whether it's the bureaucrats in charge who wait days to take action and fail to properly supply the military with enough men and vaccines to the officers rigidly sticking with a voice-recognition communication system that wastes valuable time, it's, to quote the trailer, "madness unleaded by human error." In the film's most egregious example, Watts seems to have found a cure but gets mistaken for one of the townspeople by the soldiers and is killed in a riot. It's funny in a satirical sense, but it's also too believable to dismiss.
On a technical side, the movie is rough around the edges. Several times it's clear Romero's ambition exceeds his budget, and some of the effects, staging, and editing come off as cheap and amateurish. However, there are several well shot and tightly edited action scenes that are quite exciting and intense, mainly Clanker's last stand and a sequence where David and Clanker take down a pursuing helicopter. They aren't flashy or dominated by explosions, but they work. Romero, never the most subtle of filmmakers, sometimes resorts to overkill and heavy handed symbolism, most notably with the squabbling government officials; after a while, we get it: they're stupid and incompetent.
In many ways, The Crazies foreshadows Romero's work in Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, most notably with the breakdown of society and paranoia of the military, and again its demonstrates one of his favorite themes: we're the monsters. This time, he didn't need a single zombie.