Before Outbreak and 28 Days Later there was George A. Romero’s The Crazies, a film dealing with a biological weapon that has been unleashed on the small town of Evans City, Pennsylvania. It is told on a self-contained epic scale, as the entire town is thrown into chaos when the military declares martial law and begins quarantining everyone into the high school.
A small group of citizens manage to escape, and they become the analogue for the audience during their ordeal. Judy and David (Lane Carroll W.G. McMillan) are a couple expecting a baby, and along with their friend Clank (Harold Wayne Jones) they head for the hills. They come across a man and his daughter (Richard Liberty and Lynn Lowry) and all team up to fight for survival against an unknown virus and the military.
For a film with such a massive cast and so much ambition, there are more pluses than minuses here. The acting is better than expected for a film of this nature and budget and the leads all give sympathetic and effective performances. There are a few scenes between the escaped folks that bear a nice emotional truth and serve to ground the film in an unexpected way, given all the manic action taking place. Romero’s work as an editor has possibly never been more precise than it is here. He gives the piece a real sense of urgency and it moves at a nice pace.
The Crazies is also an interesting thematic companion piece to his breakthrough 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead. Both films deal with factions of “us” and “them” in times of crisis and how people deal with great stress and strain. Where the first film deals with the recently dead being changed by an unseen force into relentless flesh eaters, The Crazies uses people who have been altered by a biochemical weapon to mine the same metaphor of politics and power. It is not a flawless film, and it has some definite budgetary issues, but the script is interesting, the main characters are all appealing, and more important, relatable.
Blue Underground has done a fantastic job with this release. There isn’t a single scratch or speck to be seen marring the print. Colors are almost always vibrant, there are a few shots of stock footage and others where lighting conditions aren't optimal, but it's very minor. I was surprised at how detailed the image is and it is especially noticeable in fabric patterns on the costumes. I can almost guarantee that you've never seen this movie look this good. The sound is clean and at times the background noises are a little too intrusive, but dialogue is always discernible.
Supplements consist of a nice commentary between Romero and Bill Lustig, and anyone who loves film making should listen to every Romero commentary possible. He has a lot of love to share for the art form he has been so instrumental in shaping for the last forty years. He has some fun stories to share and Lustig is a nice “moderator” for him. Next up is an interview with Lynn Lowry, examining her status as a minor horror star. Rounding out the features are a few trailers, TV and radio spots for the film.
Bill Lustig and company have given us a fantastic release of a sadly overlooked film in Romero's canon. I can easily recommend it for fans of his work and even fans of action films would probably enjoy it as there is a lot going on. George Romero is a filmmaker that has more in him than just zombies, and it's high time he is regarded as such.
Film Score: 3.5/5 Disc Score: 4/5