Romero is best known for his zombies, but The Crazies is another film of his that has attained a big cult following. I remember renting this one on VHS from Blockbuster, emblazoned with an “Adult Only” sticker on it (which for my teenage self meant it had to be all kinds of awesome). At the time I was blown away by it and thought it was pretty cool. How well is it going to fare as the adult me gives it another watch?
Before I get to my opinion on this one, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Romero was floundering at this point in his career. He’d become an up and coming director to watch after The Night of the Living Dead changed how we saw horror, but he followed it up with a romantic comedy and a poorly filmed/acted film about witches (and no, Hungry Wives was not scary, even though it was rebranded later as Season of the Witch to capitalize on the Romero name). The Crazies saw Romero returning closer to his roots. Despite this it was poorly marketed and failed to make back its production budget, which was meager to begin with. Over the years it has garnered a cult following and is generally recognized by Romero fans as one of his better films.
The plot follows two storylines….one of a military plane crash carrying a biological weapon named Trixie poisoning the water supply of a small Pennsylvania town and what lengths the government will go to to contain it. The second storyline is that of locals who are trying to escape the military quarantine where soldiers have orders to shoot on sight, avoid people who have gone violently mad after being infected by Trixie, all while seeking answers to what happened in their small part of the country.
A great deal of over the top acting takes place in the mean time, and Romero borrows quite a bit from the plot of Night of the Living Dead. It’s poorly shot, the script it bad, and the whole thing is pretty hammy. For all of the bad, there’s a lot of good here too. The film is obviously a satire of the distrust of the government, social commentary about the Vietnam War, and the unease of the nation at the time. These themes have carried over through the years and I think that has a lot to do with the lasting appeal of the film as a whole. A remake starring Timothy Olyphant was released in 2010 to update the storyline for a modern audience. It was met with critical praise, made double its production costs, and is hailed as a remake that worked and bettered the source material.
So, is The Crazies worth a watch? Absolutely it is. It’s a window into the mindset of a lot people at the time who were growing weary of the Vietnam War, unease about the honesty of what they were being told, and the growing popularity of speculation that a super-virus could wipe out large swathes of the populace. Is it a good film? No, it really isn’t and you’ll find yourself chuckling at it more than you will anything else. It did settle the floundering Romero who would go on to direct Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Creepshow and many other favorites. The 2010 reboot is a much better film that I wholeheartedly recommend you follow up with after watching the original. And just so you don’t feel like you’re cheating, Romero actually wrote the remake.