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Review: The Crazies (1973)

The Crazies (1973)

Directed by: George A. Romero

Premise: The military accidentally releases a biological weapon on a rural community, turning some of the residents into mindless homicidal maniacs. A group of strangers band together in order to survive while military scientists work on a cure.  

What Works: Filmmaker George Romero was best known for his zombie films which included Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. He was also known as a political filmmaker and several of his movies dealt with political and social issues. 1973’s The Crazies was one of Romero’s underappreciated works but in recent years it’s enjoyed a reevaluation and The Crazies is one of the director’s better movies. It’s quite similar to Romero’s zombie films and includes many familiar elements. Like those movies it is about society under siege and focuses on a handful of survivors. But it also has an anti-establishment posture as authority figures fail to solve the problem they’ve created and instead make everything worse. The Crazies is also an ambitious picture considering the modest scale of its production. The film includes a lot of characters and the action takes place over a spread of locations. But what is especially ambitious about The Crazies is the way in which it reflects the times in which it was made. This is the most baldly political film of Romero’s career and it references a number of popular images of its day, namely the murder of anti-war protesters at Kent State University and the famous image of a Buddhist monk immolating himself. Romero took those images, which were so familiar and so potent to his audience, and included them in The Crazies to clue the viewers into the subtext. This film was made in the early 1970s when America was besieged by urban violence and civil unrest and the public was anxious about America’s place in the world. The Crazies captured the sensation of society coming apart. Its outlandish scenario was presented in a way that was credible and tapped into the angst that was brewing in the culture. But The Crazies plays well beyond the circumstances in which it was made. The filmmaking brims with energy and the picture is underscored by a sardonic sense of humor.

What Doesn’t: The Crazies was a modest production and at times the limitations of its budget become evident. The imagery occasionally suffers from being severely under or over lit. The sound is also noticeably muddled in places. The filmmakers didn’t have the budget to do a proper ADR session and some sequences use the production audio which is full of natural sound artifacts of the rural locations. The Crazies is also in some ways a draft. George Romero would return to many of the key ideas and images of The Crazies in later movies, namely Dawn and Day of the Dead, where he would do them better. The Crazies works on its own merits but this is an early work of a filmmaker progressing toward his own distinct artistic voice.

DVD extras: The Arrow Blu-ray release includes a commentary track, featurettes, interviews, image galleries, behind the scenes footage, trailers, and TV spots.  

Bottom Line: The Crazies is an underseen film that’s worth the effort to seek out. It will be of special interest to fans for George Romero but for everyone else it is a politically provocative movie that’s also very entertaining.

Episode: #707 (July 15, 2018)