The Crazies. 1973. Directed & Written by George A. Romero; based on a script by Paul McCollough.
Starring Lane Carroll, Will MacMillan, Harold Wayne Jones, Lloyd Hollar, Lynn Lowry, Richard Liberty, Richard France, Harry Spillman, & Will Disney.
Rated R. 103 minutes.
I’m a huge fan of George A. Romero and his movies, and not just the zombie flicks either. He’s always been politically and socially aware, even if he’s telling stories of terrifying epidemics. People too often overlook the genuinely poignant ideas in certain screenplays of his simply because they’re only horror movies.
But horror is like any other genre. When a writer wants to infuse their stories with sociopolitical messages, no matter how heavy or light the infusion may get, they’ll put it in there. Night of the Living Dead, the series it begat, these were aware, conscious films that used zombies to carry various little messages Romero felt were worth exploring.
The Crazies isn’t particularly one of Romero’s best works. I’d put the Dead series and Martin above this movie, without a second thought. That’s not to say this is all bad. Romero does a few really great things in The Crazies, and regardless of whether the whole matches up to its parts his writing is still solid. There are issues with pacing, too much needless dialogue. What the film gets right is its sense of panic, the frantic nature of how people would react if an unknown epidemic came down upon their quiet little town. And yes, things absolutely do get crazy. Of this there is no doubt.
After an unnerving opening scene the pace lags for an inordinately long time. The screenplay plays like a procedural, except it would’ve served better to get into more action or horror. There’s a definite intensity to the plot, there’s just a lack of any real tension. Romero could easily have done better by starting with a bigger heavier bang. The first scene is creepy, but after that it’s a near half hour before anything else significantly creepy and/or violent happens. This makes The Crazies a bit tedious for the first while. Yes, that does change. Doesn’t change quick enough.
Yet once that old lady uses a knitting needle to stab the NBC-suited man and then sits back down happily, the scary, all too human horror commences bearing down on the viewer with a frantic passion. Although the pace lacks in certain sections much of the acting is appropriately intense and even frenzied when necessary. The feeling that everyone’s going crazy, all human interactions tense, comes across well in a few of the performances. One sort of funny though perfect moment happens when a field full of infected people run mad, being gunned down at the hands of the military – the whole sequence is totally unhinged and beyond depraved, however, it’s the infected woman sweeping the grass I find interesting. This shows us violence isn’t the only option to the infection’s madness; the remnants of these people still exist.
This brings us to one of the best parts about the film. What’s scariest to me about the infection in this Romero story is how the people inflicted with it seem like the same, regular people they were before, just gone totally insane – unlike zombies from Romero’s other works, these crazies aren’t hideously deformed, or even dead, they’re human beings gone utterly mental. The clearest, most precise look at this horror comes when the survivors make it to a farmhouse. Plot-wise, the movie gets most brutal and grim at this point. We see here how infection can drive people to the most sickeningly nasty recesses of their own mind.
The Crazies is one of the earliest movies involving infection/epidemic to explore the military dark side, in that as survivors from the small town try desperately to escape for safety, the army flies overhead and marches on the town, trying to kill off anyone and everyone attempting to leave the quarantine zone. This becomes a norm in the sub-genre of zombies (et cetera): the military is most concerned with covering their own mistakes than saving lives. A lot of themes swirl around the writing from Romero here, which explore the nature of war, the way science and technology have affected our war (and our morals), plus how during times of crisis not all the rules get followed. Again, so much good writing despite the screenplay’s downfalls.
My chief problem with this picture is that it lacks the appropriate amount of horror. What we do get is good. There’s far too much drama and dialogue that doesn’t necessarily do justice to the characters or the plot and story. If Romero went harder at the horror in more scenes, The Crazies would be a genre classic, rather than a mediocre footnote on his career as director.
The depravity and murder comes out in full force. We’re never totally lacking. I’m not sure exactly how much of the original script from Paul McCollough, a close friend of Romero, made it into this final draft. His story, The Mad People, was given over to George with McCollough’s blessing to turn into something different. So, I’d love to know what was in that original draft, as opposed to what ended up onscreen. I feel like Romero held back something, that he maybe felt his friend had a better concept than what he’d imagined. Or who knows. Maybe he just wanted to do something different from the Dead films.
I don’t care if parts of the movie are boring. There’s always gold in even some of the lesser Romero movies. This is a 3 out of 5 star horror flick. Not his best, although saying it’s his worst doesn’t do it the right justice, either. I mean, you get to see a priest self-immolate in front of his congregation and the army, lots of wild death and mayhem. There are sections you might want to fast forward; don’t. Because in between the craziness and the little boring pieces, there’s dialogue worth hearing, other things worth noticing. You might not love it all. Give it a chance, don’t expect the exact quality of Romero’s best, and you’ll likely enjoy it enough for a nice romp on Halloween.