The Crazies (1973)
Why are the good people dying?
Year of Release: 1973
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Running Time: 103 minutes (1:43)
Director: George A. Romero
Will MacMillan ... David
Lane Carroll ... Judy
Harold Wayne Jones ... Clank
Lloyd Hollar ... Col. Peckem
Lynn Lowry ... Kathy
Richard Liberty ... Artie
Richard France ... Dr. Watts
Harry Spillman ... Maj. Ryder
S. William Hinzman ... Crazie shooting at doctor's office
George A. Romero ... Extra at Dance / High School Infirmary (uncredited)
This is the third in a series of flicks I'm reviewin' in tribute to the ten guys that I feel made the biggest, and in some cases, most important contributions to the Horror genre, and this week I'm payin' homage to the man who made history when he hired everybody in the entire Pittsburgh metropolitan area who was willin' to shamble around a farmhouse at 2 in the AM in exchange for exposure and a sandwich - the late, great, Mr. George A. Romero.
Its code name is 'Trixie,' an experimental government germ weapon that leaves its victims either dead or irreversibly insane. When the virus is accidentally unleashed in Evans City, Pennsylvania, the small community becomes a war zone of panicked military, desperate scientists, and gentle neighbors turned homicidal maniacs.
Now a small group of citizens has fled to the town's outskirts where they must hide from trigger-happy soldiers while battling their own depraved urges. But even if they can escape the madness of this plague, can they survive the unstoppable violence of The Crazies?
The Crazies, remindin' us that the needs of the many can go piss up a rope if there's a chance a fetus might be endangered.
And speakin' of minor institutions that punch above their weight, it's Earth Day again, and based upon the recent shenanigans goin' on in our local government I'm startin' to look forward to the day Mother Nature decides we've had enough chances to clean up our act and turns the planet into one big cactus preserve.
I thought the City Council'd already gone full-blown Communist police state when they passed that ordinance makin' it illegal to bury unexploded ordnance in your yard as a deterrent against pushy World Book encyclopedia salesmen, but they continue to impress with their ability to find even more unAmerican ways to erode the public confidence in our democratic institutions.
I guess I shoulda known it was too good to be true when I read the article in the Chickawalka Talka announcin' the city's plan to "beautify" Lake Gunkamucka by offerin' a 50 cent bounty on every bluegill hauled outta there, but in my defense, purgin' an entire population to make space for our own personal preferences seemed like such a patriotic thing to do that by the time we caught on to the scam it was too late.
I'm not gonna bother goin' into what an egregious case of entrapment this was 'cause that'll become apparent soon enough, but for those of you who've never spent a relaxin' day on the shores of Lake Gunkamucka breathin' in the scent of sun-baked styrofoam worm containers and swattin' the magpies away from your cooler with a tire iron, lemme just say that it's one of the few lakes in the Pacific Northwest that contains more trash fish than actual trash. In other words - at 50 cents a fish, we're talkin' a veritable white trash gold rush. If I hadn't had Billy Hilliard and Duke Tankersley with me I woulda turned around and drove home the minute I saw that many shoppin' carts that far from a grocery complex, but Billy and Duke were able to persuade an old scrap collector to make room while we dropped the Monza into the water.
"Not to sound ungrateful or anything, but you really didn't hafta shove that guy into his fire pit," I observed, rubbin' my shoulder where the psycho's wild punch'd connected.
"Yeah. And he didn't hafta ruin my favorite hat neither," Duke complained, examinin' his hopelessly moss-covered Caterpillar cap before tossin' it back in the water.
Billy yanked the starter rope and headed for Goodyear Chasm before any of the wardens assigned to distribute vouchers noticed the wiry, disheveled geek tryna extinguish 'imself in the grass, but things settled down after we'd partaken of a few livewell libations.
"Whatchu gonna do with yer money, Hilliard?" Duke asked, tryna scoop a half-dollar-sized specimen outta the floorboard without getting spiked.
"Ah'ma buy vuh Feahawks an' fiow Pee' Cawoll fo' nah han'in off uh Lynch," he declared.
"You really oughta let that go, dude," I said, narrowly avoidin' Billy's hook as it whizzed past my head after a missed bite.
"Why shou' I?" Billy growled.
"Oh, I dunno, maybe 'cause there're Japanese soldiers hidin' out in the jungles of Guam who have an easier time lettin' go of grudges than you," I suggested.
Billy reeled up his line and cracked his bobber on the top of my head before wordlessly castin' back out.
"Reckon I'll buy up Yellowstone and set up my own game preserve. Maybe sell a huntin' guide service to wimps if I get bored," Duke mused.
"You can't buy Yellowstone. It's a national park," I insisted.
"Not now, I spoze. But if Trump's reelected I got a shot," he reasoned.
"...I guess that's alarmingly possible," I stumbled, unable to argue his logic.
"Wuh 'bow you?" Billy asked, apparently content enough with his retaliatory float strike to resume conversation.
"I dunno. Kinda feels selfish to accumulate that kinda scratch and not give back... maybe I'll buy the Grime Time from Skunky and license some flicks people actually wanna see," I considered.
It was a modest proposal given what those two whackadoos were plannin', but even my pitiful little pipe dream turned out to be hopeless when we went to collect our bounties. Evidently the whole deal was a sting operation to rope in folks who'd skipped out on warrants, court dates, or simply had unpaid fines stemming from a destruction of public property charge involvin' possum urine and the backseat of a police cruiser.
The council did intend to eliminate all the bluegill from the lake in hopes of replacin' 'em with largemouth bass and turnin' the place into a tourist destination, and it mighta worked if they hadn't gotten greedy and decided to keep all the "bounties" in a trough until they could turn 'em into fertilizer for a new baseball field set to begin construction next week.
Unfortunately, once everyone figured out what was really goin' on Billy, Duke, and six other guys from Stumpy's Lumber Mill and Renderin' Plant grabbed ahold of the trough and dumped it back in the lake, but not before Sheriff Hardassian booked 27 people on charges rangin' from the operation of an illegal toad fightin' ring to felony cattle rustling with intent to barbecue.
I ended up havin' to fork over $110 to avoid takin' a ride downtown myself even though the police were never able to definitively link Shankles to a recent rash of home invasions involvin' a small, furry assailant sneakin' through doggie doors and consuming various dry goods from unlocked food pantries, which, incidentally, means they picked him up without just cause to begin with.
The muckety mucks're pretty proud of themselves all the same, having put out a statement this afternoon about having "sent a message to the city's criminal element," but we'll see how smug they are tomorrow mornin' when the mill, miniature golf course, and strip club are all closed down due to staffing shortages. Buncha fascists.
They'll get what's comin' to 'em, just you wait and see - nobody who spends as much time in public toilets as those dingi can escape my wrath for long. But beins we had about three hours to kill before we hadda go open up the Grime Time I figured it was a good time to remind ourselves that if we don't get with the program before long we're gonna end up with a planet that looks like one of Freddy Kruger's testicles. Normally I'd illustrate that point with a flick about cannibal mutants roamin' the desert lookin' for blouses they can rip from the chests of shapely wasteland wenches or a movie starrin' a giant fire-breathin' reptile doin' a gymnastics routine through the middle of downtown Tokyo, but I figured, heck, that'd be sellin' short the ingenuity mankind has always managed to muster when times of crisis present us with a new opportunity to screw the ecological pooch.
I mean, sure, environmental cataclysms and unearthed prehistoric terrors are great, but those kinda catastrophes can take a long time to ferment. That's why this year I'm recommendin' a flick that gets straight to business with an apocalyptic speed run that bypasses holocaustic variables and relies entirely upon man's willingness to overlook the existence of the jet stream in order to turn the collective gutbucket of a hostile nation into a can of nacho cheese sauce; I speak of course of George Romero's immortal biohazard butt fumble - The Crazies.
Now, you might be thinkin', 'Hey, hold on here a minute turkey - isn't this just Night of the Living Dead with a pulse?' and sure, I'm not gonna tell ya there aren't similarities, but if ya give The Crazies a chance I think you'll find there's a lotta schadenfreude you can only get when we uncork the plague on ourselves through sheer blunt force stupidity, and if you'll indulge me, I'll whip up a bowl of proof pudding for ya right now.
First, all sins committed while under the effects of the virus Psychoticus Spirochetia are eligible for expungement in the afterlife court of appeals, and all cases will be given fair consideration the moment a lawyer is granted access to the Kingdom of Heaven. Second, an army of hazmat-suited weekend warriors marching unbidden into rural America will be greeted as liberals. And third, the threat of a sickness that causes either death or incurable insanity just doesn't inspire the same level of fear in the era of Truth Social.
The movie begins with a coupla bedtime noncompliant children screwin' around after lights out until some weirdo -- seemingly incensed by a rejection letter sent by the Art Institute of America despite assurances that he had what it took to become a serious art student -- starts redecoratin' the house with a crowbar and torch until the place looks like the therapist called in sick at a Pyromaniacs Anonymous meetin'. This leads to life threatenin' third degree burns for the kids and aardvarkus interruptus for a local firefighter (David) and nurse (Judy) who hafta decouple and haul their asses into work even though Judy lives in constant fear that one day Dave's unibrow's gonna catch fire and go up like the lace undergarments of a crossdressin' welder. By the time Judy gets to the hospital the place is crawlin' with weekend warriors dressed like they're headin' out to a slumber party in a coal mine 'cause somebody let a recently defected Japanese fighter pilot transport a top-secret germ warfare specimen in a B-52 and the guy thought he saw Emperor Hirohito vacationing down in the Pennsylvania mountains. The attending pro-life egghead is concerned about the fetus in Judy's gutbucket, so he tells 'er not to worry about the epidemic about wash over the county and to slip out and make like Howard Hughes someplace until the prevailing winds blow over. Then the G.I. Jokes start settin' up a perimeter and relocate everyone to the high school so they can get an estimate on the rate of infection and force 'em to finish Sophomore year, only while that's goin' on, Dave and his old Army buddy (Clank) get wind of what's happenin' and desert their hoses to go find Judy and the three of 'em end up gettin' arrested and stuffed into a van with a father/daughter combo (Artie and Cathy) like common hippies.
Next thing, the Army decides to go tread on all the guys who've adorned their pickups with express instructions not to do that, and when the dorks drivin' the van stop to break up a Second Amendment solution in progress Dave and Clank're able to overpower their security detail and crash at a country club while the membership requirements've been temporarily relaxed. Then the military commanders and the scienticians scream at each other like six-year-olds tryna play co-op Battletoads on the Nintendo while the infantry's lootin' corpses and turnin' the flame throwers on anybody who registers a weirdometer readin' above the Jim Morrison setting until citizen morale really takes a serious dump when the local pastor goes apostlyptic and sets 'imself on fire in the parkin' lot. Meanwhile, Dave leads his band of druthers out to do a little recon but things go sideways when they're spotted by the Channel 6 Newscopter and they end up gettin' chased all over the Blair Witch's lawn until Clank's able to rupture the fuel tank and poke the eye in the sky. They decide to lay low while the fracas over the recent surface-to-air incident dies down and once everybody's forehead veins recede to their pre-domestic terror levels Dave and Clank rush a guard outpost in search of intel and learn that the virus is in the water supply and that it creates an intense fear of bein' drafted, thereby causing its victims to abandon their reverence for members of the armed services in favor of ill-conceived firefights. Everything's nice and civil until one of the snitches reaches for his rifle and Clank's finally able to get some .30 calamine lotion for his itchy trigger finger.
Needless to say, Clank's startin' to look like a first-round prospect in the upcoming militia draft, and by mornin' the situation deteriorates considerably when Artie grabs Cathy and takes the whole father knows best mantra way too far into Appalachian territory. Clank is disgusted and takes the opportunity to knock Artie's guts into his tonsils but by the time Artie gets a grip on 'imself he realizes there's no redemption arc in his future and decides to make like an old beat-up jacket and go hang 'imself the back of a door. 'Course Cathy's been demonstratin' symptoms of the whackadoodledosis for some time now, so when she runs outside and tries makin' friends with a platoon of hazmat mercenaries Dave, Judy, and Clank run for it while Cathy's ruled guilty by reason of insanity and turned into fertilizer. Then Clank goes apeshit and takes on the entire CDC extermination squad by himself and purt'near wipes 'em out before the last survivin' sterilizer sneaks up on 'im and air mails his grey matter C.O.D. to Pittsburgh. Dave and Judy press on but by dusk it becomes apparent that the bacterium whackadactus has given Judy's noggin' a floggin' and so Dave hasta to wall 'er up inside a cinderblock fort and hide in a nearby loft with his gun trained on the Snuggie sentinels hopin' she'll be able to keep 'er giggles in check and go undetected long enough for the onesie wardens to pass 'em by. I don't wanna ruin the endin' so I'm gonna shut my trap now, but if wallin' your pregnant girlfriend up in solitary instead of just draggin' 'er into the loft with you sounds a little unconventional, you've successfully spotted the flaw in Dave's plan.
Alrighty, well, you'd think after Night of the Living Dead made enough money to block out the sun on a budget of potato that studios woulda been shovelin' money at Romero to make just about anything he wanted, but for whatever reason after five years'd passed his situation hadn't really changed all that much. Because his two films following Night of the Living Dead (There's Always Vanilla and Season of the Witch) weren't received with equal fanfare, it seems he tried pivoting back towards the concept that brought him to the dance, only with the social commentary cranked up to 11. A scathing take on both the Vietnam War and the Kent State Massacre, the message may well have been on target, but between the heavy-handedness with which the subject is dealt and the concerted effort to avoid being labeled a one-trick pony through the use of satire, the flick's potential as a horror flick is greatly diminished. It's true that all of Romero's movies feature jabs at certain aspects of American culture (consumerism in Dawn of the Dead) or geopolitical blunders (isolationism/paranoia in Day of the Dead), but for the most part those critiques tend to rest just beneath the surface without taking center stage, and consequently, The Crazies suffers a bit for its lack of subtlety and comes across as a political rebuttal masquerading as a horror flick.
Don't get me wrong, when the crazies start livin' up to their namesakes things move along just fine, but the pacing really gets bogged down when you've gotta cut to the military personnel yellin' about the inadequacies in their supply line every eight minutes. This could well be a budgetary consideration given that the flick only had about $270,000 to spend on what comes across as a pretty ambitious picture on paper, but if that's the case that time would have been better spent fleshing out the characters suffering beneath the boot of said military oppression. Essentially, the movie is never able to find an appropriate balance between the situation and the people caught in the middle of it the way Night of the Living Dead did, and although the scenario is a good one that hadn't been explored much at that point (No Blade of Grass being an exception), this, accompanied by the budgetary limitations, make for a disappointing result - even if a disappointing George Romero film simply means that it was merely decent instead of great.
Sorry if that sounded negative, butcha know, we're talkin' about George Romero here. When George makes a movie we have certain expectations. The man-made the immortal Living Dead series that includes two flicks that make my top ten list AND Creepshow, which is basically the go-to response anytime somebody tells ya anthology flicks are all garbage, so when one of his flicks is just okay it kinda catches ya off guard. Don't worry though, 'cause I'm gonna go through this sucker piece by piece, real methodical like, and when I'm finished, I'll have ya convinced that the only people who've made bad movies about clinically insane rednecks fightin' the government are currently bein' held in federal prison on insurrection charges.
The plot spends too much time focused on military planning procedures and not enough on lunatics tryna murder one another with agricultural equipment and that's just all there is to it. The movie's called The Crazies, not "How to Hold a Perimeter in the Face of Crazies Tryna Blow Your Gondolas Off." I mean, imagine if in Night of the Living Dead the cast spent thirty minutes watchin' newscasts about what was happenin' instead of spendin' that time fightin' to keep the zombies outta the kitchen - that's basically what we've got here. Additionally, because the goal is to paint this fictionalized military in a bad light it's unclear whether their actions are the result of bad writing or if they're scripted that way intentionally to make the Army brass look incompetent, but it probably goes without saying that clustering an entire town in one centralized location during a viral outbreak is some next level derp. Technically the film flip-flops on whether the outbreak is viral or bacterial, but it's still probably not in their best interest to try crammin' everyone into the local high school. Basically, they had a good premise that never reaches its potential due to inadequate craziness.
The acting is all over the place due to the sheer volume of people required by such an ambitious script. Anytime a scene requires a large number of people it's easy to spot a few who're smiling and having a good time with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a little part in a movie, but even beyond those sequences there're quite a few locals with no acting experience who have to deliver a line or two and whenever this happens the production value dips. Furthermore, most of the leads, despite being competent actors, fail to rise above the middling script to breathe any real life into their characters. Will MacMillan (David), Lane Carroll (Judy), and Lloyd Hollar (Colonel Peckem) have very little to work with and only manage to stir any real emotion during the film's climax - though, to the credit of MacMillan and Carroll, the last five minutes are brutal. On the other hand, there are a few genuinely great performances from the supporting cast; in particular, Lynn Lowry as the increasingly unbalanced Cathy, Richard France as the terminally frustrated research scientist Dr. Watts, and Harold Wayne Jones who absolutely kills it as the faithful Clank who spends the latter half of the flick fighting a losing battle for his sanity. In my opinion, Jones' performance single-handedly saves this flick from becoming a complete snooze fest, and it is he with whom we sympathize despite moments where the virus overpowers him and causes him to perform ethically questionable acts.
Here's who matters and why: Will MacMillan (Monarch of the Moon, Cords of Death, Christmas Evil), Lynn Lowry (Model Hunger, Shivers, Fang, Bloody Hooker Massacre, He Knows, The Last American Horror Show Volumes I & II, Hell of the Screaming Dead, Brimstone Creek Rd, Death Care, Sky Sharks, Hematic Web, Necropolis: Legion, Rabid 2019, Those Who Deserve to Die, Like a Shadow, Exposure, Odissea dello Morte, Hell's Kitty, Trinity, Ditch Day Massacre, Terror Tales, Pretty Fine Things, Whispers, Blood Brothers, Volumes of Blood, Dead Girls, A Grim Becoming, Dys-, Mostly Dead, the Legend of Six Fingers, Torture Chamber, Ovulation, Trashtastic, Omhis: Alien Invasion, Mondo Sacremento 2, The Trouble with Barry, The Haunting of Whaley House, I Spill Your Guts, Hack Job, The Theatre Bizarre, The Super, Next Door, Spirit, The Crazies 2010, Basement Jack, George's Intervention, Schism, Beyond the Dunwich Horror, Spider Disco, Dead Things, Cat People 1982, I Drink Your Blood), Richard Liberty (Flight of the Navigator, Day of the Dead 1985), Richard France (Dawn of the Dead 1978, Graveyard Shift, Night of the Living Dead 1968), Bill Thunhurst (Season of the Witch), A.C. McDonald (Night of the Living Dead 1968), Ned Schmidtke (The Relic, The Manhattan Project), Stephen Liska (Star Trek 1 & 3), Roger Aaron Brown (Galaxis, Maniac Cop 2, RoboCop 2, Alien Nation, Near Dark, Death Car on the Freeway), Bill Hinzman (Devil Ant 1 & 3, Mimesis, River of Darkness, It Came from Trafalgar, Shadow: Dead Riot, The Drunken Dead Guy, Evil Ambitions, Santa Claws, Legion of the Night, FleshEater, The Majorettes, The Amusement Park, Season of the Witch, Night of the Living Dead 1968), Lynda Marnoni (Season of the Witch), Walton Cook (The Amusement Park), Vincent D. Survinski (FleshEater, Day of the Dead 1985, Martin, Night of the Living Dead 1968), Ross Harris (Scream Baby Scream, Night of the Living Dead 1968), Michael Gornick (Mortal Remains, FleshEater, Dawn of the Dead 1978, Martin, The Amusement Park), Bonnie Hinzman (FleshEater, The Majorettes, The Amusement Park), Regis Survinski (Effects, Season of the Witch, Night of the Living Dead 1968).
And the mainstream, um, credit: Will MacMillan (Col. Hyde in Salvador).
The special effects range from decent to silly and consist primarily of blood squibs that erupt frequently throughout the film's many gunfights. The blood seeping through the white military scrubs is alright but comes across a bit bright and thick when it appears on flesh. With the exception of the squibs there are only two effects of note, the first being the burning priest, which seems to have been made from something even stiffer than a dummy or a mannequin, and that looks so unnatural there's no way to cut away from it fast enough. The second is a gunshot wound in Harold Wayne Jones' head that bears a strong resemblance to an inflamed anus. I'm not sayin' it's great, but it's certainly gross, and the little streams of blood that squirt out of it as Jones fades away give us an all-too-brief flash of what might have been had the flick been made a couple years later when Romero would become acquainted with a guy by the name of Tom Savini.
The shooting locations are alright thanks to the towns of Evans City, Pennsylvania, whose cooperation secured Romero a high school, and nearby Zelienople, Pennsylvania, where the motel sequences were filmed. Wisely, the script sees the military set up their operation in a small clinic, while the local high school is commandeered to house the town's citizenry and to serve as a makeshift lab for the scientists working on a cure. This is such a simple thing, and yet so many low-budget pictures fail to do it, so all you young screenwriters take note - if you're stuck usin' a scaled-down version of a setting because you can't afford to build or rent a real one, all you've gotta do is come up with an extenuating circumstance explaining why your characters are using the 5th Grade science lab instead of the state-of-the-art facility they're accustomed to back in D.C. and write it into the script. Don't try filmin' a football game at a high school stadium and tell everybody it's Lambeau Field - give us a convincing reason why the game hadda be moved from Lambeau to Polk High. But I digress. The short version is that a small town in Pennsylvania proves authentic in its representation of a small town in Pennsylvania, and although the cinematography is not likely to knock your dick off, mosta the flick is in focus and the locations prove adequate for their purpose.
The soundtrack essentially doesn't exist and whether accidental or by design, it, perhaps more than any other aspect of the film, is a constant reminder of just how firmly the flick's tongue is lodged in its cheek. Roughly 90% of the score, if you're inclined to call it such, consists entirely of drum solos akin to what you might hear from the marching band at a military academy, and by the film's 20-minute mark the satire has become so thick you half expect the drums to taper off and segue into the theme song from Hogan's Heroes. The remaining 10% consists of brief, uplifting violin pieces inserted into the occasional relationship-building sequences squeezed in between squads of soldiers and mobs of spirochete-addled bumpkins massacring each other in open fields, and those compositions are fine. Not sure how seriously they are to be taken, but they work to temporarily lighten the mood between drum solos.
Overall, The Crazies is a very mild failure from a technical perspective but entertaining enough to compensate and secure a passing score. I have no doubt that if Romero had spent less time trying to make a statement (one that I agree with, for what it's worth) the movie would have turned out more palatable to the audiences that largely shunned it during its original theatrical run. It's not a bad movie, but it is exceeded in quality by many of its similarly-themed contemporaries, including No Blade of Grass, Shivers, Rabid, The Omega Man, and The Last Man on Earth. If you dig those, by all means, check it out.