Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Crazies: Romero's Autobiography

The Crazies

I kid, I kid. It's not really Romero's autobiography. However, it's rather apt that one of his early films (after he established himself as a crazy person) would be so cleverly titled. Released in 1973 (five years after Night of the Living Dead), it was only his fourth movie.

Nobody in this movie is likely to be familiar to the average audience. The only thing I noticed is that the hero of the story looks a bit like Judd Hirsch (you know, that guy from Taxi?), but more fit, and with an immensely wicked and appalling unibrow. His partner Clank is probably suffering from PTSD, and is also a really goofy-looking S.O.B. I'm not entirely certain how such undeniably handsome gentlemen became the leads in this movie.

The film was remade last year, and is on DVD now. I need to check it out as well. (I'm also going to get on a kick to watch original horror movies and then their modern remakes to compare and contrast the methods of storytelling, plot, character, and how the elements of horror and how the horror is presented changes over the years.) Overall, the story revolves around a small town (as it always does) and its cache of quaint, fairly normal inhabitants (of course). Unbeknownst to David (Will MacMillan) and his pregnant girlfriend Judy (Lane Carroll), a deadly toxin ha seeped into the town's water supply. This toxin (codenamed TRIXIE of all things) causes people to turn against their neighbors, friends, and family, turning into raging, slavering, murderous slaves to their own impulsive ids. Of course, this is supremely dangerous (even though they tend to act violently, they are essentially free, which the 60s was all about). The powers-that-be decided that they would be best to nuke the living bejeesus out of Evans City, Pennsylvania.

The plot follows David and Judy, as well as his friend Clank (Harold Wayne Jones). David and Clank are firemen, and served in Vietnam together. When called to a house-fire, it becomes apparent that it was set on purpose. The military almost immediately swoops in and surrounds the town, putting it on lockdown, and sequestering the infected (or killing them, or both). I think we can assume how the movie ends from there.

As with NotLD, Romero seeks to make a statement through these films. The American Military (its infantry, its administration, inherent bureaucracy, extreme violence, etc.) is heavily featured. This is a general theme, even in Zombie films. It fits that the main characters are firemen; several of his zombie films feature police officers as survivor characters. The small town itself is an innocent; "Trixie" is released into the water supply when a government plane crashes in the outskirts of the town (prior to the events depicted in the film). The audience is treated to the backstory of these events by round-table discussions of military men (though they could be more corporate; most of them wear suits without displays of rank, affiliation, etc.).

The Crazies features zombies of sorts; it's interesting that they're so clearly and obviously explained away as being a toxic infection. It could have easily been a sequel to Night of the Living Dead, some interstitial zombie film between NotLD and Dawn of the Dead. But it isn't; it's The Crazies, the word "ghoul" or "zombie" or similar doesn't appear in the film. There is still the fear of the infected, the fear of turning. The warning signs appear on all the survivors except for David, and we dread the moment they turn. The military is quick to react, quick to gun down an infected person, no matter what.

The Crazies amps up the violence, gore, mutilation, and horror factor tenfold in the five short years after NotLD. There's blood, beheadings, incest (seriously, it's pretty messed up), and in general craziness. It went relatively unknown for quite awhile in larger circles, I think. The zombie films always get the most attention. I've been trying to find it for years; I'm lucky they remade it. It made it much easier to get via Netflix.

All in all, I'd recommend this movie to any Romero fan, horror fan, or general 70s zombie-style insanity. I'll have to check out the remake, as well, to see how they differ. Based on the trailer, I have a pretty good idea of what'll be different (I think David is a Sheriff and Clank is his Deputy in the new version).

I give it three and a half unibrowed Judd Hirsches out of five, or three and a half insanity-inducing government toxins named "Trixie" out of five.

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