The Crazies (1973)

As promised, today’s flavor is The Crazies from 1973, co-written and directed by zombie maestro George Romero. I opted to watch the 2010 revamp first just because I’ve never done it that way before. I predicted I would come away thinking all that was good about this year’s version was lifted wholesale from the original without substantive improvement beyond the addition of modern effects. Surprisingly I felt just the opposite. I absolutely prefer the new to the old in this case; it’s just a more complete film.

Aside from basically identical plots, the 70s Crazies and its 2010 counterpart share little in common thematically. While the remake relies on suspenseful thrills, the original is disappointingly more action-oriented. The first Crazies may well have effectively capitalized on an era rife with anti-government sentiment and rather boldly attempted to highlight the human element of the cliché military bogeyman. But for all its cult admiration, The Crazies never lives up to the potential of its intriguing premise.

The story: If you read yesterday’s post this is familiar territory but here goes: we begin in a rural home on a farm outside Evans City, Pennsylvania. (Yup, the very same place Romero filmed much of Night of the Living Dead.) A young boy is tormenting his sister but he senses something is wrong and quickly shifts into protective mode. The kids’ father comes crashing into the living room, tearing down shelves and smashing dishes with a crowbar. He maniacally lights the house on fire, his screaming children still inside.

"This is a restricted area: Devo fans only."

Moments later, volunteer fire fighter David and his lovely wife-to-be are sharing some tender pillowtalk when the call comes in for David to report for duty. His fiancée, a nurse, is also called back to work so the two hastily dress and depart. God bless 70s filmmaking and its rampant casual nudity.

As the fire is attended to, soldiers in white plastic jumpsuits repurpose the local doctor’s office as a base of operations. Unlike the remake, the 1973 military officers and scientists receive a great deal of focus throughout the movie as they work to cure the virus they’ve accidentally unleashed on the town’s 3,600 residents. It’s interesting that here, though a media and communications blackout is in effect, the military is more or less up front with the town’s mayor and police force about the nature of the outbreak: it’s a highly contagious biological weapon designed to cause total insanity and/or death. In tenuous collaboration they battle bureaucracy and daunting logistics, not to mention a well-armed and highly agitated civilian population, while David and a small pocket of residents escape their captors and try to flee the quarantine area. Where they think they’re going is never quite explained.

"If we might be infected, isn't it a little irresponsible to go to some other town?" "Shut it, Clank."

Biggest letdown: I’m all for any excuse to include copious amounts of gunplay in movies but this one had way too many extended, generic shootouts. The Crazies is at its best when the characters are wearily planning their next move and eyeing one another with increasing suspicion. The decision to go so action-heavy destroys any semblance of rhythm or anticipation and I often found myself daydreaming until they were over. The oppressive overuse of the trite snare drum theme anytime the military is on screen got to be a bit much, too. I’ll be rat-a-tat-tating in my sleep tonight. Finally, this is set twenty miles outside of Pittsburgh in the 70s, yet not one person ever says “yinz” or displays Steelers paraphernalia of any kind. Kinda hurts the verisimilitude, ‘n ‘at.

"If only Mean Joe were here, he'd tackle the shit outta that virus."

Why you should watch: Though the remake is by far a better movie, this version is interesting in that it takes an impossible situation and views it relatively sympathically from both the perspective of the frightened locals and that of the soldiers charged with restraining and sometimes killing them. Instead of the unyielding villiany of the remake’s military, the commanding officers of this army are deeply conflicted about their mission. So when we do get to one of those interminable gunfights, there’s at least a good deal more at stake since we see reasonable people on both sides rather than a clear cut good guy/bad guy dynamic.

Memorable Moment: Much like in the remake the most chilling moment involved the soldiers. Though they’re far less one-dimensional in the original, Romero at one point cynically portrays them rummaging through the clothes of dead townsfolk for valuables, then haggling over the division of the booty as they incinerate the remains. Runner up: incest!

Choice quote: “Oh, gentlemen, we’re not dealing with a flu virus here. We’re dealing with an often lethal, always debilitating encephalitic mutation. And it leaves its victims either dead or incurably mad. You got that?”

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4 Responses to “The Crazies (1973)”

  1. I live about 10 min from Evans City…who knew it was sooo creeeeeeeepy! Yinz guys don’t even know how scary dem suburbs are n’at.

  2. You also attended the same college as Mr. George A. Romero himself. There must be some kind of zombie day at CMU in his honor, right? If not, time to light up that alumni relations office.

  3. […] The Crazies (1973) – Yinz guys seen ‘em crazies runnin’ arahnd dahntahhhn? […]

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