in Shocktober

The Crazies (1973)

You may be more familiar with the 2010 remake of today’s entry and there’s a good reason, it’s a better movie. The remake, starring Timothy Olyphant who we all remember from the 2007 classic Catch and Release was more or less your typical zombie fair flick. The production value was decent and the scares were effective if not predictable. The original on the other hand? I’m not really sure how to categorize George A. Romero’s semi-docudrama disaster movie. Everything about this movie is chaotic, which is befitting considering the title.

Set in rural Pennsylvania, The Crazies exhibits the outbreak of a deadly virus that turns those infected into stark raving lunatics. Our protagonists are a unibrowed firefighter named David (Will MacMilan), his nurse girlfriend Judy (Lane Caroll), and another firefighter/David’s former army buddy asshole Clank (Harold Wayne Jones). Right off the the bat the movie has made a huge mistake by casting two male actors who look exactly the same. Considering that The Crazies is a movie that jumps from character to character, location to location, it would have been a great deal easier to have two characters that didn’t both look like uglier versions of James Caan.

“Jump”, is a key word in describing this film. You’re rarely given more than a few seconds to let these characters breathe and take in the trauma. Far too often we cut away to boring military types spewing orders or doctors reciting a bunch of dry medical jargon. I admire that The Crazies is going for a sense of realism but how about a little more sensationalism? This movie desperately needed more scenes of the uninfected battling the infected. The film also waits too long to showcase its most powerful imagery. I am of course referring to the striking image of all the U.S. soldiers in chemical suits and gas masks. I needed more of those characters invoking fear earlier in the story. Instead by the half hour mark I’d already felt like I’d been watching the film for two hours.

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The whole movie reminds me of the end of Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead. If you recall, the finale shifts the horror into a more documentary style that you could almost call mundane. The reason the shift works is because we’ve already experienced so much terror in the film that we’re not comfortable going back to normalcy. It’s a choice that makes the ending jarring yet grounds it in reality. The Crazies goes for believability the whole through and honestly, it’s boring. I can appreciate the restraint in theory but on camera it really isn’t all that interesting. Clearly there was a lot of effort to make this a more intelligent horror film but by the end I wasn’t too crazy about the execution.

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Fun Fact: The cinematographer of the film was Bill Hinzman, most famous for playing the first zombie that appears in Night of the Living Dead.