Saturday, April 30, 2016

George Romero's The Crazies- A Low Budget Horror Gem

       George Romero’s The Crazies (also called Codename: Trixie) is a nearly forgotten little low budget gem from the 1970s. I’m sure that there will be ton of film buff lunatics who went into a frenzy when I said nearly forgotten, but it is true. Most people have forgotten this little film, and it certainly has been lost in the shuffle, filmed as it was between his much bigger hits Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead.
The film follows two stories, one about the civilians trying to stay alive during the disaster, having to battle both "the crazies" as well as U.S. soldiers ordered to shoot on sight. The other involves the political and military leaders trying to contain the epidemic.
Richard Liberty (Clank) & Will MacMillian (David)
Set in the small town of Evans City, Pennsylvania, the central characters are firefighter David, his girlfriend Judy, and firefighter Clank. David was a Green Beret and Clank an infantryman, both having served in Vietnam. The town has seen a number of violent events, including arson at a local farm by a demented farmer. Judy and David are very concerned, since Judy is pregnant.
Meanwhile, heavily armed U.S. troops in NBC suits and gas masks, arrive in town, led by Major Ryder, who takes over the doctor's office where Judy works. Days earlier, an Army plane carrying an untested bioweapon crash-landed in the hills near the town, infecting the water supply with a virus code-named "Trixie," causing victims to either die or become homicidal. "Trixie" is highly contagious, with anyone drinking from the Evans City reservoir becoming affected. In Washington D.C., government officials order Colonel Peckem to go to Evans City to help contain the virus, while scientist Dr. Watts, arrives to develop a cure before the virus spreads beyond the small town.
The film is in itself a comedy of errors. We see mistake after mistake made by the government forces attempting to deal with the crisis, due to the fact of the secrecy surrounding the bio-toxin Trixie. None of the response teams at first are told what it is or that it is infectious. As such, the equipment taken is inadequate. A member of the development team is shipped to the infected city, but is unable to effectively make strides due to all of his notes and files on the virus being left behind. And in fact the scientist finds a cure, but due to communication issues the knowledge is lost.
While certainly low budget the film, does not have that feel. It never stops moving and has an animated frenzied life to it. You can feel the impending dread and taste the paranoia of the actors. In The Crazies, as well as Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead, Romero shows his true genius- his ability to do more with less. It wasn’t until he was handed larger budgets that his films began to feel flat.
The interesting thing about The Crazies is the treatment of the infected. They aren’t transformed into some ravenous monsters hell-bent on destruction, such as in 28 Days Later or I Am Legend, or instant bags of disease such as in Outbreak or The Cassandra Crossing. They literally begin to act odd, reacting to their environment in a bizarre manner. They giggle, they open things that should remain closed, they have difficulty remembering what’s going on. One of my favorite visuals is an infected woman running through a field, being shot by soldiers, carrying a broom and sweep the grass like it was a floor as she ran.
Lynn Lowery (Kathy)
This adds another dimension to the infected as they are fully functional, in a way, the decision to put them down is much more impactful. The element of pathos is much clearer here. These are real people being killed, as opposed to how they are shown in other films.
Some have made the case that this film might well easily be rewritten to show the dead outbreak in the Living Dead series, and I can see that. While The Crazies definitely borrows elements from Night of the Living Dead and adds element that would be later used in Dawn of the Dead, the film is in itself a complete entity.
The entire film is below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor!