The Crazies (1973)

Most descriptions of this George Romero film portray it as yet another of his zombie films.

It would be hard to find a description further from the truth.

A plane crash has let loose a deadly experimental biowarfare virus on an unsuspecting Pennsylvania town.  Those exposed to it will either die horribly or descend into permanent madness.

And there is no cure.

Although the film starts with a man murdering his wife and setting fire to his house with his children still inside, the emphasis is not on the violence of the victims of the disease.

Instead, The Crazies focuses on the attempts to contain the outbreak, from the faceless soldiers in their biohazard suits; to the harried officers, dumped into a situation already badly out of control, without the supplies, men or equipment they need to do their job; to the doctor, dragged unwillingly into the mess by the Army and trying to find a cure, without the resources of his lab; to the panicked bureaucrats trying almost as hard to cover up the situation as to stop it; to the terrified locals suddenly wrenched from their homes without any real explanation.  It is, in fact, almost impossible to say how much of the violence throughout the film is caused by madness – and how much by the chaos, the resistance to the “invasion,” or the growing sense of fear and panic on all sides.

This is an intensely compelling film, one that is very hard to turn off once you’ve started watching it.  One can see why Romero managed to make a huge name for himself with his series of ultra-low budget locally-made films.  Throughout the film, there are lovely little details, like the mad young woman, following a group of armed men firing wildly in all directions, calmly sweeping the grass as she walks along.  Or the delays and problems caused for the Army by their own intense security measures.  Then there’s the stunning death of one major character, a beautiful young woman, mad but clearly serenely peaceful, who is surrounded by a circle of faceless soldiers who all open fire at once.

And, while the soldiers have completed their mission and secured the town by the end of the film, it is far from clear that this will be enough – and new cases have already appeared somewhere else…

Dark, intense, compelling, decidedly frightening and far, far, too believable.  What more could anyone ask for from a late night horror?

Now, if we could only get the guys with all the money to make a film half as good…

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