Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Remembering The Crazies

Between George Romero's first movie in 1968, Night of the Living Dead, and arguably his magnus opus in 1978, Dawn of the Dead, he worked on quite a few projects that don't get the same kind of mainstream attention (like a television special called O.J. Simpson: Juice is on the Loose)

And sitting smack dab in the middle of this period is 1973's The Crazies, a movie which shares elements with other horror/suspense movies that would be made for decades to come. And it is pure Grindhouse in the best possible way.

The movie takes place in the sleepy town of Evans City, Pennsylvania, which soon finds itself being virtually invaded by the US Army, clad Hazmat suits and gas masks, in an attempt to quarantine the town. The citizens of the town naturally don't take to kindly to this kind of treatment. Of course, most of the citizens are also blissfully unaware that a plane crash on the outskirts of town also introduced a highly communicable biological weapon into the water supply which causes either death or permanent insanity. And since it is a semi-rural township, well, a lot of people in the infection zone have guns of their own, making gathering the townspeople a doubly deadly proposition for those working on pacifying and containing the town.

But soon, a small group of people, including two Vietnam veterans, the nurse at the local doctor's office who had dated both men, and a father and daughter try to escape from the town and the threat of infection, much to the consternation of Army brass who know that there is a bomber carrying nuclear weapons as a failsafe to prevent the contagion from spreading outside the quarantined zone.

So as you can see, there are a lot of good starting elements from the start of this movie, and I was totally sold by the DVD cover even before I saw that it was George Romero movie. I mean, I think any movie with NBC suits in it is worth a chance. And a quarantined town whose citizens are actively fighting their occupier, well, that is a good movie right there. However, like many grindhouse movies, these elements don't fully come together as well as I would have liked. It was good, but it didn't fully live up to its potential. There was room for so much more really.

That being said, off the top of my head, I can see connections between this movie and such films as David Cronenberg's Rabid, Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Outbreak to name a few, as well as a lot of video games like Resident Evil 4.

However, The Crazies does feature my new favorite, though not particularly prolific, character actor, Richard France, who also appeared as the doctor with the eye patch from the National Emergency Broadcast System telecasts in Dawn of the Dead.

Seriously, I think he is the best actor in the entire movie. And he is currently an Orson Welles scholar and accomplished playwright to boot.

Of course, when I was looking up some of the information for this little retrospective, I noticed that the insatiable maw of Hollywood has enveloped The Crazies and is remaking it for a 2010 release. Now normally, I am very reticent about remakes in general, but in this case, I am sort of looking forward to seeing what someone else does with this material, because as I said, there was potential that went unfulfilled in the original and a new set of eyes may be able to find a few new tricks in this grindhouse classic.


Bart said...

Holy cow, man, I remember this movie, but could never seem to recall the title or who did it or what not. I think I saw it on like a late night schlockfest type show when I was younger.

Splotchy said...

I like this movie. I actually own this on DVD. It's very low-budget (or at least seems to be), but I think that makes it more immediate and compelling.

I think a remake of this movie would essentially turn out to be a carbon copy of 28 Days Later.

MC said...

Bart: It has had a few different titles too, so that could have been part of the problem.

Splotchy: See, because of the nature of the illness, I think that in the end, the resulting product would be a lot different than 28 Days Later, since the insanity doesn't cause a zombie like rage, but rather has such a wide variety of symptoms that there is room for nuance and some subtlety.