"Why do you do films like this, except to shake order up? Why would you want to restore it at the end?" - George A. Romero.
It's very much a case of 'There goes the neighbourhood' as far as The Crazies is concerned. Witness the opening scene where traditional brother/sister feuding between two young children (actually Bill Hinzman's kids) is rudely interrupted by their father knocking seven bells out of assorted fixtures and fittings. When the little girl finds her ma dead beneath the bedclothes, it's clear that some form of dreadful malaise is eating into the folks of Evans City, Pennsylvania. Soon, this small community are placed under martial law by invading military forces, while worried scientists attempt to halt an escalating disease known as Codename:Trixie; a biological weapon that has been accidentally unleashed following a plane crash, leaving its victims either dead or incurably insane. With the town in a state of panic, a small group of people - some of them already infected - decide to evade the shoot-on-sight military personnel and head for open country in a desperate fight to stay alive.
While Romero-ites await definitive releases of Dawn/Day of the Dead, they will surely welcome Blue Underground's Region 1 DVD release of a film that, along with Jack's Wife, is most deserving of re-appraisal amongst Romero's back catalogue. Indeed, some 30 years on, The Crazies seems more relevant than ever with its chilling theme of germ warfare released on an unsuspecting community, while the very men responsible for its development seem powerless to contain it.Of course, the central theme of chemical weapons will strike a chord with many people today, but even more unsettling is the powerful cocktail of paranoia, containing the army, politicians and scientists. Here, 'Serve And Protect' is replaced by 'Search And Destroy'; a truly terrifying scenario for those stubborn men and women who resolve to go against the odds, knowing full well they can trust no-one, including themselves. For a film devoid of heroes - and all the better for adopting this stance - The Crazies is blessed with several excellent performances. At first view, it seemed Romero had merely strolled through town, rounded up those within a 200 metre radius and set them to work. Of course, many cast members had no previous experience and it shows, but time and greater familiarity now enable us to better appreciate the efforts of some extremely capable and experienced performers. We've got: Richard France playing much the same role as he did in Romero's Dawn of the Dead; Richard Liberty (from Day) as the father of a teenage girl (Lowry) who not only confirms our initial suspicions about him, but goes on to push the envelope further in a hideous act of lust which is reciprocated; Lloyd Holler whose Colonel Peckham is destined to become the recipient of some extremely grave news and W.G. McMillan, who must keep one eye on infected buddy Clank (Knightriders' Harold Wayne Jones) and the other on fiancee Judy (Carroll), who is expecting their first child. It's a difficult balancing act, but McMillan does a fine job and goes on to figure in a heart rending scene with Carroll near the end. A word, too, for Lynn Lowry who gets the best scene in the film and wins a place in our hearts and minds for all time.
Gore-wise, The Crazies is not exactly a bloodfest, so those seeking gallons of the red stuff are advised to look elswhere. However, scenes of incest, self-immolation and a rather nasty case of death-by-knitting- needle are sure to earn respect from any devotee of shock cinema.
Blue Underground's DVD presentation bestows reverential treatment onto this film with an outstanding transfer taken from original negative materials. While purists may prefer its traditional, slightly rougher look to this colour-corrected version, I would argue that Romero made the correct decision by sitting in with the telecine operator to assist with the transfer. Now we have a fabulous incarnation of this film, with stable colours, good shadow detail and only small amounts of grain . The film is pegged at 1.66:1 and while occasional cramped headroom may suggest it's been slightly overmatted, this should not in any way detract from a first-rate job.
Blue Underground also organised a commentary track, featuring George Romero and Bill Lustig.This recording marked Romero's first viewing of his film in 15 years, and he immediately warms to the job in hand, relating production info and various anecdotes while also highlighting self proclaimed directorial errors with refreshing candour. For my money, Romero does perhaps spend too much time discussing technical aspects with Lustig, lingering down memory lane as they shoot the breeze over cameras and film stock from days gone by. While any budding director will do well to listen and learn from their talk, it would have been nice if Romero had devoted more of this track to some of the performances (Carroll barely gets a mention);Hell! if I'd put two actors together and emerged with 10 of the most emotional moments in recent genre history, I'd certainly want to shout about it. Clearly, Romero isn't that sort of guy. A poster & still gallery, director biography and theatrical trailers replicate the standard supplementals found on many discs, and on this occasion, the latter provides a sobering reminder of how this film looked prior to restoration: still prefer the more unglamourous look?
The Crazies certainly gives plenty of bang for your buck in this most special edition, but there is one more extra to tell you about and it's well worth the asking price on it's own. "The Cult Film Legacy of Lynn Lowry" is a 14 minute featurette, where the still gorgeous Lowry talks about her career represented by clips from The Battle Of Love's Return, I Drink Your Blood, Sugar Cookies and Radley Metzger's Score. Lowry speaks with great affection of her involvement in these sometimes disreputable movies, and is so charming one feels a genuine sense of regret when time runs out and the credits roll.
It's good to see the years have been kind to her, and the same applies to Romero's film.
American writer/director and one of the most influential figures in modern horror cinema, whose ability to write strong scripts and characters match his penchant for gory chills. The Pittsburgh native began his career directing adverts before making Night of the Living Dead in 1968. This bleak, scary classic ushered in a new era of horror film-making, but Romero struggled initially to follow it up - There's Always Vanilla is a little-seen romantic drama, and Jack's Wife was butchered by its distributor. The Crazies was a flop but still an exciting slice of sci-fi horror, and while the dark vampire drama Martin again made little money but got Romero some of the best reviews of his career and remains the director's personal favourite.
In 1978 Romero returned to what he knew best, and Dawn of the Dead quickly became a massive international hit. Dawn's success allowed Romero to make the more personal Knightriders, and he teamed up with Stephen King to direct the horror anthology Creepshow. The intense, underrated Day of the Dead, spooky Monkey Shines and half of the Poe-adaptation Two Evil Eyes followed. The Dark Half, based on Stephen King's novel, was Romero's last film for nine years, and he returned in 2000 with the strange Bruiser. A fourth Dead film, Land of the Dead, was released in 2005, and lower budgeted fifth and sixth instalments rounded off the decade.