The Crazies (1973)

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*. The pre-title sequence does a good job setting the tone. We are immediately reminded of the opening of Night of the Living Dead (though Romero claims the similarity was unconscious), with the annoying brother trying to scare his sister just before something really scary and unexpected happens.
*. And the connections to Night of the Living Dead don’t end there. There are also the piles of burning bodies, a semi-catatonic heroine, and a downbeat ending with one of the “survivors” being unexpectedly shot. More generally, this is essentially another zombie movie, albeit one more in the fashion of 28 Days Later, with the zombies being plague-crazed killers.
*. The ’70s were a paranoid decade, but I think this film was one of the first movies to run with the idea of the “fed scare”: the paranoid belief that the federal government is secretly out to get its own citizens. I mean, just who are those people at command and control headquarters anyway?
*. The threatened children are a Stephen King staple, and so is the idyllic American small town gone to hell. As horror masters of the same generation, sharing similar outlooks on life, the similarities aren’t surprising. (I don’t know how close the two are, but King would star in one of the segments of Creepshow, and provide the voice of a radio preacher in Diary of the Dead.)
*. Romero knows how to stretch a dollar, and throughout The Crazies we see examples of his shoe-horning  extra production value out of whatever material he has at hand. For example, in the opening sequence he uses the children of his cinematographer to play the threatened kids, and shot the footage of the burning house during a fire department training exercise. This is an essential part of most “guerilla” filmmaking, but it can backfire. As it does, I think, with the visit to the cinder-block depot at the end.
*. I have nothing against a filmmaker trying to keep costs down but one of the big problems with this movie is that it looks and sounds so cheap.
*. When was the first time the trick of having the airplane/helicopter fly behind a hill to crash was used in a movie? I honestly don’t know.
*. The non-professional actors are clearly in way over their heads, but in fairness the union talent doesn’t distinguish itself either. When the DVD comes with a featurette on the career of star Lynn Lowry you know you’re way off the A-list.
*. Back to the cheap look: why the hell would we only see the back of the president’s head on the video link? Yes, I know there’s a joke in that it’s really Romero (though not his voice), but it looks stupid.

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*. One sequence everyone who writes about this movie mentions is the crazy lady with the knitting needles. And for me it’s an epitome of the movie as a whole. It seems an interesting idea, and it’s perfectly storyboarded. But something about it doesn’t work. It’s almost too schematic and deliberate.
*. Oddly enough, Romero did consider this scene to be a “conscious wink at Night of the Living Dead.”
*. The editing, particularly in the scenes involving the government officials bickering among themselves, is insane. It’s far too fast and jerky. In his commentary Romero cites the influence of Breathless (!), and thought his editing here was “cubist” (!!). I don’t buy it. At one point an actor seems to teleport across the room, and in a number of places there just seem to be hunks of film that have gone missing. They aren’t jump cuts so much as skips.
*. As usual Romero is good with the drama of small-groups under pressure, with everyone arguing and yelling and finally turning on each other. Things fall apart.
*. But while the concept and basic structure of the script are strong, the dialogue is atrocious.
*. I do like the guy eating a grapefruit, and the other guy eating a banana. No candy bars for this crowd. Romero has a nice touch with these odd bits and pieces. He mentions as examples he was particularly happy with Harry Spillman playing with a pencil and the business with the wind chimes.
*. Romero: “Sound was a problem.” No kidding. God the sound is terrible. I missed a lot of the dialogue even when there wasn’t any background noise or music interfering.
*. Who has the “bug” anyway? The dippy girl? Her horny father? The suddenly homicidal buddy? Hard to tell. It’s not like they’re eating people. This was apparently a key theme in the original script, that you couldn’t tell who was crazy and who was sane. It was an idea that Romero wanted to retain, but it doesn’t get developed at all here.
*. What a striking use of colour. Look at the way those white suits stand out against the bright green grass, or the way they look when they’re splashed with blood.
*. No, it’s not a good movie. Or even a good bad movie. But it might have been a good bad movie if they’d had more time and money.

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