The Crazies Movie Review
The Crazies stars Will MacMillan, Lane Carroll, and Harold Wayne Jones and was directed by George A. Romero. It tells the story of a group of survivors after a mysterious viral outbreak reduces the residents of their small Pennsylvania town to violent “crazies”. Not only do they need to avoid these crazies, but they also have to contend with a combative military response to the outbreak.
I really do appreciate it. As crazy as it sounds, this was actually my first non-zombie Romero film. I’ve always known he had quite a few other movies, but he’s always been zombies to me. This particular film was released during the interim between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead and it’s interesting seeing the stepping stone nature of this movie. There are certainly stylistic and thematic similarities to these bookending zombie movies, but there’s also a noticeable evolution as well. You can see where Romero was headed as a filmmaker and I think that’s pretty cool.
This was really a snapshot during the progression of his career. From a horror movie standpoint, The Crazies is a bit of a mixed bag. The premise is really interesting and the viral basis to the story clearly influenced Romero’s later zombie movies, not to mention the countless other infection movies of the last five decades. The somewhat shocking opening scene does a good job of letting us know what’s in store for the rest of the movie.
This film throws us right into the confusion and panic of the situation and the frenetic nature of the first half really emphasizes that. Between the military drum score and the surprising (at least for a 70s movie) quick-cut editing, The Crazies quickly builds and maintains its tension through the first half. Unfortunately, it hits this weird point partway through the second act where things kinda grind to a halt. Stuff is still happening and we see our main characters in what should be exciting situations, but it just doesn’t have that same feeling of urgency that the beginning of the movie had. I think that’s partly cause the mystery aspect of the movie disintegrates at that point.
Through a progressive series of exposition dumps, we sorta have a handle on what’s going on and so, for me, it loses a bit of intrigue. That means that the characters, and how they’re handling the situation, needs to be compelling enough to maintain the velocity of the story until the end of the movie, but they don’t. They’re pretty bland characters and so, while they’re not annoying, they’re also not particularly interesting, which causes the back half of this movie to drag.
Luckily, The Crazies is more than what it initially appears to be. Much like Romero’s zombie movies, this one has a deeper underlying message. Night of the Living Dead was about racism, Dawn of the Dead would be about consumerism, but The Crazies was about Vietnam. Distrust of the government, and especially of the Army, is absolutely pervasive in this movie. It’s an incredibly pessimistic look at authority, but also at human nature during times of crisis. There are moments in this movie where it’s hard to tell if the residents have been infected or if they’re just resisting martial law. Likewise, it’s sometimes hard to tell if the military personnel are infected or if they’re just taking advantage of their position of power.
The lines are really blurred and this movie provides us with a very downbeat look at the confluence of science, the military, and small-town civilian life under the guise of a low-budget horror movie. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is the first act. Not only does this have an interesting premise, but the filmmaking and editing styles really help to emphasize the panicked nature of the plot. Everything is quick and frenetic and gives you the sense that this something that could really be happening. We get snippets of information regarding what’s going on, but it’s clear that even those in command aren’t being told the full story, so that provides the beginning of this movie with a compelling mystery aspect as well. My second pro has gotta be the thematic subtext. If all this movie was was an infection thriller, it would be okay.
The story starts off decently enough, but things taper off fairly quickly. Luckily, this movie isn’t just about the horror. It’s got something to say. Romero certainly wasn’t the first horror director to insert social commentary into his films, but he definitely did it regularly and effectively. Although this is a viral horror film set in Evans City, Pennsylvania, it’s subtextually about the Vietnam War, the military, and authority in general. On the con side, this movie has some major issues with pacing.
The first half is actually really strong on this front, maintaining a quick, almost panicked pace to perfectly match the tone. But then it slams on the brakes and become surprisingly dull and tedious. It’s weird cause things are still happening and the plot’s still progressing it just doesn’t feel like it. The second con has gotta be the characters, especially the small group of civilians that we follow throughout the story. There’s only a few of them, so we should be able to connect with them, but they’re surprisingly dull. They each have maybe two defining characteristics, but are disappointingly shallow in terms of development. Much of the fault lies with the script, but some of it’s certainly due to the performances as well.
This is a low-budget horror movie, so the quality of the acting isn’t exactly unexpected, but it does hamper the film at times. I’m gonna give The Crazies 3 out of 5 paws. Although it doesn’t quite deliver on the exciting promise of its name, the movie does offer an interesting premise and some solid iconic thriller moments throughout. That, coupled with its anti-war subtext, makes for a solid low-budget non-zombie Romero film. I would recommend The Crazies to fans of 70s horror. It’s got that somewhat endearing quality that many other low-budget horror movies of the time had.
It’s not a movie that’s gonna blow you away, but it’s a solid story and was a clear influence on many other movies. If you’re a fan of Romero and maybe haven’t checked out his non-zombie movies, you might enjoy this one. It’s different, but has a similar stylistic sense. If you liked The Crazies, I have to recommend Night of the Living Dead. Not only was it Romero’s directorial debut, but it presents its story with a similarly unfolding narrative. It’s got an underlying message kinda like how this one does, plus they were both shot in Evans City, Pennsylvania. I’ve also gotta recommend Dawn of the Dead. I know it’s a little cheap to put in two Romero recommendations, but the editing and overall feel of the movie is very similar to me.
Once again, we have an underlying thematic message, but perhaps the most important reason for including this recommendation is just to witness the stylistic trajectory of Romero’s career. And if you liked the viral aspects and sheer panic and confusion of this movie’s opening, definitely check out 28 Days Later. It was certainly influenced by this film and was basically the start of the fast zombie subgenre. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen The Crazies? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s your favorite social commentary horror movie? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.