Way back in 2010 I reviewed Breck Eisner’s remake of The Crazies and went crazy for it giving it 5 out of 5. Let me let you into a secret though, I had never seen the original 1973 movie.
That is until now.
In many ways not becoming over enthusiastic is always the difficulty when reviewing a good remake without seeing the previous version as you are unable to see what is fresh and new in amongst the rehashing and retreading of ground well-travelled by the first film. Because of this it is easy to ascribe originality to something unjustifiably when all a remake has done is polish up an already priceless but long forgotten gem and slapped it straight in front of you.
What caught me most about The Crazies in 2010 was the realism of a town plunged into panic when a pandemic transforms normal people into murderous psychopaths and watching the 1973 film which is now available in the great George A. Romero Between Night and Dawn Blu-ray box set, all of that was already there and more.
It’s no surprise to find that the sadly now departed Godfather of the Dead would be drawn to a story of social unrest slammed up against sickening violence and carnage being that it serves much like his zombie movies as a wonderful allegory on how fragile our humanity really is and how quickly a community can fall into chaos.
Penned by Romero based on a script by Paul McCollough the story is set in Evens City, Pennsylvania and opens with a father hacking his wife to death and setting fire to his own home with his two children still inside. Arriving at the scene to stop the blaze firefighters and Vietnam vets David (Will McMillan) and his best friend Clank (Harold Wayne Jones) are informed of the strange slaying and become even more concerned when a bunch of military men swoop in to the town and start to take over.
David’s pregnant girlfriend Judy (Lane Carroll) is a nurse and summoned into the doctor’s practice sees men in chemical suits and gas masks receiving shots for a mysterious virus code named Trixie that has infected the town’s water supply turning people crazy.
Sneaking out she joins Clank and David on the run from the quarantine that is descending on the local populace teaming up with teenager Kathy Fulton (Lynn Lowry) her father Artie (Richard Liberty) on a search for answers. But as the seemingly unstoppable infection spreads soon the group find themselves fighting each other as well as the outside world.
Splitting the story in two we follow the rebellious group while also getting an insight into the military and political goings on behind the scenes trying to contain the biological weapon which they have unleashed on their own citizens.
From stressed out sergeants to unfeeling officials to vexed virologists searching for a cure we witness the pandemonium, confusion and fear of the highly paid, highly trained individuals we trust to protect and govern us none of which seem to know what they are doing and this element is probably the most realistic and scary of all.
By merging an outbreak horror with a procedural drama although the budget is low and the acting not stellar Romero manages to portray with almost documentary realism the breakdown of not only the entire population but on a more personal level the destruction of the main characters hopes and dreams.
The horror of the disease, as portrayed vividly and viscerally in the remake, is it turns people against their own loved ones either in shockingly unprovoked violent attacks filled with brutality or even grotesque sexual acts on their own family and unlike Romero’s zombies they perpetrators seem almost aware of their actions afterwards for a brief period before plunging back into madness maybe even because of what they have done.
There are no real heroes or villains here just people following orders and fighting for survival and the lines between right and wrong become constantly blurred especially for David and Clank who casually slay many faceless soldiers who lets remember are only trying to stop the virus from spreading further.
Dark and depressing, tragic and terrifying The Crazies further proves not only the power of horror to expose and explore themes and concepts other genres could never even touch but also Romero’s genius as a director in dealing with our greatest fears. Best of all now I know why the remake was so good.
The Crazies comes as part of Arrow’s George A. Romero Between Night and Dawn out now. Read all about it Here.