The Crazies (1973)

It’s hard to know what to make of this period of George A. Romero’s career. He was experimenting, I guess, because how else does an artist follow up a debut like the seminal Night of the Living Dead? He made There’s Always Vanilla, a comedy-drama, then Season of the Witch, a feminist witchcraft film, then this, his fourth film, The Crazies. A military developed virus is accidentally released into the water supply of Evans City, Pennsylvania, and the military attempts to impose martial law to contain its spread. Some citizens immediately display symptoms, most allow themselves to be herded up, and others revolt.

The narrative has two stories in parallel—the military and doctors trying to control the situation, and a small group of locals, including ex-Green Beret David, his pregnant wife Judy, their friend ex-soldier Clank, and a father-daughter couple they meet along the way, Artie and Kathy. In the general hysteria, it is hard to tell who is acting strangely, which is how the virus presents itself, and Clank’s aggressive behaviour could just as easily be PTSD from Vietnam. Romero shows the army as full of ordinary people trying their best to follow orders in awful conditions, and the politicians and analysts in Washington wrestling cynically with ways of both solving the problem and covering it up, including dropping a nuclear bomb.

It’s a decent horror film that lacks subtlety or pizazz, instead moving quickly along a rather plain arc. The final scenes have more emotion in them, and perhaps the coldness of the rest of the film is my problem with it. In too many places it’s a chilly tale of white-suited men in gas masks shooting at people and pushing them around, while officers and scientists shout at each other, but the human drama is decently played, and there is some potent imagery.