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Old 07-25-2006, 03:23 PM
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Default Crazies, The



Reviewer: Paff
Review Date: August 24, 2003

Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 4/29/2003
MSRP: $24.98
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: Yes



George A. Romero is idolized within the horror community almost solely for his trilogy of zombie films, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead. Horror fans also really appreciate many of his other efforts like the ambiguous vampire film Martin, and Romero even received some mainstream success with his Stephen King collaboration Creepshow. But one movie rarely discussed when considering Romero's work is his 1973 bio-warfare thriller The Crazies. Bill Lustig's Blue Underground is attempting to rectify that injustice with a rather impressive DVD release of this little-seen gem.

The Story

Like several of Romero's other films, The Crazies takes place in western Pennsylvania, this time the small town of Evans City. Firefighter David (W.G. MacMillan) and his girlfriend, nurse Judy (Lane Carroll), are called in after a fire razes a remote farmhouse. Judy and the rest of the medical staff are surprised to see that their small office has been taken over by Major Ryder (Harry Spillman) and a small band of military men all wearing germ-proof suits. They're warning that a virus has been unleashed in Evans City, and everyone is at risk.

David and his fellow firefighter buddy Clank (Harold Wayne Jones) also learn that strange things are happening when they're told the fire was set by the owner of the house, who simply went crazy. They decide to get out of town, but after reconnecting with Judy, they're captured by the Army. There they also meet Artie Bolman (Richard Liberty) and his daughter Kathy (Lynn Lowry) who may already be infected by the virus.

Meanwhile, the Army (and Washington D.C.) is trying to come up with a solution for the virus, a biological warfare weapon named Trixie. Trixie was released in a plane crash, and seeped into the water supply of Evans City, making it possible that every resident is infected. And there's no indication of infection, other than the victim simply going crazy (hence the title).


As the Pentagon mulls its options (including a nuclear strike!), Trixie scientists, led by Dr. Walls (Richard France) race against time to find a cure for the disease. David and his companions wage war against both the Army and infected townspeople in their race to escape Evans City. Can they find their way to safety before they all turn into The Crazies?

While not one of Romero's best films, The Crazies is definitely enjoyable. At its core, it's got that "small group of survivors on the run" feel that make his Dead films so much better than the average zombie fare. That motif still works today, as shown with the success of Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. As with all of those films, tension is added as the survivors are not just fleeing from zombies (or "The Infected" in Boyle's movie), but from other humans who may even be more bloodthirsty that the real threat itself. When watching The Crazies, one can almost see it as a trial run for the last two parts of Romero's dead trilogy. I think horror fans should see it for that reason alone.

There is a distinct distrust of the military quite prevalent here that makes The Crazies a bit reminiscent of the classic satire Dr. Strangelove. As in that movie, we see the fallacy of the departmentalization of our armed forces, and when one hand doesn't know what the other is doing, the result can be quite devastating. In fact, a peaceful end to the crisis in The Crazies goes by the wayside simply due to poor communications. So in one way we can see a criticism of the military minds (remember, the Vietnam War was winding down at the time of The Crazies' release), yet it can also be seen as an indication that every single job in the armed forces is critical to our nation in a time of crisis. Damning of the military, or a recruitment for communications officers? You decide.


Some people have noted that The Crazies is a rather slow film, and that's a valid complaint. It's a real low-budget affair, and not the best acted. Night of the Living Dead was low budget and slow moving as well, but since that movie was meant to be more eerie than thrilling, it didn't hamper the pace as much. Here we have a small group on the run and time is a factor, but there's more talk than anything. Still, I found myself so wrapped up in the story, and I cared about the characters, that I wasn't as bothered by the slow pace and lack of action as many others have been.

Gorehounds may also be slightly disappointed. Romero's next film was Martin, beginning his partnership with makeup wizard Tom Savini. The Crazies, however, limits the violence mostly to gunshots, or more specifically, exploding squibs of blood on the white germ-proof suits of the soldiers. But like I mentioned above, this film works more as a precursor to the apocalyptic vision seen in Dawn and Day of the Dead. If the allure of those films is the extreme violence, The Crazies may not satisfy your bloodlust, but if you appreciate the character development and destruction of society motif in Romero's more well known efforts, you may really like this movie.


Finally, while many of the actors are small-time (several were locals), you'll get some good performances by a few genre favorites. Lynn Lowry made several low-budget shockers (more on her later), and you also see a younger Richard Liberty, who played Dr. Logan, one of the more memorable characters in Day of the Dead. And, you might wonder if the Richard France character is the same one that appears in Dawn of the Dead ("Dummies! Dummies! Dummies!"). All in all, I found The Crazies to be an underrated enjoyable little thriller.

Image Quality

This is the first Blue Underground title I've seen, and I have to say I was really impressed with the look of the disc. For a low-budget film that's now 30 years old, the color and detail is really exceptional. A significant number of scenes take place at night, with usually just a single light source (Romero discusses this in the commentary), and those scenes look really nice. The contrast and black level is really good here, and while I've never seen The Crazies on VHS, I was still surprised with the exceptional look. The outdoor scenes look just as good, with rich detail and deep color. A couple of times, you can see some print damage, but that is really minimal. The Crazies is presented in a 1.66:1 widescreen ratio, with 16x9 enhancement.

Sound

Unfortunately, the sound doesn't fare as well, but that's not really Blue Underground's fault. As Romero mentions in the commentary, the sound was always problematic and distorted, due to some rather primitive recording techniques. I don't know if any efforts were made to clean it up, but the thinness, harshness, and hollowness of the sound all seem to have been there since it was recorded. It's a mono soundtrack, represented here in Dolby Digital 2.0. Yet despite the inherent deficiencies with the sound, you can still make out all of the dialogue easily enough to enjoy the film. And I'm glad they chose a sound mix that represents the original presentation rather than excessively "cook" or clean up the sound to try to approximate today's multi-channel effects.

Supplemental Material

The Crazies may be a small film, but that didn't stop Blue Underground from providing a metric ton of extras. The biggest feature is a running commentary from Bill Lustig and George Romero. Lustig lets Romero do most of the talking, although Lustig's recollections of his own experiences making similarly budgeted films is highly informative. It's not as much a scene-specific commentary, as Romero openly admits he hasn't seen the film in a long time, but he provides enough information about the inspiration and the techniques he used to make this a great insight into the world of independent filmmaking.

Lynn Lowry is a supporting player in The Crazies, but she's here to tell the world how she got her start and what she's been up to lately. Today, she looks more like Kitty Forman on That 70s Show, but it's great hearing from someone who made several horror films in the early 70s. I have to admit, this was more entertaining than I had anticipated, enough so to make me want to check out some of the other films she mentions (well, maybe not that cheesy one with Lloyd Kaufman). This feature contains a lot of really rare clips, and even if you're not a big Lynn Lowry fan, there's plenty of nudity to keep you entertained. But seriously, she's very personable and fondly recalls the drive-in movies she made.

After this it's more of the typical features, such as the trailers and stills gallery (although I had a real difficult time seeing any difference between the two theatrical trailers provided). The stills gallery is extensive (if not excessive) and I lost count of just how many there are. Easily over 100 though, so make sure you have time if you're gonna check them out. Finally there is a George Romero biography, which most people watching this film will already be familiar with, but it's still a great recap of the career of one of the all-time favorite horror directors.


Final Thoughts

The Crazies is a great film from the 70s that unfortunately got swept under the rug. Fans of apocalyptic films will find this exceptionally enjoyable. Not only is the film quite good, Blue Underground really went the extra mile with the DVD release (and the list price is very reasonable too). The picture quality is fantastic, and the extras are exhaustive. Much better than one would expect for such an obscure low-budget film. It's my first experience with Bill Lustig's new operation, but I'm really impressed so far.

Rating

Movie - B+
Image Quality - A-
Sound - C+
Supplements - A


Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 43 minutes
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono

Supplements
  • Audio Commentary with Bill Lustig and George A. Romero
  • The Cult Film Legacy of Lynn Lowry - Interview with star Lynn Lowry
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • TV Spots
  • George Romero Bio

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