The Crazies, a 1973 horror flick directed by Night of the Living Dead director George Romero has been on my wanna-see list for several years since I first learned about the movie's existence. Similar in tone and subject matter to the 1968 classic horror flick which made his reputation, this one falls short, but it's not for lack of effort. If anything, the movie works too hard.
The plot, simply put is that a U.S. Military plane crashes into the countryside of Pennsylvania releasing a deadly bio-weapon into the water system which infects the small town of Evans City. Almost at the beginning of the movie the United States Army bursts into the town and establishes martial law and begin to gather up the residents, most of whom are likely infected. The Army has responded quickly to the threat seemingly but have not brought enough men nor enough equipment to adequately do the job and so many of the town folk flee. We follow the exploits of a local fireman (also former Green Beret Vietnam vet) and his nurse wife and their friend who try to evade the authorities, often with lethal results. Meanwhile a scientist attempts to concoct a cure at the local high school chemistry lab, the same high school where the mad population is being herded. Things go wrong almost immediately. And over all hangs the threat of nuclear destruction if it gets out of hand.
It's a fantastic premise for a movie. The tempo of the plot is ideal, creating confusion and chaos almost from the beginning. That said, the movie making just ain't up to the demands of this provocative story. The budget for this movie was relatively small for the time, but still we get quite a bit of production value by the use of a real town. What really sets this one back is the rather indifferent acting. Many of the roles are handled by folks who just don't seem up to the task. And when clearly pros are on screen the lines the speak seem weirdly out of place. Everyone yells a lot so as to seemingly promote the notion that they are scared and tense, but after a very short while it becomes exceedingly annoying. There's really only ever one speed on this movie and that undermines most every attempt at suspense, of which there is almost none.
The movie tries to survive by offering up a series of disturbing scenes and vignettes which are often pretty crude. The dominant image is that of the military dressed in stark white hazmat suits. These images create a weirdly mundane and simultaneously bizarre feeling. Oddly the suits do make the actors underneath the masks nearly indecipherable but I'm not sure if that was a directorial decision or just more of the movie which lost out to the meager budget. They even have the makings of a nifty idea as clearly the notion of the filmmakers is to show the incompetence and callousness of the government in response to a threat to its own people. There is a truth to the situation which is shown, but that's sadly undermined by the indifferent editing and overlong scenes which seem to make little sense in the moment.
I wanted to really like this movie, parts of it I do admire, but overall it became a bit of a drag.
The movie was remade in 2010, and also called The Crazies this what I saw first and in fact this how I learned of the Romero original. This one clearly has more money and it uses its budget quite well. The story is pretty much the same but in this case the suspense is allowed to develop.
Instead of the military showing up in the first few minutes, instead we follow the local sheriff as he contends with seemingly mad and murderous townfolk. The mystery of what is happening is allowed to build before the army shows up and the story takes an even darker turn. The nature of the threat is more subtle with a reason given as to why not everyone will be affected to the same degree. Being a modern movie with a larger budget the action sequences are perhaps less credible but are no less exciting than those in the original as a handful of survivors attempt to escape the cordons enforced by the authorities. Better acting makes caring for the survivors more attainable.
I enjoy both movies in certain ways but I will confess the original is less impressive in the final analysis than I expected. The ham-fisted acting just gets in the way too often to maintain the momentum the story requires.