With Halloween just around the corner, I thought I should again write about a subject suitable to the holiday. In this case it is the George Romero film The Crazies. Released in 1973, The Crazies did not do particularly well at the box office. Re-released under the new title Code Name: Trixie, it did no better. For that reason it has long been overshadowed by Romero's Dead movies, despite the fact that it is a very good film in and of itself.
The Crazies centres on the small town of Evans City, Pennsylvania, near which a plane carrying a bacteriological weapon just happened to crash. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of Evans City, this particular bacteriological weapon (code named Trixie) affects people in one of two ways: they either die or they become irrevocably insane. Wanting to contain the spread of the bacteria as well as keep its existence secret, the government sends the military to Evans City and places the town under martial law. With that act what was already a tense situation is made even worse. The movie focuses on two separate groups of people during this crisis. One is a group of civilians struggling to survive. The other are the military and civil leaders trying to contain the spread of Trixie, not to mention keep a lid on the entire incident.
The strength of The Crazies rests in the screenplay written by George Romero and based on a story by Paul McCullough. Made during the Vietnam War and not long after the Watergate scandal had become news, The Crazies reflects the time in which it was made. The government is portrayed as caring more about the containment of Trixie and keeping it a secret than they are the inhabitants of Evans City. The military is portrayed as woefully ill equipped to deal with the situation. The average soldier has no idea what he is even doing in a small Pennsylvania town. The populace of Evans City are shown as being very suspicious of the military presence and eager to know what is really going on. Much like Romero's earlier and more success film, Night of the Living Dead, analogies to the Vietnam War can easily be made where The Crazies are concerned.
Like nearly all of Romero's early work, The Crazies is made on a shoestring budget. In many respects, however, this works to the film's advantage. Without the spit and polish of a Hollywood movie, The Crazies looks and feels more realistic than most studio films. As a result, the film is all the more disturbing. And though I would say it is more a political action movie than a horror film, it does have some very effective moments of horror. Indeed, a scene in which soldiers confront an old woman who is knitting is particularly disturbing to me.
The cast is entirely made of unknowns, although Romero fans (including me) will recognise a few faces from his other films here and there. For the most part they give admirable performances and in many respects they are probably more believable than big name stars would be.
As I mentioned previously, The Crazies has largely been overshadowed by Romero's Dead films. It bombed in its initial release and would not really develop a following until its release on home video. This is sad, as it is actually one of Romero's better works (along with Knightriders and Martin). It is definitely a film that deserves to be seen.