Wednesday, June 30, 2010

You don't have to be Crazy to like "The Crazies."

George Romero is nowadays like Stan Lee. Both are old men who are cashing in on the fact that long, long ago in a galaxy far away they did something innovative that inspired a legion of fanboys for generations. I don't begrudge either their victory laps at the moment, it is after all earned. It just means that I don't salivate in the mention of the newest "...Dead" film that Romero is working on. I'm sure it will be compentent and have a moment or two of interest, and for a cheap horror film that's more than good enough.

Let's for the moment though hop into the way back machine and see what made Romero so interesting. Let's not look at his zombie films which are now the subject of legions of papers but let's rather look at "The Crazies." It's a hard film to find, and even today if you find the DVD of it you'll notice it was taken from a damaged print and there are some scenes that had to be rather obviously doctored for continuity. It was almost truly a forgotten film. It is the story of a small town infected by a military created virus code named "trixie" ("Code Name Trixie" was an alternate title for the film.) The virus quickly drives its victims insane with a marked tendency for homocide. The military sweeps in to try take care of the matter, but they act so ham handedly that the locals both crazy and not yet infected react as if they were being invaded. The film becomes a three way struggle. A group of non infected try to escape the quarentine zone, the military tries to round up as humanely as possible both the non infected and infected and try to find a cure, and a whole bunch of crazy people are running around with sharp objects. It doesn't take long for everything to break down. The non infected slowly find their numbers dwindling as they become infected or the victim of violence, the military soons find itself overwhelmed and all chances for a cure are lost. You can certainly draw parallels to Vietnam, or Kent State here, Romero is not exactly ever in "subtle" mode. But the film is certainly good enough even without the subtext. These aren't Romero zombies, they are capable of shocking violence and the breaking of all social tabboos. Certainly, it shows the razor edge that society is based upon and how easy it would be to fall to anarchy.

So, given this film's 'forgotten' status, I was glad to see it remade. I was doubly glad to see it star Timothy Oliphant of "Justified" and "Deadwood" fame. If there is anyone who can nail down the reality of the situation it's him. He plays the sheriff who wakes up one morning in his nice little town to find out that people are no longer being nice. It starts off with him having to shoot a man down in the middle of a baseball game, and the ball just starts rolling down hill from there. The film doesn't dwadle that's for sure, and that's a good and a bad thing. I would have liked a little more from the military side of things. On the other hand it whizzes past the usual cliche of "town officials not wanting to start a panic," which I for one could well do without. The military here oddly is presented in a less favorable light than the original "Crazies," I find that odd since the original was made at the height of anti military feelings. The Violence was ramped up thanks to a better budget (the original was made from the change in romero's extra pants), but the tabboo-ness of it was lowered way down. In the commentary, the director said this was a conscious decision and that today's film goers just wouldn't stand for it. If that's true, then that's sad.

Overall, this is a decent little film. And certainly works well in the zombie/28 days after genre. I do like how it is spelled out that, no matter how much you like Timothy Oliphant, if the main characters succeed they might very well likely spread the virus to other places. Certainly, a no win situation for all concerned. It would be enough to drive you.... crazy.

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