So I was looking through trailers today on "Rotten Tomatoes" (I love trailers. Absolutely adore them. There's just something so magnificent about a really good trailer, the way it distills down the essence of a movie into these sharp, smart, two-minute micro-movies. Seriously, I could watch a full hour of trailers, and in fact have.) And they had a trailer for a remake of "The Crazies". Which reminded me, naturally, of the original Romero film...and that reminded me that Halloween is coming up, and people might be looking for some horror films to watch that they haven't already seen. Little cult gems, that sort of thing. And "The Crazies" fits that bill perfectly. So let's talk about "The Crazies".
The premise is brilliantly simple. A contagious virus gets into the drinking water of a small town. The only symptom of the virus? Murderous insanity. As various townspeople go nuts and start killing people, the government arrives to try to control the situation. But (surprise, surprise) they're also the ones who developed the virus to begin with, so while they're trying to find a cure and quarantine the infected, they're also covering up a secret and trying to hide the evidence. The net result is a military occupation of the town, one which turns brutal with shocking speed.
What you quickly wind up with is four factions. Insane townspeople, townspeople who have a justifiable fear of the soldiers occupying their town and using lethal force indiscriminately, soldiers who aren't sure who's insane and who's just shooting at them, and soldiers who are succumbing to the virus due to inadequate bio-hazard precautions. And the brilliant thing is that there's no way of knowing which is which, and Romero rarely signposts it for you. (This looks to be a mistake on the remake's part--they're turning the victims of the virus into stereotypical zombies, hunting in packs and looking all "infected".)
So as the pressure ratchets up, you find yourself uncertain as to whether any given character's actions at any given moment are the result of the virus...or just the kind of very human response to a tense, angry situation we see all the time. When the town priest sets himself on fire, is he crazy? Or is he protesting the military's actions (a la the Buddhist monks in Vietnam)? Or is it crazy to protest like that? (And, of course, the unspoken question...aren't the people who created the virus the craziest ones of all?)
It's not a particularly cheerful movie; this is Romero at his most nihilistic, during the Vietnam era, suggesting that maybe insanity is endemic to the human condition and if we really were being driven mad, we might not notice the difference. But it's also clever, tense, and filled with some haunting and evocative imagery, and it has some good acting from the principals. I recommend it.