Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Crazies

I don’t know why, but one of my biggest thrills in movies is to see a devastating viral outbreak that requires a government quarantine to save everyone outside of the hot zone. It’s why I’ve read the first hundred or so pages of the Stand many more times than the rest of the book, and it’s probably connected to my similar love for zombies. How good for me, then, that the creator of the modern zombie story, Mr. George Romero himself, made this little-seen classic viral outbreak tale in the early 70s.

The film, set in a rural town in western Pennsylvania (curiously like a lot of Romero’s films – from what I can tell, western Pennsylvania is one of the most dangerous places in the world), concerns an experimental government bio-weapon that is accidentally released into the town’s water supply, and the military’s efforts to blockade the town so that nobody outside can learn of it, or be infected by it. The virus, of course, has a seemingly 100% success rate (just once, I’d like to see a movie about a deadly virus that’s like the flu and only has a crappy 20% infection rate), and everyone who gets it either dies or goes irreversibly insane. We then focus on a small group of locals that decide to hide from the government quarantine so that they don’t all get boxed into the high school to die like the rest of the town, only to find that they may have already been infected anyway.

This was Romero’s fourth film, after Night of the Living Dead and the as-yet-unseen-by-me There’s Always Vanilla and Season of the Witch. While those two middle films were largely panned and seem to have fallen into obscurity, this one is absolutely due for people to discover. Like Night and Dawn, this is not a very polished film; the acting is all done by local unknowns, and is average at best (with the exception of the delightful Lynn Lowry, whose creepy self I’ve also seen in I Drink Your Blood and Shivers, two other 70s films where she went crazy). What it does have going for it is a frenzied energy, of things crumbling apart around everyone, of events having gotten way out of control before anyone even noticed things were wrong (cue Grant Morrison hyping up Final Crisis some more). It’s a strong, bleak film, from a great director that finally seems to have ended his hiatus from filmmaking (though it would be nice if he’d continue making films that didn’t have zombies in them too, considering his past two films and his next are all part of his Dead series). It’s not quite his best (that will probably always remain Dawn of the Dead), but it definitely hangs with his top efforts. Go give it a try.

Rating: *** ½

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