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review added: 7/30/03



The Crazies
1973 (2003) - Blue Underground

review by Rob Hale of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Crazies Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/C+/B

Specs and Features

103 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.66:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered, keep case packaging, audio commentary by director George A. Romero, The Cult Film Legacy of Lynn Lowry - interview with start Lynn Lowry, theatrical trailers, TV spots, poster and stills gallery, George A. Romero bio, animated film-themed menu screens, scene access (25 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none


"Oh, come on Frank! This is a highly organized, riot-trained Army. You can't tell me that they're unable to hold the perimeter on a small town through early morning."

Long neglected since its release in 1973, George A. Romero's The Crazies is finally getting its due on home video. Released just as Night of the Living Dead was starting to gain much of the critical momentum that it has today, the film was unable to cash in on the film's success and therefore achieved only a very brief theatrical run. It was then dumped to home video with a couple of poor VHS releases (most recently a fuzzy full-frame release from Anchor Bay) that left much to desire. With the increased media attention that biological warfare has gained in the last few years, and the American release of Danny Boyle's similarly themed 28 Days Later, it was perhaps inevitable that the film would receive a new release, the question is how well does it fare?

Almost relentless in its build-up, The Crazies starts innocently enough with a young boy playfully scaring his sister. The scene quickly turns dark however, with the discovery of a rampaging father and a dead mother. As the family's house burns, the opening credits roll and the film begins its sprint to its inevitable conclusion. By the time the credits are done rolling, the military has arrived and begins the process of investigating the situation (the leak of a biological weapon into the ground water) and containment of the townspeople, a small group of which figure out what is happening and try to escape...

Much like its predecessor NotLD, The Crazies is basically an examination of social conformity in response to a loosely defined crisis. In this case the crisis is a 'bacteriological weapon,' codename "Trixie," which slowly causes a psychosis in the population that is frequently violent and always incapacitating. When the military is called in, and hysteria begins to build in the town (in both the civilians and military personnel), it becomes increasingly more difficult to distinguish those people that are infected from those who are just angry and trying to survive.

As the film progresses, our identification shifts from the military personnel, who provide us with the necessary exposition, to a group of civilians on the run and slowly going mad. The military becomes increasingly cold, bureaucratic, and zombie-like - all dressed in the same white contamination suits, they become nameless faceless beings stealing everything in sight and killing (or being killed) seemingly indiscriminately. Meanwhile, the townspeople are similarly becoming a 'like-minded' mass of killers as they succumb to Trixie. The key distinction between the two groups, and a central theme in the film, is that the townspeople are victims of Trixie/conformity, whereas the military is just following orders and therefore willingly conforming.

The film is quite successful in dealing with its story, what most of us really want to know, in the end, is "Is it scary?" All I can say is, it depends on what you expect. If you're expecting the gore bombs that are the Dead films (especially Dawn of the Dead) you'll probably be disappointed. Although it has some gore, the film is really quite restrained and very tame by today's standards. Do you want to be jumping out of your seat every 5.4 minutes? You won't. But if you compare The Crazies to other Hollywood attempts at the subject matter, like Outbreak, then it seems downright scary. The film truly succeeds and hits closer to home because its 'heroes' (if we can call them that) are the average victims, not the scientists/doctors fighting the disease, nor the soldiers trying to contain it. The limitations of the budget and inexperience of the filmmakers do show (as they do in most early Romero films), but the film transcends these problems and the end result is a creepy film that was obviously a labor of love, not the product of endless development meetings.

On the technical side, Blue Underground has presented The Crazies in what they claim to be 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. The actual framing appears to be tighter, but compositions don't seem to suffer for it and overall looks pretty good. The transfer is utilitarian, but is such a drastic improvement over all previous fuzzy home video releases that I've seen that it is difficult to be disappointed. Colors are well represented and blacks are nice and deep, although the limitations of the source materials are present (dirt, grain, etc.). Compression overall is good, with no distracting artifacts and a very fine grain which is evident throughout and was actually much more subdued than I was expecting to see. Overall, it's a nice film-like transfer, which is far from perfect, but pleasing nonetheless. The sound option is a thick mono, representative of a low budget film of its day. For the most part, voices are clear, but they do get muddled when there is a lot going on. But it's nothing to get too excited about.

The extras, while slim, are a nice addition to the package. First up is a commentary track with George Romero interviewed by Blue Underground's Bill Lustig. The two seem very comfortable and jovial with one another and provide a well-balanced and informative track covering both technical details and behind the scenes anecdotes, definitely shouldn't be missed. Next up is a short featurette titled The Cult Film Legacy of Lynne Lowry, which is light, yet still entertaining interview with one of the film's stars, who appeared in a series of low budget films in the late 60's early 70's (including Radley Metzger's Score and David Cronenberg's Shivers). Rounding out the extras are a pair of anamorphicaly enhanced trailers, a couple of TV spots, an impressive stills gallery containing over 200 images, and a George Romero bio, which is surprisingly lengthy.

In the end, it is a nice package of a film that has been overlooked for too long, and aged incredibly well. It is certainly not the prettiest disc on the block, but it's probably the best this film is going to look and sound barring a pricey, and unlikely at this point, restoration.

Rob Hale
nirayo@yahoo.com




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