The Crazies

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George A. Romero’s film The Crazies (1973), made on a shoestring budget, has found new renown and relevancy in the COVID age. Audiences who knew Romero only for his zombie pictures, if at all, discovered a new dimension to the filmmaker, embracing the parallels between The Crazies and their own experiences with a pandemic.

The Crazies, like Night Of The Living Dead (1968), uses the formula of a genre film to explore complex sociological and political themes. In the case of The Crazies the specific themes are those of bureaucratic red tape, political corruption and paranoia. The scenes of the military takeover cover the first two while the plot revolving around a handful of dissidents escaping quarantine addresses the latter. Romero’s documentary influenced style, born of the necessities of budget constraints, gives The Crazies, like so many of his films, an unsettling sense of realism.

This “realism” or documentary style is most prevalent in The Crazies in the film’s sound design. The soundtrack is stuffed with background noise so while the focus of the scene is clear in the mix, other conversations can be heard as well. This is most obvious in the scenes at the military headquarters where the hustle and bustle is constant. As in the more formally complex Robert Altman movies this tactic effectively immerses the viewer in a space with the characters.

Romero also uses hand held cameras to the same ends. However this choice is motivated more by financial limitations than by aesthetic design. Which isn’t to say that Romero doesn’t use the technique to its full advantage. As people flee the soldiers and quarantine the hand held camera work. is essential not only in conveying the kinetic energy of those sequences but also in recalling televised news footage of war zones, specifically Vietnam.

Romero’s genius was for taking conditions brought about by limited budgets and turning them to his advantage. As deliberately plotted as Romero’s films are the circumstances of their production almost always lend these films a sort of “hand-made” or “homegrown” quality. Part of that might be due to the fact that so many of Romero’s earlier pictures were shot in and around the city where he grew up; Pittsburgh.

In many ways The Crazies is an Irwin Allen disaster film filtered through Romero’s brand of grassroots horror filmmaking. The Crazies is never really either on its own, but is a kind of synthesis of the two styles. Where Allen’s films are big budgeted, glossy and impersonal Romero’s The Crazies is messy, intimate, and undeniably personal. Yet they are both predicated on the growing distrust between a civilian population and its federal government. The Crazies, like any Irwin Allen film in the seventies, is a reaction to student protests, the Vietnam War, and political assassinations. These conditions created a market in the U.S. and abroad for these types of movies which Romero and Allen couldn’t help but to exploit.