Crazies, The (US - BD)
Gabe revisits George Romero's original film just in time for the remake's release
Its code name is ‘Trixie’, an experimental government germ weapon that leaves its victims either dead or irreversibly insane. When the virus is accidentally unleashed in Evans City, Pennsylvania, the small community becomes a war zone of panicked military, desperate scientists and gentle neighbors turned homicidal maniacs. A small group of citizens, firefighters David (W.G. McMillan) and Clank (Harold Wayne Jones), and David’s nurse girlfriend Judy (Lane Caroll), flee to the town's outskirts where they hide from trigger-happy, possibly Trixie effected soldiers. Meanwhile, Dr. Watts (Richard France), a key man in the development of Trixie is rushed to the town’s high school science room to develop a cure.
The Crazies, released here on Blu-ray disc just in time to trick consumers on the look out for the theatrical remake, clearly sees writer/director George Romero prepping himself for the scope of his best film, Dawn of the Dead. Though not as moody or moving as Martin, arguably Romero’s best non-zombie film (made between this film and that magnum opus), The Crazies (aka: Codename: Trixie) is a mostly effective thriller, with a lovely intimate streak. Romero’s patented draconian sense of comic book irony cuts through what could’ve been a more classic exercise in suspense, but like all the writer/director’s best films this one benefits from that arteur’s touch. Romero’s dueling worlds of documentarian immediacy and over-the-top, doom-baked plotting (which he would perfect with Dawn) really begin to take shape in an artistic sense here.
Not surprisingly the most memorable bits exist outside of the basic plot, when Romero takes time to capture hyper-reality, including warm character interactions that break up the relentless chase aspects, and genuinely shocking images of unsuspected madness. The scene were a grinning grandmother stabs a masked soldier to death with a knitting needle, then sits back down to re-roll her yarn ball is definitely the dominant and lasting image. The chaotic opening act scenes of unexpected terror and white-suited home invasion work so well the rest of the film suffers a sense of deflation. The developing paranoia concerning who is infected is pretty intense, but never quite matches the nail-biting terror of stuff like The Andromeda Strain (which had been released only a few years previous), even if Romero’s R-rating affords him a more creeping disturbance, and controversial button-pushing (the incest scene approaches the more avant garde terror of the superior Martin).
Visually speaking one can see Romero learning to love his static camera and quick cutting mix that he’d perfect with Dawn of the Dead. Here he overdoes it a bit, overcutting simple talking scenes to a dizzying effect, but even when it doesn’t work these choices are so very Romero-esque. Few filmmakers get this much kinetic momentum out of this many static shots (seriously, count the camera moves, there can’t be more than a dozen in the whole film). The look dates the film a little more than it should, but the low budget origins make the less refined aspects more palatable. Romero also uses unprofessional actors (mostly to save money), which is another double-edged sword, though slightly duller than that of Dawn of the Dead, which depended more on the four leads. Sometimes these people feel entirely realistic, as if Romero’s camera was actually there to tape a real event, but other times they overdo it and draw unwanted attention to their amateurism. At the very least the film stands apart from its monetary shortcomings (the estimated budget wiggles somewhere around $275,000), and fits nicely in the post-Vietnam world of 1970s American film.
The Crazies is far from the ideal candidate for Blu-ray treatment, but at this point fans have learned to expect the unexpected from Blue Underground. This transfer isn’t very far removed from the company’s DVD transfer, but cleans up some of the heavier grain and noise, and presents fuller, brighter colours. The detail levels aren’t going to blow any minds, but the overall cleanliness is definitely impressive. The fullness of the reds, the depth and sharpness of the blacks, and natural quality of the skin tones are the transfer biggest pluses. There is plenty of grain in the mix, and small artefacts flicker throughout the entirety of the print, but digital compression is all but absent. There’s zero edge-enhancement, and blocking really only rears its head during the poppiest warm hues. Some of the interiors are a bit yellowed, and some of the really dark outdoor shots are a bit blurry, but there’s a relative continuity to the image, including the overall depth of field, excepting some really grimy looking stock footage shots. The outdoor daylight scenes are occasionally close to perfect, revealing deeper focus details, and wonderfully contrasting brown fall grounds and rich, blue skies. Romero himself makes mention of a few of Blue Underground’s digital clean-ups (pertaining to the DVD release), positively pointing to some darkened day for night skies.
Blue Underground, surprisingly enough, does not presents The Crazies in the form of a usual 5.1 upgrade. The original soundtrack was monorual, and the disc’s producers keep this DTS-HD track centered. The sound is relatively thin and tinny overall, which is clearly the fault of the original tracks. Romero is a great storyteller and visualist, but his use of sound has always been comparatively subpar. The shortcomings are mostly acceptable based on the film’s tone, which depends on a lot of chaotic image grabbing, but when giving specific attention to the track for the sake of review the problems are pretty apparent. There isn’t any distortion on the higher volume bits, but they tend to be pretty shrill (there’s a lot of yelling), and there’s certainly a bit of echo on the most prevalent dialogue and sound effects. The shootout scenes are stylistically pretty strange, as every gun shot sounds relatively identical, but on the film’s terms it works. Just try to not be disappointed with the relative lack of LFE presence. The music is another less than effective element, which defines Romero’s weakness with audio design. Like Night of the Living Dead almost all the score here is catalogue music, which fits the tone of a scene, but creates a disconnect, and makes the whole mix sound more like a temp track than I’m thinking Romero intended (the man does complain a few times about his own musical choices during the commentary track).
Once again, Blue Underground doesn’t go out of their way to create any new extras, but does include everything that was available on the old DVD release. Things start with a uniformly fantastic commentary track from Romero, supported by Blue Underground boss and Maniac director Bill Lustig. Romero has enough stories to keep things moderately entertaining and informative, and Lustig’s added input and questioning pushes it right over the edge into greatness. The track acts not only to describe the making of this particular film, but fills in other sections of Romero’s filmography, specifically the time between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, and acts a pretty good lesson in low-budget filmmaking. There are a few blank spots, and Romero whines a little too often about the state of modern film, but on the whole this is a really standout commentary.
‘The Cult Film Legacy of Lynn Lowry’ (14:00, SD) is the disc’s only featurette. Actress Sara Lynn Lowry, who appears in The Crazies as Kathy, runs down her brief and entertaining little cult career, including footage and stories from The Battle of Love’s Return, I Drink Your Blood (a must see early gore opus), Sugar Cookies, Score, Cronenberg’s Shivers, and of course, The Crazies. Personally I could do with a feature length doc on the subject. Things are wrapped up with two trailers and two TV spots.
The Crazies isn’t one of George Romeo’s elite films, but it’s stylistically pretty incredible, featuring enough creative breakthroughs to make it a must see for fans of Dawn of the Dead, which certainly reaped a lot of what Romero sowed here. The ending is a great downer. Hopefully the remake will pick up on the more emotionally disturbing aspect rather than going for a series of physical horror shocks. Blue Underground does a characteristically great job with this high definition transfer, and they do what they can with the thin and flat mono audio. The extras feature nothing new, but the director’s commentary is pretty wonderful, regardless of previous availability. Early word seems to say the upcoming remake has very little in common, but give the original a pre-theater stop go anyway, just for the hell of it.
Reviewer Note: Huge thanks to Troy Anderson at Andersonvision.com for the screencaps, which have been resized for the page.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 23rd February 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, The Cult Films of Lynn Lowry, Two Trailers, Two TV Spots
Easter Egg: No
Director: George A. Romero
Cast: W.G. McMillan, Harold Wayne Jones, Lane Caroll, Richard France, Lynn Lowry, Richard Liberty
Length: 103 minutes
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