Plans are afoot to remake George Romero’s little-known 1973 movie The Crazies, the original “unknown disease turning people into homicidal maniacs” flick. We have just one question: why?

Long before an unknown disease turned ordinary people into rage-filled zombies in 2002's 28 Days Later and created a subgenre of its own in the process, there was George Romero’s The Crazies.

Filmed five years after Romero’s breakthrough debut, the original Night of the Living Dead in 1968, The Crazies may have enjoyed some cult cred with horror movie aficionados, but it has however largely languished in obscurity since then. (It was only released on DVD as late as 2003.)

Like most of Romero’s efforts of the era, it is a zero-budget affair with no-name stars. In fact, one can almost picture Romero calling up some of his friends and neighbors and informing them that, yes, he is making another movie and would they like to star in it again.

Set in Romero’s native Pennsylvania (like Night of the Living Dead), The Crazies is about a “bio weapon” virus that is inadvertently set loose into a small town’s water supply when a military plane crashes nearby. The virus is lethal – either outright killing the victim or turning the person irretrievably insane. There is no known cure and no antidote either. To battle it, one is merely pumped full of antibiotics and one hopes for the best. Needless to say, this makes fighting the spread of the virus a bit of a lost cause, a bit like . . . yup, you guessed it, the Vietnam War. Yes, The Crazies is actually one vast metaphor for America’s involvement in Vietnam. (By 1973, when the movie was made, many Americans believed the war to be unwinnable and they were right: the last helicopter to depart a Saigon rooftop was in 1975.)

"It has one of the bleakest ever endings in movie history . . ."

The U.S. military is sent in to contain the spread of the virus, but it is all one major fuckup to put it bluntly. With no way to actually control the spread of the virus, the troops sent to deal with the disease actually succumb to it as well and wind up making the situation even worse. Soon the local townspeople are caught in running gun battles with the soldiers enforcing the quarantine.

What makes The Crazies interesting is that one never exactly knows whether the virus has actually already infected all the trigger-happy soldiers and townspeople or not. One somehow have a suspicion that it hasn't, as we see U.S. troops pilfer items from the houses of the people they are evacuating early on in the movie. The same goes for the townspeople themselves who battle the soldiers out of a healthy disrespect for authority instead of being infected by the virus. The film’s (uninfected) hero mentions campus shootings as a good reason to stay out of the military’s way; this was after all the ‘Seventies – a period which can be accurately described as a hang-over of the antiestablishment 1960’s . . .

The Crazies isn’t a particularly good movie. The plot often meanders and the production values are poor, especially the tinny sound – much of the dialogue seems to have been added in a studio with bad spatial acoustics afterwards. Also, the acting is rather bad. From a production point of view, The Crazies is thus ripe for updating. However, what elevates the movie from other similar “scientists battling unknown disease” movies is its countercultural pessimism. Simply put: it has an attitude that is difficult to dislike. Its bleak unpredictability is refreshing, especially nowadays when movies are all so similar in their cookie-cutter blandness. For starters, The Crazies has one of the bleakest endings ever - even by the standards of its time! ('Seventies movies weren't exactly known for their happy endings.)

This is however something that will probably simply get lost with any modern big-budget remake. America may have its own “Vietnam” today in the guise of the Iraq War and opposition to that war may be growing daily, but it is difficult to believe that any mainstream Hollywood movie will portray American GIs in a negative light. After all, Americans may hate the war, but they love the troops - right? So expect any remake of The Crazies to throw out whatever made the movie so thought-provoking in the first place.

Also, the whole “disease turning people into crazed killers” thing have practically become a subgenre all of its own lately with an endless procession of flicks like The Signal, Automaton Transfusion, Pulse, The Happening, [REC], Quarantine, Doomsday and 28 Weeks Later to mention but a few. Do we really need another one? Despite the familiarity of the material by now there was enough in Romero’s satirical vision to make us dread any sanitized, happy ending version. So unless Hollywood believes that all we want is another Andromeda Strain remake, then they’d best steer clear of The Crazies altogether . . .



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