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
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,
Happening, [REC], Quarantine,
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 . . .