In 1973, George Romero was still thinking about the productive and distributive vicissitudes of Season of the Witch (1972) when he wrote and directed The Crazies. And it’s easy to tell that the American director wasn’t happy about society and its institutions! The plot of the movie is extremely relevant nowadays given the recent developments related to the coronavirus pandemic. The Crazies is set in a Pennsylvania town, Evans City, which is quarantined because a highly contagious virus is (literally) driving the inhabitants crazy.
Already in the first scene there’s a father who, after killing his wife (something else which is constantly in the news, unfortunately), sets fire to the house with his two children inside. But this is just an excuse to introduce three of the protagonists of the story: the two firemen Clank (Harold Wayne Jones) and David (Will McMillan), and the latter’s girlfriend, the nurse Judy (Lane Carroll). She is among the first to realize the seriousness of the situation because the town doctor (Will Disney) warns her of the quarantine and tells to run away. Throughout the film, we follow the attempts of the three to leave the area which is under military surveillance while the situation gets out of hand with widespread acts of violence due to infected people, soldiers unable to manage public order, and citizens who rebel with weapons against to take back their freedom.
Anyway, Romero was too intelligent to make all the military look like idiots or, worse, evil (or maybe in 1973 he wasn’t yet as angry as in 1985 when he made Day of the Dead, where none if the army personnel is worth saving). In The Crazies, both Major Ryder (Harry Spillman) and Colonel Peckem (Lloyd Hollar) do their best to save the day and, especially the latter, really try to save the people of the city. Except that, it soon turns out, the situation is beyond all hope!
The virus is spread through contaminated water, and the water was contaminated by a bacteriological weapon developed by the military themselves and lost in a plane crash on a hill outside the city. In short, sooner or later everyone will be infected and even gas masks won’t make any difference. Romero is particularly cruel with the chiefs of the army and the government (the director himself interprets the President of the United States) who cynically discuss in a room the fate of their citizens and decide to nuke Evans City in the event that the situation gets out of control, which is exactly what happens in the last dramatic scene of the film.
To conclude, even if there are no zombies, all the themes dear to Romero are present in The Crazies. Let me add that the title may refer to the infected, of course, but also to those who create weapons of mass destruction (bacteriological) and use other weapons (nuclear) to remedy their mistakes. In 1973 the Vietnam war was still raging on, so this wasn’t about science fiction, but current news of the time! This is truly a great film made by a great director. It cost very little (not even $ 300,000) and grossed even less (also because it was badly distributed, nothing new for the Father of the Zombie Film). Ciao!
PS: there’s a 2010 remake directed by Breck Eisner which is not too shabby as far as remakes go, but it’s really useless because the original is so great!