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 infected 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.
Pandemic movies are, at their heart, disaster movies and disease/infection-driven stories, like Cornel Wilde’s No Blade of Grass (1970), Robert Wise’s The Andromeda Strain (1971), and Kinji Fukasaku’s Day of Resurrection (Japanese: Fukkatsu no hi; aka: Virus, 1980), flourished alongside big-budget studio behemoths that exploited fears of natural disasters, like John Guillermin & Irwin Allen’s The Towering Inferno (1974), Mark Robson’s Earthquake (1974), and Ronald Neame & Irwin Allen’s The Poseidon Adventure (1972). During this era and between his zombie opuses, the king of politically-infused horror, George A. Romero, dealt with the smaller scale moral ambiguities of pandemic circumstances with The Crazies (aka: Code Name: Trixie, 1973).
Starved of the budget necessary to develop big action set-pieces (the production costs were reportedly set around $275k), Romero chose to focus on the emotional tolls a government-developed bio-germ might affect a small rural community. As in the case of his zombie movies, he exploited the unpredictability of violence, specifically the idea that, given the right circumstances, loved ones and family members could turn against each other without warning. He depicts this most viscerally in a sequence where a sweet old lady suddenly stabs one of the military stooges to death with her knitting needle, but a more alarming moment is one where a devoted father (Richard Liberty) is infected and attempts to rape his ow daughter (Lynn Lowry). When Breck Eisner remade The Crazies in 2010, he and screenwriters Scott Kosar & Ray Wright recognized the modern relevancy of Romero’s basic plot. However, while they kept the inept government cover-up and an inciting house fire sequence, they did away with other subplots in order to focus on the damage Trixie was inflicting on innocent citizens. The ‘crazies’ were also essentially recast as zombies, signifying an enduring Hollywood focus on reflexive violence over more abstract dread, like a contagious disease that can cause incest.
Though not as moody or moving as Romero’s best non-zombie film, Martin (1978), The Crazies is a mostly effective thriller with a lovely intimate streak. Romero’s draconian sense of comic book irony cuts through what could’ve been a more classic (and boring) exercise in suspense. What would become a Romero trademark – the dueling worlds of documentarian immediacy and affected melodrama – really begin to take shape in an artistic sense, here. Visually speaking, this is the point when he developed a pattern of largely static camera work and quick cutting to convey action. He’d perfect the look with Dawn of the Dead (1978), whereas this time, he tends to overcut even simple dialogue sequences to a dizzying effect (Romero phased the style out some time around Creepshow ). This style perhaps dates the film a little more than it should, but, otherwise, the rough and naturalistic qualities work in the small budget’s favor by creating a genuine documentary feel.
Here in North America, The Crazies was released on VHS via Vista Home Video and was reissued on the format in the ‘90s by both Redemption Video and Anchor Bay Entertainment. Blue Underground released DVD and remastered Blu-ray versions, before losing the rights to Arrow. Arrow chose to restore the original film elements in 4K, alongside other early Romero films: There’s Always Vanilla (1971) and Season of the Witch (1972). All three movies were grouped in a Limited Edition set called George Romero Between Night and Dawn. Now, each is available as a standard-issue Blu-ray. For the sake of comparison, I’ve included screen caps from Arrow’s remastered transfer (left side of the slider) and Blue Underground’s original release (right side of the slider); both of which are presented in 1.66:1, 1080p video.
The Arrow release is an improvement, but not such an extreme improvement that you need to throw out those old Blue Underground discs (especially if people are still selling them for a mint on eBay). The 4K resolution scan helps to bring out extra detail and fine textures, including film grain. The BU disc has a cleaner color quality, which serves it well during the vivid daylight sequences, but this appears to be, in part, the result of softer edges and a smidge of DNR. Arrow’s remaster sports generally a warmer, more natural palette that produces more delicate hue variations, despite the fine grain sheen’s muddying qualities. The most notable difference, however, is the tonal depth. BU’s disc opts for harsh, hard shadows during darker interior sequences and this causes blobby black crush. Arrow’s more even-handed blacks and color gradations are clearly superior in these cases and, along with those sharper details, enough reason for fans to upgrade.
The original mono sound is presented in LPCM 1.0 (as opposed to the BU disc’s 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio track) and was also transferred directly from the original film sources. There’s only so much Arrow could do to ‘fix’ this particular track, which was designed to match the film’s hectic, documentary style. The sound quality is relatively consistent and there aren’t any buzzing or ‘hiccups,’ but there’s not a lot of depth for the track to draw from. That said, Romero did experiment more with sound design here than he did for any of his previous films and, arguably, more than any of his films until Creepshow. The music is all library/catalogue selections (plus Beverly Bremers’ “Heaven Help Us”), similar to what Romero had done for Night of the Living Dead, Martin, and Dawn of the Dead (though the latter also used some of the Goblin cues from the Italian cut). It’s so non-invasive and indistinct that it blends pretty neatly into the flat, yet clean track.
Commentary by Travis Crawford – Sadly, Arrow was not able to lease Blue Underground’s Bill Lustig-hosted commentary with Romero, but this critic/expert track is the next best thing. Crawford, who has written for Fangoria, Film Comment, and contributed to the giant tome 1001 Films To See Before You Die, keeps things tight and professional. His full-bodied discussion covers everything from cast & crew members’ careers and production history, to in-depth explorations of Romero’s filmmaking style and The Crazies’ relation to his other movies.
Romero Was Here (12:24, HD) – DeVincentz revisiting the Evans City, PA filming locations.
2016 Q&A with Lowry from Abertoir Film Festival in Aberystwyth, UK (35:52, HD) – The actress fields questions on a myriad of subjects.
Lee Hessel interview (4:32, HD stills) – An audio interview with the producer conducted by his son Brad in 2014.
Behind-the-scenes footage (6:26, HD) – 8mm on-set footage with optional commentary by Romero historian Lawrence DeVincentz.
Alternate opening titles (00:35, HD)
Still gallery slideshows
Two trailers and two TV spots
The images on this page are taken from theArrow BD and the Blue Underground BD and sized for the page, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Full-sized .jpg versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab.