Color, 1973, 103m.
Directed by George A. Romero
Starring Lane Carroll, Will MacMillan, Harold Wayne Jones, Lloyd Hollar, Lynn Lowry, Richard Liberty
Blue Underground (DVD & Blu-Ray, US R0 NTSC/HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

After reinventing the zombie film with Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero made his first belated color horror film with The Crazies, another social commentary cloaked in exploitation trappings about a small Pennsylvania town decimated by the accidental release of a dangerous biochemical weapon (Code Name: Trixie, the original title) in the water supply thanks to a crashed truck. The mayhem begins one night when a family gets a fiery surprise in the middle of the night from a decidedly unstable head of the household, and soon the military -- clad in menacing white suits -- descends on the populus to establish a quarantine and deal with a citizenry quickly descending into violent insanity. A local nurse (Carroll), her fireman boyfriend (McMillan), and three more locals must quickly navigate the nearby woods to escape town, but the encroaching insanity and merciless soldiers both threaten to stop them at every turn.

Though not an official part of Romero's ongoing Dead series, The Crazies still fits in just fine thanks to its depictions of normalcy shedding apart from the inside and a ruthless but incompetent military ultimately driven by self-interest, themes which would reach their most crystallized version in his now-classic Day of the Dead. The invocations of Vietnam (particularly a grisly self-immolation scene) might stamp this as a '70s political statement, but on a larger scale it's clear this film is, along with Cronenberg's Rabid, an even more direct influence on today's faux-zombie films like the Dawn of the Dead remake, [REC], 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later which depict a rampaging contagion rather than, you know, anything actually undead. Of course, the extremely low budget hampers the film on occasion; the acting isn't among Romero's best apart from the always fascinating Lynn Lowry (I Drink Your Blood, Radley Metzger's Score) and the colorful Richard Liberty, who went on to horror immortality training Bub in Day of the Dead. Romero's usual affinity for library music is also present here, using folky protest music effectively at times with generic creepy wallpaper melodies filling in the rest.

Blue Underground's edition of The Crazies appeared first on DVD and then as a Blu-Ray timed with the release of the 2010 remake. Their transfer is as good as one could possibly expect for this film, which is colorful and often sharp-looking but always maintains a gritty, harsh veneer appropriate to the budget, shooting conditions, and time period. The experience here is akin to watching a freshly-minted print of a vintage title, which is definitely preferable in this case to any digital waxing and buffing to make it look more modern. It's certainly better than the dismal repertory prints in circulation or awful VHS editions that Romero fans had to endure for years. Only the DVD contains a poster and still gallery, but extras on both editions include a lively, informative Romero commentary track that covers all the bases (location shooting, music tracking, casting, and financial challenges) and a magnificent featurette with Lowry contributing a new video interview about her career, interspersed with clips from her films and footage of her contemporary cabaret act in Los Angeles. Some of her recollections about Score seem slightly questionable, but she's a great listen in a must-see for fans of '70s drive-in queens. Two theatrical trailers and two TV spots round out a solid disc that's a worthy Blu-Ray upgrade for vets and definitely essential for horror newcomers.


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