The Crazies builds horror through normalcy. A virus, codenamed Trixie, is spreading through a small town via the water. Military troops, clad in the familiar white hazmat suits and gas masks, raid people’s homes to force them into a containment facility. They enter a home where an infected man begins shooting at them. He is shot, and the troops move in.
This is where George Romero’s magic takes over. A woman sits at a piano, casually playing despite the horrific events around her. It is as if nothing has happened, the virus already taking over her mind. Upstairs, an old woman is crocheting, seemingly kind and innocent. As the unnamed soldier approaches, the virus takes hold, causing her to stab the unfortunate victim repeatedly with the needle. It is a situation where the audience knows something is wrong. Despite the commotion, this woman is perfectly calm, gunfire taking someone who could have been her son to the grave, and she is still concerned with her hobby. It is terrifying and tense prior to the kill.
Eerie behavior is not all that adds to the horror element. During a shoot-out in a field, a woman is seen sweeping the grass with a broom, lost and confused as to the events around her. Government officials casually discuss nuking the entire town while snacking on a sandwich. Main characters, as boring as they may be at times, slowly descend into madness, even occasionally snapping out of it.
Romero, with a budget of around $270,000, is undoubtedly limited. The sets are basic and repetitive, the small town existing more due to budget constraints than anything else. There are no professional actors to be found, Dr. Watts (Richard France) wonderfully overacting his role as the scientist who tries to find a cure. Cult actress Lynn Lowry has little to do beyond looking possessed, at least until she walks into the military containment plan.
Gore is limited, an odd association when discussing anything to do with Romero, limited to blood squibs and a few squirting wounds. The over saturated nature of the red is comical, hardly the horror it should be. The Crazies is able to overcome the budgetary constraints with flashes of tension and style, along with some commentary. Soldiers loot dead bodies, casually stealing from the local populace as they are forcefully evicted. None of them see anything wrong with these actions, creating an air of corruption, suited to the casual discussions of nuking the town. The Crazies does work, at least on some levels, despite the budgetary constraints.
Listings for The Crazies state it as being shot on 35MM. The grain structure, as it appears in this Blue Underground AVC encode, would match that. However, the look, from the oversaturation of the colors and black crush (especially apparent in the hair/beard of Richard France) indicates a 16MM print.
Regardless, Blue Underground have released a Blu-ray worthy of the format, and whatever the size of the film stock, damage is minimal (excluding the stock footage). At 1:04:24, some vertical lines noticeably run down the frame, and marginal specks are seen throughout. At their worst, they are minor distractions. Looking just this good is an achievement. Colors are incredibly vivid and vibrant, at times too much so. At 1:01:00, blue jeans take on a neon quality, as do the greens of the grass. Reds routinely appear to bleed slightly throughout, even worse during this sequence as they affect the flesh tones negatively.
The encode seems to handle the grain structure well, but the entire film carries a slightly digital haze. At times, faces smear, revealing compression. Watch at 42:00 during the mid-range shot as the characters turn their heads; the effect is clear. Detail still seeps through, certainly apparent in close-up, such as 27:09. Pores and other facial features are quite distinct and resolved. The same cannot be said for distance shots, including one of the entire town at 46:46. This is from the air, the trees and buildings, especially deep in the background, are significantly compressed. No detail comes through.
There is an acceptable level of softness to some of the darker scenes, notable during a conversation by a fire truck at 14:05. Thankfully, black levels typically remain consistently firm, with that slight crush noted previously. At 1:32:21, the walls carry some notable banding, which is quick to resolve itself. Crazies needs a slightly better encode, one without the variety of compression problems and a slightly toned down color palette to work.
Blue Underground has thankfully not tried anything extravagant with the audio, keeping a DTS-HD mono mix firmly planted in the stereo channels. The biggest issue here is dialogue. Everything carries a faded, flat, hollow quality. This is made worse as the soldiers speak through gas masks, making some lines completely unintelligible. Trivia states dubbing for the film was done in Romero’s basement, and it sounds like it. Around 38:27, the environmental echo makes everything even worse.
Gunfire, along with the music, runs hot. The song that runs over the end credits is completely strained, lacking any fidelity. At 1:04:34, insects are loudly inserted into the mix, unbearably annoying, and made worse by the scratchy quality of the effect.
Not all is lost. At 58:00, a chase sequence blends gunfire, dialogue, an overhead helicopter, and music, keeping everything distinct. It never actually sounds great, but it keeps the elements from overwhelming one another.
Extras include a recent interview with Lynn Lowry that runs 14-minutes as she looks back on her start and her career. A commentary is provided by Romero, and trailers remain.