“The Crazies” 50 Years Later – Why It’s Even More Relevant Today

Known as the godfather of zombies, George A. Romero did more to define that subgenre than any other filmmaker, living or (un)dead.  However, in the 10 year gap between his iconic masterpieces, Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978), he released a film that didn’t get quite the same mainstream attention.

Released in 1973, The Crazies deals more with people afflicted by a terrible virus rather than the living dead.  But the way in which it portrays mass hysteria, as well as the government response is both chilling, and frighteningly relevant today.  So in honor of its 50th anniversary, we wanted to take a look back at The Crazies and lament at how it portrays a world not so different from our own…

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Images of mass graves and mass cremations were all too common at the height of the recent global pandemic.

Code Name Trixie
The film opens with a father seemingly going mad and setting his own house on fire, much to the terror and dismay of his young children. We come to learn that a government synthesized biological weapon (code named “Trixie) has accidentally been released into the water supply of a small town in western Pennsylvania.  It causes erratic behavior that borders on the absurdly hilarious to the downright dangerous.

All the while, the military attempts to quarantine the town, but they wind up clashing violently with the locals (including some members of their police department).  There’s a great deal of mistrust between the local authorities and the federal suits that have claimed jurisdiction and are completely eroding civil rights in the process.

We go back and forth between following a group of survivors trying to escape the quarantine zone and the military officers and scientists who demonstrate just how little they know what they’re doing in a situation that’s clearly unprecedented.  At one point, US Major Ryder (Harry Spillman) expresses shock when he learns that it was synthesized weapon rather than a “vaccine” that he was previously told.

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Major Ryder is a great example of a character who’s torn between his duty to follow orders and his moral qualms about the ethics of those orders, and the

Even though the townspeople and military find themselves on opposing sides and shooting at each other, there’s a sense of shared distrust they both have for the powers that be. As well as an understanding by the military that the citizens are scared and confused, and an understanding by (some) of the citizens that the soldiers are just as scared and ill-prepared for their task at hand.

We occasionally see the higher ups discussing what is to be done.  And when the option of dropping a nuclear bomb on the town to contain the virus is discussed, those soldiers stationed there are just as much “collateral damage” as the civilians.

Hysteria vs. Control
As we watch the events of The Crazies play out, two things become abundantly clear: the military quarantine causes way more damage than the virus only adding oil to the fire, and the government response is representative of a rudderless ship.  There’s a lot of back and forth between what could and should be done, and it’s clear that these officials are sort of just making this up as they go.  As if they had the foresight to create a deadly virus, but not the foresight to have a contingency plan if it was ever released.

The ultimate tragedy is that government scientist Dr. Watts (Richard France) manages a breakthrough to curing the virus while working in the temporary lab setup in the high school.  But as he carries his samples through the hall, he’s mistaken for one of the afflicted citizens, and forced into a room filled with the infected, dropping his vials in the process.

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The unsung hero of the movie that sadly never got to be a hero.

It’s almost funny in an extremely dark way in how this scene perfectly illustrates the horrifying concept George A. Romero is trying to say: there are dangers out there, but those institutions that are meant to keep us safe are very bad at doing so.  It’s a theme he would later revisit in 2005’s Land of the Dead, which deals heavily with the idea of giving up freedoms in the name of security (something which was very relevant in a post-9/11 world).

Modern Relevance
The whole idea of a viral outbreak that’s poorly handled by the authorities is uncomfortably familiar to audiences in the 2020s. Much like in the film, we saw a deadly virus trigger government responses, of which there was a wide degree of effectiveness.

Some countries seemed to handle things very well with minimal need for mandatory shutdowns, some completely violated civil rights in the name of safety, and some had absolutely no handle whatsoever and thousands died in the process.

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You definitely understand ordinary people defying the orders of men in hazmat suits with

Much like in the film, it seemed very apparent that many nations and governments really didn’t have these things thought out and were largely making it up as it went.  And much like in the film, there were protests and conspiracy theories that absolutely ran amok in a climate of fear, anxiety, and paranoia.

Night of the Living Dead famously took a very narrow, isolated approach to the events of the zombie outbreak.  Aside from the TV and radio news, we only ever see how the survivors in this one house are doing.  And The Crazies feels like the other end of that coin that shows how the powers that be were dealing with it, and once again, how poorly they were doing so.

The music, clothing, and hairstyles from The Crazies may feel very dated and “early 70s” in all of its aesthetics.  But its central themes and ideas are just as relevant now as they ever were.  The incompetence of large systems is unfortunately a universal idea that’s been around since the beginning of time…

Do you think The Crazies still holds up 50 years later?  What are some of your favorite George A. Romero movies?  Let us know in the comments!

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