Director: George A. Romero
Blue Underground

A young girl awake in the middle of the night to get a glass of water is scared witless by her older brother, who stalks her in the shadows. Their playful games are interrupted by violent crashing and thrashing in the kitchen...their father isn't himself tonight...and so begins THE CRAZIES, George Romero's follow-up to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. After that 1968 success, he turned to romantic comedy with the sorely underrated THERE'S ALWAYS VANILLA, which tanked at the box office. Unfortunately, this superior effort suffered the same fate, but it has developed a developing cult following via home video, and Blue Underground has finally licensed the film from copyright hell for DVD (Anchor Bay released it on VHS last decade, but for legal reasons couldn't license it for DVD release).

Social politics have always played a hand in the disturbing shocks of Romero's horror films. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD examined the interaction of people in hostile situations (some have considered it a statement on the Cold War); five years later, THE CRAZIES is Romero's attack on the Vietnam War and the growing distrust of the United States Army, portrayed as either bumbling idiots, vicious sadists, or way out of their league. An experimental virus developed by the government to use in biological warfare is accidentally unleashed in a small Pennsylvania town when a truck crashed into the local water supply. Anyone who drinks the water suffers from delirium and loses their mind, developing homicidal tendencies in the process, or dies soon after. The military swoops into the town, declaring martial law...and are prepared to decimate the entire town with a bomb if need be... THE CRAZIES is without a doubt Romero's most disturbing film. Insane townspeople wage war on the soldiers, wielding pitchforks, dynamite, axes, staining their white protective suits with crimson, one woman sweeping the carnage with her best broom; the local reverend immolates himself in a blind rage; children witness their parents being gunned down and their bodies burnt to prevent spreading of the virus; a distraught widower is driven to rape his very willing daughter; an elderly woman calmly stabs a soldier with a large knitting needle and proceeds to continue knitting when he falls to the floor dying. There is plenty of ultra violence, a far cry from the fairly restrained terror of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. If one really wants to get into the spirit of the film, one could blame the failure of the film upon its initial release on apolitical conspiracy... None of the performances really register as phenomenal (save perhaps Lynn Lowry and Richard France), but the characters are all sympathetic to elicit emotional responses when (as the posters proclaim) the good people start dying.

Anchor Bay's previous VHS of THE CRAZIES can be written off as a misfire. The print was very grainy, had good color, but had damage at reel changes and slowed down several scenes to cover up more print damage. Blue Underground's beautiful widescreen transfer is a HUGE improvement: bolder colors, very black blacks, and minimal, if any grain and dirt. The previous VHS release was a fullscreen presentation, which was always assumed to be the correct aspect ratio for an early Romero film, but the 1.66:1 framing on the disc looks to be more accurate, opening up the sides and slicing off minimal information on the top and bottom.

The star extra of the disc is the audio commentary by George Romero. I have yet to encounter a boring commentary from Romero and this is no exception. Moderated by Bill Lustig (who asks all the right questions), Romero waxes nostalgiac about the shooting process, the origins of the project, his early editing techniques (stemming from his start in TV commercials), various cast members, his dislike for some of the library music, and sounds genuinely disappointed in the shoddy distribution the film subsequently received. Interestingly enough, both Lustig and Romero show interest in knowing what young co-star Lynn Lowry is doing today? Thanks to Dave Szulkin, Ms. Lowry is back for the fans to enjoy in the 14-minute featurette aptly titled "The Cult Film Legacy of Lynn Lowry"! Following the death of Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith, the re-discovery of Lowry near the end of 2002 was a big deal in the cult film community and she doesn't disappoint in this interview! Clips are shown from all of her big films except SHIVERS (SCORE, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD, SUGAR COOKIES, THE BATTLE OF LOVE'S RETURN), as she discusses the majority of her films through the 1970s. She does neglect to address FIGHTING MAD, CAT PEOPLE, and mixes up the dates of SUGAR COOKIES and SCORE, but she is a very courteous and charming interviewee, with some interesting anecdotes about her work with Radley Metzger, David Durston, and Romero. We are even treated to footage of her current nightclub act! A real treasure of an extra. Also included are two theatrical trailers, both pretty much interchangeable, two TV spots (one :30 spot, one 1:00 spot) that were probably never used, an extensive gallery with behind-the-scenes photos, a massive selection of publicity stills (including some strange posed ones with Lane Carroll and a group of soldiers), publicity material under the re-release title CODE NAME: TRIXIE, marquee photos, posters and newspaper clippings, press reviews, video covers, and foreign posters (the title in France: EXPERIMENT 2000), and an interesting George Romero bio.

Blue Underground should be commended for presenting an unsung horror classic with such love and care, moreso than some studios do for more popular films. Fans of Romero should already own this film in some form and need to upgrade, but those who haven't should purchase this disc posthaste! One of the best discs of 2003. (Casey Scott)