The Crazies

-

The Crazies (2002)

George Romero isn't the subtlest social critic in American movies, but he's certainly one of the most unsparing. Unfortunately, because Romero makes horror movies (or did until, frustrated with the studio system, he went into semi-retirement following 1993's The Dark Half), he rarely gets as much credit as he deserves. While it's possible to watch a horde of zombies descend upon a shopping mall in the apocalyptic Dawn Of The Dead without considering any sort of subtext, it's a richer experience if you do. Best known for his undead trilogy (Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead, Day Of The Dead), the Pittsburgh filmmaker's work not involving reanimated corpses is often just as compelling. This fact is further illustrated by Season Of The Witch and The Crazies, two rarely seen, recently reissued titles. Barely released in theaters and almost impossible to find on video until now, both films are gripping and accomplished, if uneven, additions to Romero's body of work. From 1972, Season Of The Witch (a.k.a. Jack's Wife and Hungry Wives) is a feminist thriller which shares more than just a time period with last year's The Ice Storm. Jan White plays a frustrated, neglected suburban housewife who finds herself turning to witchcraft to escape her daily life and put an end to her recurring dreams of rape and oppression. A low-key movie—the supernatural is only implied, never represented—containing a good deal of creepy, low-budget surrealism, Season is also probably the best-acted of Romero's early films, though that statement sounds an awful lot like faint praise. Though not without its slow moments, Season Of The Witch is effectively done and considerably more radical in its politics than such recognized classics of the genre as Thelma And Louise. With the remains of the hippie counterculture represented as impossibly selfish and chauvinist, it's very much a film of the disenchanted early '70s, when many realized that the promises of the previous decade would not be fulfilled any time soon. The same can be said of 1973's The Crazies (a.k.a. Code Name: Trixie and The Mad People), in which a small Pennsylvania community is forced to deal with the effects of a secret, accidentally discharged biological weapon. Having created a highly communicable disease that causes its victims to go mad, the government attempts to contain it by placing the increasingly infected town under quarantine. Shockingly violent in creating a sort of compressed alternate history of the '60s—complete with a priest setting himself on fire and gas-mask-clad soldiers attempting to restore order—The Crazies is especially powerful because it refuses to take sides. The government is shadowy and controlling, while its crazed opposition is, as the title would indicate, crazy. While somewhat slack in its pacing, The Crazies, like Season Of The Witch, still very much warrants rediscovery. If the revived interest were to somehow prompt Romero to make another film as interesting as these, the world would be better for it.