With my review of George Romero's The Crazies now up on Doomed Moviethon, I have a few things to add. So far, this is the only Romero flick I've seen without zombies in them. The Crazies is not his best work, but it's definitely not something you should pass up if you're a fan of his best work. I'm a firm believer that Dawn of the Dead is his best film, but the road to making that film required some trial and error with his films before it.
In the ten years between his zombie flicks, Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, Romero directed four films, worked on a short-lived TV show and made a documentary on OJ Simpson. The four films, There's Always Vanilla, Season of the Witch, The Crazies and Martin, were not widely-released in theaters and made little returns at the box office. Night of the Living Dead had become a midnight movie favorite around that time, but there wasn't a large carryover to his new films. This was the Seventies, a time when the home video rental system was not around. Like a number of directors with a relatively small, but fanatical fanbase, Romero's flicks found their own audience on rental. I can now count myself in that fanbase, but this all came with some searching around.
How I even knew about The Crazies was because of The Dead Will Walk, a retrospective on the making of Dawn of the Dead. Romero briefly touches on the four films between his Dead flicks and he kind of makes light of them as they were rarely seen and didn't make much money when they first came out. Seeing a short clip from The Crazies with army men in gas masks and white suits shooting at people going wild, I thought this was pure B-movie cheese. But with it being the month of Halloween and the thought of writing another review for Doomed Moviethon, I decided to rent it from Netflix. I really enjoyed it and saw a number of things that I like about Dawn of the Dead in The Crazies. I started seeing a trail.
Romero usually starts his films after something bad has happened. You see a zombie walking through a field before you ever hear about some radiation falling from the sky in Night of the Living Dead. With Dawn, it starts in a TV news studio with people panicking about this zombie crisis. The same can be said with The Crazies; you see a man try to murder his whole family before you ever hear about a plane crash that accidentally sets off a bio-weapon called Trixie. Instead of weighing you down with exposition before the action, you're stuck in the middle of the chaos from the first frame. You have to follow along with the main characters to understand what is going on. This makes for a compelling mystery, but the main point of these films is how to deal with a crisis.
Romero not only succeeds with some deep social commentary with these films, but he also does a great job of covering internal drama between totally different camps. The Crazies deals with people trying to escape the town and the people trying to fix the problem. Like Dawn of the Dead, none of these characters are one-note cardboard cut-outs from B-Moviemaking 101. You sympathize with them and you know that an easy resolution would be a major cop-out.
The point of all this picking apart is that Romero kept working at something he wanted to do. He didn't give up when Night of the Living Dead didn't make a huge impact at the box office. He didn't take ten years off from making movies between his zombie flicks. Dawn is a drastic improvement from its predecessor, but I don't think it would have been as special had he not had some room for failure. I think we can correlate this notion into with what we want to do in our own lives. I know how easy it is to be bogged down and distracted by resistance and failure, but if you're set on doing something, nothing can really stop you. I know that's a very routine lesson in life, but sometimes we need it reworded in our own ways to have it make better sense.