Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I Remember When I Lost My Mind

Here is probably the crowning achievement of George A. Romero on his downtime. I haven’t watched Martin yet, but this smells of superior quality somehow, I could be wrong*. This movie, interestingly enough is like an older sibling to pioneer gross-out I Drink Your Blood. The two have a huge amount in common, not the least of which is actress Lynn Lowry playing a nutcase. The music is a hyper version of the simple electric guitar riff from the first movie, the colors are just as intense, the characters are caricatures of people, the hysteria is hysterical and the ending is ambiguous. This isn’t a zombie film, neither is I Drink Your Blood really, but it’s close enough. This is an incredibly silly movie, but I liked it in spite of myself, just like I Drink Your Blood.

The Crazies
by George A. Romero

The story: the military quarantines a town after an experimental virus gets released that turns people crazy. This goes well. Romero regular Lane Carroll is Judy, a nurse and Will McMillan is her husband David, a volunteer firemen and veteran. When Judy and David are summoned on two equally urgent calls, Judy by her boss Dr. Brookmyre and David by his war buddy and fellow firemen Clank, something serious must be going on. Their calls have to do with the first thing in the movie we see: a man burning down his house with his children and dead wife inside. The children are still alive and contain the virus “trixie” which apparently comes with a few conditions: that a military regiment under the command of the sympathetic Colonel Peckem be sent to force marshal law on the people of Evan’s City, PA, a scientist, who's head of the project must do research in the high school where they've begun quarantining the town folk, and most importantly, civilians have just become expendable. David, Judy, Clank, an old man and his creepy looking daughter (Lynn Lowry) take to the woods to remain out of sight until the whole thing blows over...or until they all catch ‘the bug’ and become crazy....or until the military finds and kills them....

Movies that feature mass hysteria are a favorite of mine; a fondness I inherited from my dad. This one has that and mildly likeable Pennsylvania types do I’m naturally drawn to this picture. The hysteria is fantastic; poorly edited, violent, no continuity between guns fired and squibs blown, impromptu and frequent. They come out of nowhere and they really sucker-punch you. We will see David nervously watching Clank’s behavior get more violent and then out of nowhere comes this incredible sequence of a few dozen men in plaid shirts with rifles firing at the military men in identical white jump suits with gas masks on. Grenades, axes, pitchforks and many, many bullets are used. The absurd quality of the crazies makes the moments of linear plot just that much sillier. Richard France as Dr Watts, the technician on ‘trixie’ is really something to behold. He speaks like an angry Shakespearian actor not given enough room to develop his instrument. He works for hours in the high school chemistry lab, flirting with his assitant, trying to do…something. Not for nothing, the disease is left ambiguous. We know it’s dangerous, that it was spread by monkeys, and that the government wants a plane over Evan’s city ready to nuke the place.

Romero, like Wes Craven is about as subtle as the proverbial elephant in the room when it comes to putting anti-conservative messages in their films. The military quarantining a town and killing at random stating marshal law as their reason is not even a metaphor; it just is what it is. The fact that nothing is ever given away and that more and more people are just killed makes this movie and its people hard to sympathize with and hard to watch, especially when they become so crazy that they engage in incest. This surprised me when it came time to feel sad. Watching the mental deterioration of the film's central characters was a lot more effective than it should have been in a film with absolutely no character development. We see a lot of characters with little to no compassion who don’t change, some who are compassionate in very loud and obvious ways, and some who just have their small personalities taken away by ‘Trixie’. It comes as no surprise that in the end Lloyd Hollar’s Colonel Peckem still agrees to supervise the transformation of hamlets into necropolises and David doesn’t seem all that bummed out when he is turned into a military lab rat. He and Peckem exchange knowing glances and the film goes out on a bleak but ineffective note.

The colours and setting are fun to watch, the wilderness of Pennsylvania has always possessed a strange charm that I’ve loved since I was a kid; parts of Doylestown look just like Evans City. Also look for a lot of Romero regulars: Scott H. Reiniger from Dawn of the Dead as a policeman in the first act, A.C. McDonald from Night of the Living Dead’s ending posse is in there somewhere, Richard Liberty who would go on to play Logan in Day of the Dead also present. Richard France, the eye-patched scientist on TV in Dawn plays a sort of precursor to his character here. Most of these people gave much better performances in the other films but who can blame Romero for making a hysteria film where both sides put up an equal fight. Maybe the knowing glance that David and the Colonel give each other is because they knew that Dawn was only a few years away and Romero would end his post-Night slump and show the Europeans how it’s done.

*I was wrong

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