George A. Romero Sans Zombies
Yeah, yeah, I’m cheating a bit here, but only a little bit. The Crazies is being remade right now into a feature that will probably suck as most remakes tend to do so you’re advised to seek out the original picture. The Crazies, for those who don’t know, bears a lot in common with Night of the Living Dead, pitting a few survivors against a mob of bloodthirsty killers, but the difference here is that the mob in The Crazies is very much alive and shares more in common with the rage-infected monsters of 28 Days Later than anything else. But where Romero’s zombie survival movies have a tendency to focus on the survivors and their trials, The Crazies weaves in a wild plot of government cover up as the entire movie hinges a government bioweapon that is accidentally turned loose on rural Pennsylvania. It tends to lack the depth of character that Romero’s zombie pictures feature so prominently but it is home to a dimension that is rarely revisited in other Romero pictures. The Crazies is often dismissed, even by Romero fans, for being a little too close to Night of the Living Dead and zombie fans often complain that there isn’t enough zombie in it for their liking. It’s their loss. The Crazies is quite good and is a step on the path as Romero came into his own as a filmmaker.
If I had to choose a favorite non-zombie Romero picture, this is it and it’s a theme that I wish George would return to. The titular Martin is a young man who may or may not be a vampire, sent to live with his uncle whose old-world superstitions lead him to treat Martin as though he is a real vampire. Martin’s situation leaves him feeling alienated, coping with bloodlust that may be real or the result of family conditioning. It’s a moody, desperately sad picture that tears the entire vampire myth down into its component parts and lays them on the table, clearly labelled for your examination. Martin, though a predator, is written to be the most sympathetic killer in Romero’s filmography. The ending, though not unexpected, and totally appropriate, still comes on like a punch in the somach. This is easily the path Romero was trying to take with his career before Dawn of the Dead would remap that route. Romero, himself, has said that this is his favorite film and is also the first time that he would work with stuntman/makeup effects legend/douchebag supreme Tom Savini.
The Dark Half is an absolute sleeper that came and went like a flash. It also marks more evidence that Romero’s career has been dragged down by poor distribution, either by his own unwillingness to compromise in the face of the MPAA or the companies that often sign to put his movies in theaters. Like The Crazies, The Dark Half was killed by money problems at Orion Pictures and without much fanfare, it was released and then removed from theaters, barely making back 2/3 of its budget. The saddest part is two fold. It would be the last feature Romero would make for ten years and it’s not a bad movie! It’s actually pretty good! Romero and author Stephen King had an existing relationship with their collaborations on the Creepshow movies but this would be the first King novel he adapted to screen as opposed to anthologies of short stories. Given the rocky reputation that King adaptations have, in comparison to their source material, Romero’s script is really quite close to the book. It’s a remarkable movie on so many levels and marks an upward trend in Romero’s output, recovering the snorefest that is Monkeyshines.