Once again, Blue Underground have come up the goods and scrubbed a well-worn, low-budget print into something that positively gleams with health and colourful vitality. It would be impossible to claim that you have seen the film look better than this. I've seen The Crazies on TV, VHS, DVD and even at the flicks in a scratchy re-issued print in the mid-80's and there is no way the film ever looked as crisp, clean and detailed as the version that BU have served up here. It is not perfect, of course ... the print still has a few nicks and speckles and some occasional wobbles, but the 1.66:1 AVC transfer seems pretty darn respectful to it.
Grain is retained, although I have to say that it is not consistent throughout the film. There are times when it is noticeable and times when it seems to have vanished. Which, judging by some of the occasionally waxy faces on display, leads me to suspect that some minor DNR has been flared-up. However, this in no presents anything of a problem. For such a low-budget film, The Crazies now looks considerably healthier and more robust.
Colours are bright and cheerful and really in-keeping with the standards that Blue Underground have maintained with their hi-def transfers. Clothing has that quite bold “pop” that seems to denote Blu-ray images of these older, low budget classics boasting their new upgrades. Skin-tones are good, but thick with leathery-look makeup which, at times, only makes spotting the presence of the old DNR trait of the aforementioned “waxiness” all the more obvious - but, to be honest, this isn't a worry and the characters have always had a TV-style zest to their faces, anyway. Blood is bright and loud - check out the small pool of the stuff that leaks out from the blasted town Sheriff to see what I mean -but flames have a surprisingly authentic "dirty" look to them.
Although contrast levels are decent enough, there could be issues with black crush during some of the more subdued moments, with blacks tending to be quite strongly rendered - becoming thick splodges at times. I wasn't put off by this, though. But the day-for-night shots, which Romero thinks look better in this transfer than ever before - and certainly do - still look like exactly what they are, albeit a little more smoothly presented and with a more stable hue. The vivid whites of the Army chemical suits look fine amidst the rural hues, and they don't appear clipped or blooming despite their proliferation.
Detail is much greater in close-ups, with hair, faces, eyes and clothing now more revealing. Furniture, wall-maps, blood smears under a microscope, the line of wool that connects a dying soldier to his sweetly geriatric attacker, the trees and foliage and the general representation of middle-ground obejcts, people and buildings all benefit from this boost in definition. Crowd scenes of families being shepherded, and of the infected cramming the high school are clearer than ever before, encouraging you to look around the frame much more, to see the varying degrees of madness that is smothering them. Wounds, most notably the knitting-needle stabbing and the spurting bullet-hole in the side of one character's head now become something of a treat that have always been a little murkier in the past. Some scenes are much more indistinct and blurry, but this is deliberately evoking fast-action newsreel footage, and most of the rest of movie is bright, sharp and vibrant.
With only minimal edge enhancement and only the merest flicker of aliasing taking place, I would say that The Crazies looks extremely good and visually strong for this Blu-ray debut.
Resisting the urge to blow-out and expand this original mono mix with any superfluous surround channels, Blue Undergound bring The Crazies back with their original sound mix given a DTS-HD MA veneer that, basically, just cleans it up. But you have to hand it to the label for not messing about with it.
Voices aren't allowed much room to breathe and, for the most part, sound subdued. But this doesn't worry the dialogue all that much - there are moments when speech is low and muffled, but it is always understandable. Gunfire and screams are, likewise, downplayed and low-key, but this is possibly infinitely preferable to having them distributed around the speakers with a variety of delays and remixes. Although I really liked what Blue Underground did with the lossless surround mix for The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue, it wasn't at all detrimental to original, and already experimental, sound-design for the film. Here, with The Crazies, there really couldn't be anything added that wouldn't sound horribly bogus.
The score - a collection of library cues and original work from Bruce Roberts that takes in many famous American Civil War tunes and subverts them - is hollow and slight but, once again, this is no problem for the listener. To be honest, there is little more that I can add about the audio mix. It sounds authentic and accurate to the original mono and is certainly what any self-respecting purist could hope for.
George A. Romero sits-in on a screening of the remastered film with Blue Underground honcho Bill (Maniac/Maniac Cop) Lustig and the pair deliver a reasonably fun commentary track for us. Romero expresses admiration for the restoration job that has been done on his movie, and the two old friends discuss the production, the ignominy of its pre-cult status and the shooting style that was employed, as well as the cast and the themes that are at work. There are a few lulls, but this track is still essential for Romero-fans, although this isn't the most dynamic or revelatory that you will hear, and Gory George, as always, just comes across as a cheerful old grandfather rather than the architect of how much cinematic violence is seen today.
The Cult Films Of Lynn Lowry is another one of Blue Underground's excellent little interview sessions with the taboo-ladies of the genre. The sexy starlet - and, hey, she's not at all bad for her age - happily discusses her career from modelling poses in the late sixties, to her first acting roles in grindhouse sleaze 'n' gore flicks, to The Crazies and Cronenberg, and then on to her stage performances and her new singing projects with her own six-piece group. Highly articulate and honest about the business and her early days in it, Lowry is certainly happy with her body of work and seems keen to talk about the cult movies that she appeared in ... even if she only re-watched The Crazies for the first time in years when Blue Underground contacted her about this interview. I love this sort of thing and hope that the label continue to bring some of these unsung, but genre-cherished personalities out of the shadows.
The package is rounded-off with A theatrical trailer and a couple of TV Spots. I wish that there had been more, like a proper retrospective, but sadly, this is your lot.
A hard-line classic from an often-shunned genre, and also a film that provokes comparisons to the world today, The Crazies makes a very welcome appearance on Blu-ray, just in time for its remake to re-ignite the screen with yet more cinematic proof that, in the face of calamity, man always turns upon himself.
Romero was on-the-ball with this nihilistic vision of small-town bedlam and the incalculable repercussions that could stem from it, but he also injects a lot of tomb-black humour, some frantic action and a cluster of bottom-tier, yet still believable performances from a roster of local Pittsburgh actors, friends, acquaintances and regulars. His cutting social awareness is very much in evidence and the splashy gore that would help cement his name is also doled-out with a kind of child-like zeal, almost as though he is, even at this early stage in the game, pushing the boundaries and finding freedom and even vindication in his chaotically charming comic-book approach.
A reasonable commentary from the great man, and a fine little documentary on one of the genre's unsung heroines give some nostalgic value to the package ... but, to be honest, a bit more would have been welcome.
A vintage cinematic incendiary gets a fine hi-def makeover and, without any unwise audio-tinkering to sour the strong, restored image, comes up trumps. Fans would, indeed, be crazy to let this pass them by.
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