The Crazies (1973)
The Crazies deserves wider recognition. Known primarily to hardcore horror fans, and in particular George A. Romero fans, this solid 10 is one of the better films of the 70s.
In the same vein as societal breakdown stories such as Fahrenheit 451 and Soylent Green, every aspect of The Crazies conveys claustrophobia, panic and confusion. Romero creates this not only through the plot and dialogue, but from the pacing of the dialogue, the pacing of the edits, rapid fire edits in some places, an opening that begins in confusion, an excellent score, etc.
Pre-dating Stephen King's "The Stand" by quite a few years, The Crazies has a similar story, but on a smaller scale (a further similarity is that the viral outbreak in The Crazies is known as "Code Name Trixie," while in "The Stand," it is "Captain Trips"). This is not to say that King ripped off The Crazies, but it seems an obvious inspiration. In Romero's film, a plane carrying an experimental biological weapon crashes in Western Pennsylvania. Canisters of the virus wind up in a river, where they are carried to a small town's drinking reservoir. The virus either kills its victims or makes them irreversibly insane. The army comes into the town and declares martial law in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus. The main characters are a nurse and her fireman husband who try to evade the army and escape the armed perimeter they've instituted around the town.
For those of you unfamiliar with George Romero, he is most famous for his Dead series - Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead (and a possible fourth Dead film is on the way). The Dead films are not only excellent zombie films, but they each provide their own type of social commentary, and convey a sense of societal chaos that creates a subconscious fear not achievable in any direct way. The Crazies, although not a zombie film, conveys that same subconscious fear of chaos and loss of control. Romero is a master of forcing you into an uncomfortable subtext, and that makes for a more intense horror experience than any gore or other direct event. Not that The Crazies is without gore and disturbing direct events, although there are far less of it here than in the Dead films.
Making "Code Name Trixie" create insanity in some victims was an ingenious move, and enables many of the films most poignant scenes - such as a sweeping the grass around freshly massacred bodies with a broom, or a grandma who is calmly knitting, butchers an army grunt with the knitting needle, then goes back to her knitting as if nothing unusual has happened.
Romero is also a master of non-Hollywood, disturbing endings, and The Crazies is no exception in that regard either. Every aspect of this film, from the acting to the dialogue to the technical aspects is outstanding. Don't miss this one.