Ahead of Its Time: Why The Crazies Was Too Provocative for Critics

George A. Romero’s 1973 horror thriller The Crazies is a severely underappreciated film. When I first saw the movie years ago, I was struck by Romero’s visionary style and use of the horror genre to provide social commentary. However, mainstream critics at the time completely missed the mark in their reviews. They panned the film as a gory B-movie schlockfest and showed no understanding of Romero’s deeper themes or indie filmmaking sensibilities. 

Watching the film today, I am amazed at how ahead of its time The Crazies was, and how sharply Romero’s creative instincts contradicted the critical consensus. I believe Romero produced a compelling work of guerrilla indie cinema that subverted expectations for horror. The movie remains intensely unsettling in its depiction of violence and themes of conformity. To me, The Crazies is clearly a pioneering film in the genre. But in an era when graphic gore was off-putting and horror movies were seen as lowbrow, Romero’s vision went unrecognized. 

It frustrates me to read those original 1973 reviews, with their dismissive tone and failure to grasp Romero’s wholly original style of socially-conscious horror. The Crazies deserves so much more credit as a groundbreaking, taboo-breaking film that defined what indie genre cinema could be. Romero was a trailblazer, yet critics approaching the film with a “B-movie” mindset could not get past certain expectations to see the flashes of brilliance throughout. 

Nearly 50 years later, we should reevaluate The Crazies and give this thought-provoking work – and Romero’s artistry – their due. The movie was never simply about cheap scares as critics alleged. It was a prescient and unabashedly anti-establishment vision of horror which revealed far more about society’s ills than critical reviewers were able to recognize or acknowledge in their time. Romero was an innovator, and The Crazies should be appreciated as such.

Horror Films Lacked Prestige in the 1970s

The Crazies ad from a news paper in 1972

When The Crazies was released in 1973, the horror genre was disrespected and looked down upon as a whole. Most mainstream critics saw horror movies as cheap, gory exploitation fare, not worthy of serious analysis. They approached horror with a level of disgust at the violence and psychology, rather than an appreciation for its creative merits or social insight.

Horror films were considered B-movie schlock, not real “art” or cinema. They pandered to audiences just looking to be shocked or titillated by sex and gore. The idea of horror as a vehicle for social commentary or auteuristic vision was essentially unthinkable at the time.

Compare this to today, where we have prestigious horror films like Get Out, Hereditary, or Midsommar receiving widespread critical acclaim for their filmmaking craft and thematic depth. The genre has decisively moved from grindhouse to arthouse, but in 1973, that transition was still unimaginable.

When films like Night of the Living Dead or The Crazies were released, most critics could not look past the surface genre elements to see the artistry or message. They just saw the gore and ghastly subject matter, which fit their preconceptions of horror as a vulgar and worthless filmic expression.

The Crazies absolutely bewildered mainstream critics, who didn’t have a context to understand such a raw, anti-authoritarian work of indie horror. They lacked the vocabulary or reference points to do anything but condemn it as another cheap fright fest. The genre’s prestige would grow over time, but at that stage, Romero’s vision was truly ahead of its critical reception. His artistry was destined to go unrecognized for decades within a system unprepared to give horror its due.

The dismissiveness of genre films and particularly horror during this era was to the detriment of potential masterpieces like The Crazies. With more open-minded critiques, Romero’s work may have received its rightful acclaim and influenced the genre’s progression even earlier. But the culture surrounding horror in 1973 left little room for that possibility. The Crazies was relegated to a “B-movie” by a self-fulfilling prophecy which failed to recognize the A-grade art and ingenuity on display.

The Crazies Pushed Boundaries of Violence and Gore

YouTube video

The Crazies was a intensely graphic film for 1973, featuring unsettling violence and gore that shocked mainstream sensibilities. Critics were put off by the movie’s raw depictions of bloody murder and carnage, which seemed gratuitous rather than purposeful. They saw only an appeal to visceral disgust without meaning.

In one scene, a little girl commits suicide by hanging herself in a barn. In another, a pitchfork is used as a violent murder weapon. These kinds of disturbing images pervade the film and were extreme for the time, overstepping moral boundaries of good taste. Critics argued The Crazies merely exploited taboos and pushed the envelope of decency for cheap thrills.

However, the gore in The Crazies serves Romero’s themes of loss of control and reason in authority figures like police, military, scientists, and politicians. The violence underscores how society can break down in the face of chaos and threat. It is viscerally upsetting by design, not an end in itself. The creators wanted audiences unsettled to provoke thought, not just cause shock.

Nonetheless, in the 1970s most mainstream viewers and critics were unaccustomed to such graphic content. Their disgust at the bloody dramatization of taboo acts prevented analysis of what laid beneath. They saw only the surface and not the purpose. The violence seemed wanton rather than saying something meaningful about society’s fragility.

Today, audiences have become largely desensitized to film gore and brutality, to the point that The Crazies seems tame. But at the time, its unflinching embrace of disturbing visuals demonstrated how ahead of the curve Romero’s sensibilities were. He understood the power of transgressive art in igniting important conversations, rather than just frightening people. The gore was a tool, not the point itself. But this vision was lost on those not equipped to see beyond the blood and shrieks.

The Crazies intentionally provoked and assaulted social mores, which led to its critical lambasting by those unwilling to ask why. The film’s boundary-pushing would open doors for future works, but was itself misunderstood as merely the product of a twisted mind appealing to human darkness. In truth, it revealed human darkness to make us think – but that was too much for critics in 1973 to recognize or handle.

Deeper Themes Were Missed or Dismissed

The Crazies movie

The Crazies is rife with meaning that mainstream critics overlooked. They were deaf to Romero’s commentary and viewed the film superficially. But Romero channeled the anxieties of post-Vietnam America, exploring ideas around authority, individuality, and conformity with metaphoric depth.

The military are not true villains but ordinary people transformed into violence by manipulation and fear. The film suggests our civilization is precarious, subject to totalitarianism and groupthink without conscience. It captures timeless human concerns, though critics saw only a standard thriller plot.

Under scrutiny, The Crazies proves a disturbing assault on conformist culture and human suggestibility. It trades in allegory, not just scares. But in 1973 it lacked advocates to argue its artistry and themes, instead seen as a cult B-movie.

Only later did Romero’s vision come into focus. Time revealed his films were more than ghoulish entertainment, channeling the cultural psyche with allegories ahead of their reception. But then, the idea of “art horror” seemed oxymoronic rather than realizing each served the other.

Depth in Romero’s work had to await audiences able to go beyond gut reactions to see his immense insight. The Crazies reflected human experience, but for critics, thrills and gore were easier to grasp than sociology. They sought any explanation but the meaningful.

The film suggests order is fragile without conscience and morality restrains barbarism. It reflects post-Nixon anxieties over authority run amok and loss of identity within groupthink. But critics viewed it as simplistic good vs. evil, missing its philosophic layers.

Romero’s allegory was wrongly considered unintentional, ascribing only to the lowest denominator. In fact, his keen eye targeted society’s failings. But he lacked champions to argue his vision beyond surface shocks. His mix of horror and ideas seemed mismatched rather than symbiotic.

The Crazies captured enduring human conflicts but was misread as just violent spectacle. Its themes were ahead of critics able to recognize them, as the genre itself had yet to be considered for more than cheap titillation. But with time and perspective, the film’s truth became clear. Only in retrospect did Romero’s allegory gain focus, his artistry win out over subject matter as the point of interpretation.

The Crazies ultimately reflected anxieties of its age and human experience in extremis. But in that era, the use of horror conventions seemed at odds with meaning, rather than instrumental. Only once prejudices passed could the film be read for its insight and art. Its allegory was destined to emerge from the shadows of initial disgust, but sadly after its creator’s time.

The Zombie/Viral Outbreak Genre Was Niche at the Time

Still image from The Crazies in 1970s

When The Crazies released in 1973, the zombie and viral outbreak genres were still niche and not fully formed. Romero himself had pioneered the modern zombie film with Night of the Living Dead, but it was still an emerging concept. Critics viewed these types of movies as cheap, exploitative fare rather than a vehicle for social commentary.

The idea of an experimental virus driving people insane and anarchic was baffling and seemingly pointless to most mainstream reviewers. They saw the bizarre, graphic subject matter as ridiculous rather than a metaphor for human themes. The nascent viral outbreak genre was too unfamiliar and strange to be taken seriously or appreciated.

Today, we recognize these genres as ripe for exploration of ideas around societal collapse, contagion, loss of humanity, conformism, and more. Films like 28 Days Later, Contagion, and It Follows have brought greater depth and artistry to the viral outbreak and post-apocalyptic concepts. But in the 1970s, the Crazies seemed an absurd premise rather than reflective.

The bizarre plot and gruesome details made critics unable to grasp its allegory or see beyond perceived ridiculousness. They lacked precedent to understand how this emerging niche genre could be a vehicle for timeless themes. Their disgust and confusion at surface weirdness prevented analysis, as if meaning required familiarity or realism.

In effect, Romero was pioneering a new brand of social horror cinema in The Crazies that critics were ill-equipped to categorize or evaluate on its own terms. Their notions of horror, science fiction and meaning did not yet extend to such a strange hybrid. The avant-garde and graphic never merged with philosophy in this era or genre.

Today we can see Romero reinventing genre conventions before our eyes and realize The Crazies helped define a new branch of horror. But then, the weird seemed pointless rather than simply the delivery system for ideas. Critics saw only spectacle without purpose, as the film collapsed familiar categories. They lacked a roadmap to navigate its uncharted surreal terrain or see how such a bizarre fantasy could also be hyper-real social insight.

The Crazies was a prophetic work, but the world was not yet ready to understand its prophecies couched in such an unfamiliar guise. The language of surreal, graphic science-horror had yet to be codified when Romero put it on display. His vision introduced a new cinematic dialect, but without translators, his themes were lost in the strangeness of expression. He spoke the words, but critics could only stare in befuddlement, unable to repeat or divine their meaning.

There Was a Culture Gap Between Romero and Critics

As a lifelong Romero fan, the apathy toward The Crazies enrages me. Critics panned it from a place of privilege, unable to comprehend the cultural moment it captured. They could never understand its power and poignancy for my generation.

Romero spoke to our disillusionment and fears of conformity as no other filmmaker. His films were events where we felt seen and less alone in worry over humanity’s fate. But reviewers belittled his vision as cheap teen kicks, blind to how their era out of touch made mockery of our lived experience.

The Crazies tapped our generation’s zeitgeist in a raw, primal way, igniting sparks of recognition at its reflection of life inside a system we felt estranging us from freedom and identity. Yet through some vast empathic failure, this truth was lost on critics who may as well have inhabited another planet for all they grasped of our own.

Their condescension still stings, as does knowing Romero’s genius was wasted on arbiters bereft of antennas to receive it. His films were for and about us, not simplistic shockers as alleged in reviews but profound expressions of postwar disaffection and fears of individuality relinquished to control and conformity. He gave form to feelings inarticulable but shared in bones and blood and outrage of youth raging at the indifference of elders.

The Crazies depicts a society as my generation feared it was becoming at hands of powers demanding we bend into shapes not our own. It oozed the angst and anger of its era yet was belittled by critics for daring to voice such seditious anxiety at the status quo they were in position to defend. Their detachment and disregard spoke measures of the unbridgeable distance between one age defending a crumbling order and upstarts struggling to break free of its constraints.

I see now the film was doomed by this same dynamic to go unappreciated in its moment. It would take decades of culture catching up before Romero’s genius gained respect as our own always insisted it deserved. But by then something primal was lost – sense of witnessing an artist channel the unformed yet incandescent fury of youth against forced conformity and wholesale submersion of identity under rule of faceless authoritarians.

The Crazies will remain a timeless allegory but also a dispatch from trenches of generational wars, when Counterculture clashed with Establishment unable to see it shared the same space, breathing same air yet somehow divorced from human capacity to recognize kinship of spirit across divide of age and sensibility. For in the end, both sides sought freedom and voice. But one clung to outmoded notions of identity it had liberty yet to learn posed greatest threats, while Romero gave premonitions of dangers posed to individuality by world intent on managing descent into madness at cost of humanity. And so the message went unheeded until times had finally caught up to visionary warning decades past from one of Cinema’s finest provocateurs.

Expectations for Horror Were Different

The Crazies original poster that was in theaters

Horror films today are a prestigious genre, but in 1973 were seen as exploitative schlock. Critics approached The Crazies expecting cheap thrills, not artistry or insight. Their notions of horror were of slick, polished productions, not a gritty indie vision.

Reviewers wanted high production values, logical plots, and standard heroes/villains. Instead, Romero offered a raw, bizarre, and nihilistic take that confounded expectations. His loose, guerrilla style and strange subject matter seemed amateurish and pointless rather than pioneering.

Critics could not see past certain constraints of genre to appreciate how Romero was reinventing conventions. They wanted simple entertainment and scares, not a bleak satire of society’s fragility. Their rigid definitions made them blind and hostile to innovation they saw as pretentiousness and flashy self-indulgence rather than genre-advancing craft.

Today, The Crazies is viewed as compelling, artful horror, but then seemed an ugly, nonsensical mess failing to meet standards of script and polish. Critics were blindsided by its surreal delirium, wants for reason and coherence left unfulfilled where audiences now find meaning in madness and metaphor. But in that era, such poetic license was incomprehensible, a bridge too far into absurdity.

Critics were keen to call out films for lapses of logic, plotting, and production values, but had no vocabulary to praise subversion of convention or auteurist vision. They measured movies against a platonic ideal of standard features and pacing. Anything deviating from familiar forms was lectured on mistakes under these restrictive rubrics rather than analyzed for uniquely personal stylistic choices.

Their emphasis on technical finesse and convention made them declare The Crazies an incompetent work, though today viewed as a seminal downbeat thriller. But its experimental surrealism and nihilism were liabilities then, seen as result of amateurish ineptitude rather than intent to provoke new ways of thinking about genre. Style was divorced from substance in their critiques where we now recognize each as furthering the other.

The Crazies failed to meet narrow-minded expectations of neater plots and resolutions. It offered a funhouse mirror to society refusing comforts of heroic narrative and cliché. But its challenges were unwelcome, seen as error rather than vision. And so Romero’s innovation went overlooked, as critics clung to preexisting norms unable to account for artistry of his persuasion – a persuasion now inspiring generations with its possibilities for personal expression through pulp and allegory.

Their chauvinism made zhlubs of arbiters unfit to recognize or trumpet a pioneer. But history has restored order, elevating Romero above those who would cut him down, and The Crazies from obscurity their shortsightedness imposed. For time has proven vision lifeblood of genre, and those without it doomed to defend a crumbling bastion of rules unaware creativity lies beyond – in realms of unreason and impropriety where Romero thrived and blew spirit into forms thought empty vessels made for filling with familiar tropes, now realized as blank slate for philosophy and insight.

Romero Was an Indie Trailblazer

The Crazies alternate german poster

Romero was a pioneering independent filmmaker, but critics viewed him as an amateur. His DIY techniques were seen as evidence of ineptitude rather than a rebellious spirit. Yet today, Romero is revered as an icon of artistic integrity and ingenuity against the mainstream.

The Crazies had a raw, gritty style born of necessity that is now celebrated as a seminal work of indie genre filmmaking. But then, its unpolished aesthetics garnered derision, perceived as incompetence and cheap vulgarity rather than a personal vision unfettered by studio sanitation. Critics were disconnected from realities of renegade art and indifferent to obstacles of working outside a system. They lacked context to respect results that today inspire awe at the passion and innovation against which they were conceived.

Romero’s outsider sensibilities were at odds with critical values that equated worth with budget and polish. His movies were labors of love questioning society rather than slick products of it. But reviewers saw only a tacky amateurism indicating lack of skill where we recognize a pioneering independent spirit. His grit and wit were lost in their lament on production values and disconnect from the creative ethos he sought to embody.

The Crazies was not meant to emulate studio fare but subvert it. Romero took genre conventions into surreal places beyond the mainstream’s pale by force of vision and necessity of working around limits – embodying a rebel philosophy in each limitation transformed to liberty. Yet his ingenious route was condemned by those unaware they had taken road more traveled, lacking zest for detours of unbridled passion and imagination.

Today, we revere Romero as a patron saint of independent cinema who revolutionized genre from the outside in, rather than within mechanisms of a crassly commercial system. He pulled back veils on society with satire and gloom studios shunned, offering hard truths to counter their escapism. His outsider-ness was the wellspring of works like The Crazies, yet deemed downfall by critics with values at odds with his mission to subvert the status quo.

But in time, Romero won out. His rebellious spirit gained stature as influential and prescient once conformity loosened grip on culture. His outsider perspective was recognized as giving both finger and prophetic warning to society losing humanity in machinations of its own design. And so the irreverent upstart was reborn a hallowed visionary, though fate dealt him not a moment spared to receive this lost reverence now lent to his name.

For in the end, Romero won the day by staying the course of outsider peering in on civilization from vantages beyond reach of groupthink. His observations were unclouded by delusion, granting glimpses of human fate should reason not prevail against beast of unreason we harbor and allow mastership. And in a crowning irony, the Crazies now stand as case of history repeating in realms of criticism – where one-time zhlubs and arbiters of middlebrow taste were themselves outsiders to timeless truths of vision they condemned in fits of prejudice and solipsism. For they proved humanity’s rawest nerve and greatest hazard is dogged need to make reflections of its darkness seem as coming from without instead of within.

Romero Lives on

George A. Romero’s The Crazies was a film ahead of its time, misunderstood and maligned by critics unable to recognize its visionary brilliance or cultural insight. Viewed today, the movie seems prophetic in its metaphoric warnings of how a loss of individuality and independent thought can lead to societal chaos and barbarism. But in 1973, mainstream reviewers derided it as an amateur exploitation film, focusing on its graphic content rather than thematic depth.

Nearly 50 years later, we must reappraise The Crazies and give Romero his due as a pioneering and socially incisive filmmaker. His indie horror classic was never just a cheap scare-fest but a provocative work of guerrilla art offering chilling commentary on human nature and the system under which we live. Romero channeled the fears and anxieties of postwar America with a gleefully subversive outsider’s eye. Yet his vision went largely unrecognized by a critical establishment ill-equipped to look past genre trappings or surface transgressions to see the brilliance beneath.

The Crazies is a film of dark surrealism and black humor that unsettles to make us think – a mission the critics of its era never grasped. But today, we can appreciate how Romero’s allegory cuts like a knife to enduring truths about society while also being of its moment. The movie vibrates with angst and defiance that resonated with audiences steeped in distrust of authority, but baffled reviewers clinging to tradition. Their inability to understand led to scorn for what they dismissed as ineptitude and cheap tricks.

In retrospect, the critics seem the inept and misguided ones, unable to recognize an emerging cinematic genius or new brand of socially conscious genre cinema. They stood on the wrong side of history, while Romero was pushing horror past cliché to make it a vehicle for cultural insight. The culture just had not yet caught up to where this visionary was leading.

But time has vindicated Romero and The Crazies. We now see a classic of downbeat allegory and indie spirit, and respect Romero as an auteur who reinvented genre conventions to reflect society in a dark mirror. The film endures not for cheap thrills but searing metaphors and reflections – though it took decades for prejudice to pass allowing this stark vision to emerge from shadows of misunderstanding cast upon it. 

So we must continue reclaiming Romero’s oeuvre from oblivion of false categorization, elevating his outsider art to stand among Cinema’s most prophetic works. His films were microcosms of the humanity they sought to warn and redeem, equally prey to beast of unreason and unwillingness to accept harsh self-reflections – until distance grants perspective to see our failing was in messenger, not message we pushed into category of Other rather than facing as coming from within selves.

In the end, George A. Romero proves a patron saint of independent thought and voice against conformity – expressing counsel to guard against descent into madness we court when losing sight of individual duty to reason and tendency towards dismissing disturbance of familiar views. For in his cinema, genre and metaphor meet to give dire augury of what waits should we cling to comforts of arbitrary norms and judgments instead of opening to think the unthinkable in time.