Life Imitating Art in THE CRAZIES and DAY OF THE DEAD

We’re more than halfway through the year, and COVID-19 is still a part of our daily life. Our mobile news alerts and social media are crammed with updates on deaths, infections, and an unsettling spread of false information. Not only that, but the ineffective “leader” in the White House also continues to scoff at experts and continuously fill the well of anti-mask and anti-science rhetoric. With this insanity filling our news cycle, some people have been inspired to spend their quarantine watching virus-themed movies.

Over the last several weeks, I re-watched movies like 12 Monkeys and Outbreak to pass the time. While appropriate for this moment in time, it did not send a chill down my spine as two other titles did. Both from George A. Romero, the two in question are The Crazies and Day of the Dead.

I have seen both before, but re-watching them with 2020 COVID-19 era eyes, it is not the same as the previous times watching them. The events of The Crazies and Day of the Dead, though filmed decades ago, are frighteningly relevant to this pandemic. An unfortunate case of life imitating art.

Unqualified Leaders: Day Of The Dead

In the first few minutes of the movie, we learn right off the bat that Maj. Cooper, the former leader of the survivors, died and is replaced by Maj. Rhodes. We learn a great deal of his character from this line of dialogue, “I thought Cooper was an asshole, but he was a sweetheart next to Rhodes.” The survivors have now entered a worse-off situation. Rhodes is the antithesis of a good leader; he further divides the group into fractions, much like you-know-who in the White House.

Life Imitating Art in THE CRAZIES and DAY OF THE DEAD
Day of the Dead (1985) – source: United Film Distribution Company

The zombies now outnumber humans, and the survivors must live underground for safety. Due to this quarantine, tempers are short and logic is thrown out the window. Rhodes and his team attempt to take over, using an authoritative grip, and undermine what the scientists of the group are trying to do.

Dr. Logan, for example, is attempting to study how to make zombies less aggressive and to domesticate them. Sarah (the lone woman of the group, who suffers from Rhodes’ sexually suggestive comments) is researching how to develop a vaccine to eradicate or reverse the zombie effects. Rhodes feels that these two are wasting time and wants results that will satisfy him.

Pandemonium eventually erupts in this underground lair. Rhodes’ men start to kill civilians and scientists who are trying to help them survive. Additionally, zombies have now entered their living quarters to add more to the problem. Rhodes’ group do not use their heads to prevent the spread of this zombie epidemic.

Not Following Guidelines: The Crazies

In The Crazies, an airplane carrying a chemical substance crashes in a rural Pennsylvania town and spills into the water supply. The government sends in troops with gas masks and what appears to be radiation suits to quarantine the town to reduce the spread of this newly developed virus. Unfortunately, a lack of guidelines and harsh treatment of civilians leads to a conflict.

Life Imitating Art in THE CRAZIES and DAY OF THE DEAD
The Crazies (1973) – source: Cambist Films

Like anti-maskers in the US, some of these residents refuse to quarantine. They get their guns and shoot at the soldiers; the town priest refuses to close his church and sets himself on fire, and a man starts coughing on a doctor’s face to refuse an injection. Like in Day of the Dead, chaos erupts and the virus continues to spread beyond the borders of the town.

A scientist gets sent to this town to assist in the development of a vaccine. Typical of this organization, there is a lack of supplies and when the scientist/expert tries to make points about safety, it falls on deaf ears. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Dr. Anthony Fauci (one of the smartest people in America) and his daily clashes with incompetent people in power that refuse to follow his advice. It all goes back to that dangerous anti-science stance.

Distrust of Scientists

In both films, the scientist characters all face some sort of opposition from authorities. They present their points to solve the problem, and we as viewers see the logic behind it (at least I do), but the ones on the screen don’t. Their attempts to save the day, sadly, meet unfortunate ends.

Life Imitating Art in THE CRAZIES and DAY OF THE DEAD
Day of the Dead (1985) – source: United Film Distribution Company

Day of the Dead has Dr. Logan developing methods to have zombies not attack us, but to domesticate them. If there’s no vaccine to eradicate them, at least make zombies non-threatening. Rhodes sees this as a pointless method of controlling this disease, so he has Logan killed, and threatens to cut supplies for the civilians.

The scientist in The Crazies might be on the verge of developing a vaccine, but is not leaving any notes. He leaves his lab (located in the quarantined high school) and is met with hostility. A riot breaks out, people attempt to escape, and the soldiers do not believe he is a scientist. They additionally ignore him when he claims that a vaccine might be on the horizon. They push him down a flight of stairs, killing him and spilling the vaccine all over the floor.

Final Thoughts On The Crazies And Day Of The Dead

The Crazies was a flop on release, and is an underseen Romero flick, but deserves more attention. It’s not his strongest effort but has a lot to say given the current state of the world, particularly the United States. Day of the Dead, however, is the strongest sequel (my opinion) of the Living Dead series and should be high on a pandemic watchlist.

Both films perfectly capture how the government and the public would react to these situations. Full of disorganization, distrust, and unfortunately, brutal violence. Romero is the movie director version of an uncle or grandpa who “tells it like it is” and does not fear criticism. This characteristic of his helps to elevate the films beyond mere entertainment; they’re social commentaries.

Fortunately, both movies can be found on Tubi, and Day of the Dead is also available on Kanopy. For those of you still stuck at home, give them a shot. It does reflect our current situation, but it’s also a societal critique done well and leaves the opportunity for discussion with friends afterward.

Do you enjoy the films of George A. Romero? Do these movies capture the current mood? Please leave a comment below!

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