It's important to stress that this is a compliment. The Crazies scared me several times, and left me deeply unsettled throughout. At one point I actually considered closing my eyes, which is a horror movie tactic I haven't employed since I wasn't considered old enough to watch them. The Crazies can't take the entirety of the credit for this, granted, because part of what was happening was likely holdover from Shutter Island. That movie's score was phenomenally unsettling, and from the opening shots onward the music was twisting my stomach and keeping me on the literal edge of my seat- seriously, I remember becoming aware of my precarious perch part-way through that movie, feeling ridiculous, but not moving. The Crazies is not Shutter Island, but I saw it in a theater I'd last been in right before I saw Shutter Island, and I hadn't hit the theater in between.
Still, Secondary-Scorsese aside, The Crazies still freaked me out, and American horror movies almost never do that. I have to go to fabulous Nippon for that, or catch a flick crafted from the guts of a movie originally written with Japanese sensibilities. So I am impressed that I was so disturbed, that I flinched so often, that I jumped at points that should have been simple (and easily telegraphed) gotcha gags. I think the score is responsible for a lot of that fear, but the way they use the Crazies does the rest. Its not a film that went the zombie route, with infected townsfolk running through the streets while bloody spittle flies from their lips. If they had, it would have too greatly resembled 28 Days Later, which the infected already do to a certain extent. Instead, the Crazies spend a lot of time brooding, peering quizzically into the middle distance, and even talking. They seem to retain their capacity for reason even in the deepest throes of the disease, possibly even possessing an enhanced cunning and predatory sensibility. It's that latter point that helps to make them so disturbing; you get the sense that the Crazies could converse with their potential victims, but they're too busy setting up an elaborate ambush or methodically slaughtering people to bother. Their chilling silence did a lot to make the jump-scares more frightening; the Crazies don't appear in a shot with a roar or a hiss, usually. They're just there, and maybe they kill you. At the same time, though, they possess a level of emotion that a character like Mike Myers (at least Classic Mike) explicitly lacks.
A Second Confession: Okay, this is where things get a little weird. At the same time I was twisting, and jumping, and being unsettled by The Crazies , I kept expecting one of the ominous government vehicles, or perhaps the massive combine seen at the beginning of the movie, unfold into Optimus Prime. Throughout most of the movie I couldn't shake the expectation that the autobots would show up and really just break the situation down. And near as I can tell, this is also the score's fault, at least partially. Something in its bombast, even some of the specific notes it hits, sound exactly like the two recent Transformers films. And while that is absurd, parts of the film are absurd too. The saw chasing Sheriff Seth Bullock is absurd, for instance. And, waxing philosophical for a moment, the crux of the plot itself is also absurd.
Either I, or the folks behind this movie, don't fully understand viral pathology. Specifically, if you're exposed to a virus and you don't get sick, does that mean you're immune to the virus forever? I understand that the body eventually develops the capacity to fight off certain viral infections...but if I injected myself with AIDS-carrying blood today, and didn't get sick, I wasn't under the impression I could do it again tomorrow and be fine. This is relevant, and not just a staggering display of my lack of biology classes, because the virus in the film is waterborne at the begin of the film, but eventually is thought to have become airborne. I can understand that, maybe, the airborne version doesn't make people sick once they've been exposed and emerged unscathed; it's a mutation, its a new strain, maybe its weaker, etc.
But if the disease starts out waterborne...isn't it bloodborne as well? This becomes extremely relevant when you consider that one character just wanders around in a blood-stained smock for a good chunk of the movie, and before things have progressed too far they've all be slopped and splashed with twitchy crimson. Sheriff Bullock, at the very least, has quite a few open wounds as this is occurring.
Also, and equally relevant: we want these brave souls to survive, and escape, and get to safety. But aren't they covered in airborne virii? Isn't that soaked into their clothes, their hair, and even their skin? Again, I don't mean simply because they've been traipsing through town; I mean because they've been wrestling with Crazies throughout the film. So even if they're somehow immune, and they make it to Cedar Rapids, aren't they just going to get everyone around them sick? Zombie movies dodge this question by having the disease transmitted entirely by fluids (even though that's now how the original Night of the Living Dead sparked it off), but The Crazies makes a point of the disease being airborne.
So the goal is to root for these people, to want them to escape, even though the act of doing so is almost sure to result in the deaths of many hundreds, or thousands, more. For whatever reason (and without markedly detracting from my enjoyment of the film) this was at the forefront of my mind for the latter half of the film. Well, that and Transformers.