The Crazies courtesy Blue Underground
The sequel to 28 Days Later (2002) - that would be 28 Weeks Later, in case you hadn't guessed - streets today, and it's a good follow-up to one of those films that came from out of the blue and reminded horror fans like me that there's still life in the classic monsters: All it takes is a director/screenwriter team like Danny Boyle and Alex Garland to put a fresh spin on the old tropes.

But my pick of the week is an older and shamefully overlooked movie: George Romero's The Crazies (1973), whose influence is all over films as various as a cluster of '80s horror pictures - Impulse and Mutant/ Night Shadows (both 1984), Warning Sign (1985) - the mainstream, "respectable" Outbreak (1995), the video-game inspired Resident Evil series and, of course, 28 Days Later. And frankly, The Crazies' core concerns are as timely now as they were in the wake of the 1960s counterculture - if not more so.

Following the runaway success of Night of the Living Dead (1968), Romero tried to branch out of horror with a pair of relationship films rooted in 1970s cultural anxieties: There's Always Vanilla (1972) and Hungry Wives (1973). Though Wives had a witchcraft twist and was marketed as a thriller, it's not - it's basically about unhappy suburbanites looking for kicks - both were financial disasters, and The Crazies marked Romero's return to genre filmmaking.

But like Night of the Living Dead, The Crazies is deeply rooted in '70s concerns: disenchantment with American involvement in Vietnam, distrust of government and the military, small-town isolationism, and the panic and intolerance disaster sows among neighbors and friends.

Shot in Evans City and nearby Zelienople in western Pennsylvania, it begins with the crash of a small military plane in the hills surrounding "Evans City," pop. 3,613. Six days later, a local man goes berserk, murdering his wife and burning down the family home with his two small children inside. Local volunteer firefighters David and Clanker - old buddies and Vietnam War veterans - respond to the blaze and David's pregnant girlfriend, Judy, a nurse, shows up for work at the local doctor's office only to discover the place crawling with soldiers. The downed plane, it turns out, was carrying containers of a bioweapon called "trixie" (the film was originally called "Code Name: Trixie") that's leached into the groundwater.

Infection has two outcomes: violent insanity and death or just plain violent insanity... permanent. There's a vaccine, of which the military only has enough to inoculate necessary personnel - i.e., not local residents - and there's no cure. Since trixie has had six days to spread, it's pretty obvious that it's only a matter of time before all hell breaks loose. The military mandate is containment: Establish a secure perimeter, disarm the locals, round them up, and make sure they're all accounted for and in one central location. There's also a scientist on hand to try to rustle up a cure, but since he wasn't able to find one in the three years he worked on Project Trixie in a state-of-the-art lab, the odds that he's going to get anywhere working in a bare-bones local doctor's office are slim to none.

I've heard the complaint that The Crazies is an antimilitary rant steeped in extreme left-wing paranoia, but I disagree. Romero is an old-school liberal, but The Crazies is pretty even-handed. Sure, the image of hazmat-suited soldiers hauling townspeople - old folks, women, crying children - out of bed at gunpoint and locking them up in the local high school, which quickly devolves into bedlam as more and more of them show signs of infection, is frighteningly potent.

But Romero also makes it clear that the soldiers are panicky and underprepared because they've been deliberately kept in the dark by their superiors and aren't expecting to be attacked by sweet little old ladies with knitting needles or fired upon by locals who may be infected or may just be defending their homes against what looks to them like an invading army.

Some soldiers loot, break ranks and turn on each other; others perform small acts of kindness amid chaos, pausing to let a frightened little girl pick up her doll before taking her to the detention center or comforting a small boy whose parents have just been shot to death. The ranking military commanders are middlemen who weren't told what was going on until they were in the thick of it and now have no-argument-broached orders to keep the outbreak secret, even if it means dumping a bomb on Evans City to "burn out the infected area" and pretend it was a nuclear mishap.

Some of the townspeople are hotheaded rednecks, and when the real chaos descends, it's almost impossible to tell who's infected and who just looks crazy because they're reacting to a crazy situation. Romero's beef is with abuse of authority, institutional incompetence and prioritizing the government's image over the rights of ordinary citizens.

And that's why I say the movie is as timely as ever. There's been a remake in development since 2005 and since the weakest thing about The Crazies is the uneven performances and low production value, both the nearly inevitable product of a tiny budget, it's possible that a remake could be stronger than the original. On the other hand, that's rarely the case,and since director Brad Anderson abandoned the project to do another thriller, Transsiberian, I can't say I have high hopes. But I am eager to see Romero's upcoming Diary of the Dead: He may be nearly 70 years old, but he's still mad as hell and committed to stirring up debate via horror movies. Go George!

Things to consider:

Exploitation movies can address contemporary anxieties faster, more vividly and under less pressure to support the status quo than mainstream Hollywood movies: Agree or disagree and why?

Do you think it's a critical overthinking or silly to see sociopolitical themes in movies that aren't overtly about politics, current events or social trends?

What movie do you remember because of its subversive and/or provocative themes and why?

Send your movie questions to FlickChick.

Hear Maitland on the weekly podcast TV Guide Talk.

See Maitland McDonagh and Ken Fox review this week's new flicks on the Movie Talk vodcast.

Previously in DVD Tuesday:

Blade Runner
Zodiac
Manhunter
A Simple Plan
Taxi Driver
Renaissance
Blowup
Hot Fuzz
300
Ace in the Hole
Eyes Without a Face
Apocalypto
Citizen Kane
La Jetée
Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
Bob le Flambeur
Near Dark
Perfect Blue
Pan's Labyrinth
Les Girls
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
The Queen
Expresso Bongo
I'm Not Scared
Shocking Grindhouse Double Bill! - Scanners and The Candy Snatchers
Don't Look Now
Re-Animator
Casino Royale
http:/ / community. tvguide. com/ thread. jspa? threadID= 800073953#comments"> Pi
The Prestige
13 Tzameti
The Departed
Suspiria
Kiss and Make Up
Kiss Me Deadly
The Long Good Friday
What Alice Found
The Devil's Backbone
The Descent
The Devil Wears Prada
Pandora's Box
The Thief and the Cobbler
Nashville
Panic in the Streets/Jack Palance Interview
The Pusher Trilogy
Scarface
Slither
Sunset Blvd.
In Cold Blood
Brick
Also: This week's new DVD releases<P><P>