Exploitation films usually reflect the times they were made in, particularly in how they capitalize on the fashions and fads of their time. On a deeper level, the more clever examples of the form know how to exploit the fears filtering through society in their era. Horror films act as a metaphor for man’s darker side and sci-fi films can reflect fears of science run amuck. The theatrical trailer for The Crazies, an early George Romero film, shows how all of this can be done in three minutes.
The first thirty seconds launches us directly into fear, bypassing setting up the story to go right for the audience’s fears of civil unrest. We see a montage of armed troops in hazmat suits busting into various homes and a nightclub, taking people by force. One man who tries to fight them is shot down in the streets. We hear various voices over this montage suggesting what is driving this chaos in broad strokes: this is town is being locked down by the authorities, perhaps under martial law, and there’s talk of bringing in a nuclear weapon over the area.
Suddenly, an angry citizen opens fire on the troops and barricades himself in his home as a firefight ensues. The narration suggests that “they started something they can’t stop” as we see people fighting to the death against the troops. A couple gives into lustful urges. Silent, horrified children find a mother murdered in her bed. A kindly looking elderly woman stabs one of the troops with a knitting needle. Perhaps there is reason for martial law, after all. But why is this all happening?
The next thirty seconds provides snippets of dialogue that give us a fragmented sense of what’s going on. A scientist, played by Richard France, bellows that he’s one of the “developers of the goddamn thing” as he tries to reach the powers that be (Romero would use him once again to play a frustrated scientist who appears on t.v. broadcasts in Dawn Of The Dead). We also see a military commander on the radio, trying to get what he needs to contain the situation. More ominously, high-ranking officers chat with disturbing ease about perhaps destroying the town with a nuclear device, echoing a warning from the narrator that they must save the town “must be contained… or leveled.”
What follows is thirty seconds introducing what is actually the main thrust of the plot: as the armed forces close in, toting guns and flamethrowers, a small band of armed citizens tries to escape. One man tenderly embraces his partner as he tells her they can make it. That’s the cue for the trailer to lay out its endgame in the final sixty seconds. We see fighting between the survivors. We see the troops on the ground getting shot down as their commanders struggle to maintain control. The townspeople are fighting back with everything, including guns. In one memorably shocking moment, a priest sets himself on fire in a suicidal protest that recreates a famous image from the Vietnam War. The trailer’s closing titles are displayed over a frantic sequence of townspeople fighting with troops as casualties pile up on both sides of the fight.
The resulting trailer does what a good exploitation promo should do – it sells the thrills and shocking elements of the film – but it also holds up a mirror to its times. The Vietnam War had prompted a great distrust of the military complex and Nixon-era tensions between authoritarians and youthful rebels had prompted violent incidents during the protests, including the shocking deaths at Kent State. This trailer seethes with that kind of paranoid tension, reflecting the anger and fear of societal breakdown also seen in its parent film – and that makes it a fascinating watch on its own terms.
To read Schlockmania’s film review for The Crazies, click here.