George Romero replays Night of the Living Dead in the opening, two young siblings playing scary games until something awful arises from within -- the zombies are human, we are reminded, the American home is dismantled and set ablaze. A monumental snafu (an experimental virus, to be developed into government chemical weapons, ends up in the water supply of a Pennsylvania hamlet) provides the satirical foundation, the staccato jibes flow, virtuosically and brutally, from the notion of contaminated drinks releasing the populace's inner guerrilla, with the U.S. Army "an invasive force." The infected turn homicidal, inoculation is like pissing on a bonfire; the town is quarantined (a bomber crammed with nukes circles the area, awaiting the President's word), the infantry arrives decked in gas masks and biohazard suits, heady visions of resistance and breakdown ensue. Romero's stylistic gambit is the thrusting handheld camera, which scuttles through green fields as they fill with bodies then follows one soldier as he storms a house and spots a knitting granny, who skewers him with a needle. The grain of hope amid the insanity is a firefighter (Will MacMillan) and a pregnant nurse (Lane Carroll), a couple mirrored perversely in the distraught widower (Richard Liberty) who violates his daughter (Lynn Lowry), a dazed nymph who smiles at her demise as a flock of sheep runs across the screen. Robin Wood perceptively traced it to Hawks' Monkey Business, though Les Carabiniers and Dr. Strangelove are also built into the structure, along with a flash of Marat/Sade (the high school bedlam that leaves a potential antidote a puddle on the floor) plus news reportage (Vietnam is the presiding image). Even with no ghouls, Romero exposes a nightmare -- true horror lies in society's internal tumult, acknowledged only to be squashed to the tune of "When Willie Comes Marching Home." With Harold Wayne Jones, Lloyd Hollar, and Richard France.
--- Fernando F. Croce