I did not stumble across this movie in my teens, on late-night TV, or as some local channel's Sunday afternoon movie; I discovered The Crazies post-Dawn Of The Dead, so I knew what I was in for before the opening credits even rolled.
Night Of The Living Dead is laid back and stoned most of the time (much like Brad Pitt's character in True Romance) compared to the seething anger on display in The Crazies; whereas Night sought primarily to terrify, Romero's trademarked social commentary submerged and largely unself-conscious, The Crazies swats at any target wandering foolishly close enough.
The story, if you've never seen it (or its first, albeit unofficial, remake, the Dustin Hoffman-starring Outbreak), is this: a military bio-weapon infects a small, more-or-less isolated town; the citizens of said town go blood simple and attack anyone who's not been infected; the military surrounds the town in the hope of stopping the bio-weapon from escaping the town and infecting the world. The lead characters are the town's sheriff, his nurse wife, and the sheriff's best friend (played by Harold Wayne Jones, who showed up again in Romero's Knightriders).
(Also present is Lynn Lowry, previously blood-drunk in I Drink Your Blood, and again as a savagely-mauled prostitute in the Cat People remake. Ms. Lowry is the only original cast member with a role in The Crazies redux. Richard Liberty, who would figure more prominently and endearingly as mad scientist Dr. Logan in Day Of The Dead, here plays Lynn Lowry's dad, driven to incest by infection. Behind the camera is Bill Hinzman, first zombie on the scene in Night Of The Living Dead, acting as cinematographer, and Michael Gornick, who would take over as cinematographer on future Romero productions, as a sound tech.)
The National Guard rolls into town on troop carriers and, having rounded up everyone into the local high school, begin rooting and looting through the townspeople's stuff. A priest self-immolates to protest parishioners being dragged from his church. With the Guardsmen behaving badly in the streets, the confined locals degenerating into toxin-induced savagery, the military muckie-mucks debating procedure over lunch, we, the audience, are left with only two beams of light to cut through the darkness and despair: Sheriff David (Will McMillan) and Dr. Watts (Richard France). Watts is on-site to whip up a cure for Trixie; the Sheriff, ironically, is the cure.
The fact that it is a fine film, with Romero putting to good use the things he'd discovered making Night, There's Always Vanilla, and Season Of The Witch, is likely why is was considered prime fodder for a remake. The fact that it is an obscure film in Romero's body of work (though hardly as obscure as the two preceding it) somehow reduces the crime of remaking it to a misdemeanor, unlike the first-degree rape perpetrated by the remakers of Day Of The Dead.
Remakes are, by definition, inferior products. We may, however, remain cautiously optimistic that The Crazies redux is, at least, providing Mr. Romero with a paycheck—decent enough that he will be able to continue making movies—if only to provide future re-makers something to remake.