Notable Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker
Review: In 1973, George A. Romero gave us a little paranoid governmental conspiracy film called The Crazies. It told the story of a small town that is devastated by a virus accidentally released by the government and how a few townspeople try to escape the quarantine being placed on the town. While crazy in its own right, this film is the perfect example of low-budget and campy horror. Effects were cheap, quality was lacking, but most of that can be attributed to the time period and what the film was actually trying to accomplish. It was a B movie all the way, until it was remade. It’s now 2010, and the updated film took everything Romero did to an entirely new level. Eisner took this campy cult classic and was able to transform it into a bona fide horror/thriller that engulfed you in a horrific atmosphere that the original lacked.
The plot follows closely to the original, so if you saw Romero’s version you get the gist of the story. It starts out in a small Anywhere, USA town, in this case called Ogden Marsh. The small country town has a very tight-knit community that is all involved in each other’s lives. This is why when people start acting out of the ordinary, others start to take notice. Townsfolk start acting distant, almost like they are constantly coming in and out of a daydream just to answer questions, and eventually signs of violence start showing. Sheriff David Dutton (Olyphant) is the first to notice, and finds out a large airplane has crashed into one of Ogden Marsh’s bodies of water. Him and his deputy Russell Clark (Anderson) try to piece together the strange actions with the crashing of the plane, but before they even have to come to a conclusion the government shows up, confirming the worst of their thoughts. It is obvious the entire town is being quarantined, separating the sick from the uninfected. Everything is going fine until Dutton’s pregnant wife (Mitchell) shows positive for a fever, and he is knocked unconscious when he tries to fight the numerous guards wearing biochemical suits. Knowing the fever is just from the pregnancy, he decides he must sneak his way back into the town to save his wife, and get to the bottom of the conspiracy that no one will talk about.
After reflecting on the movie, what I decided I liked most about the film is how it was capable to make a movie about a government conspiracy, and yet make it very believable. So many times this plot line is used in a movie, and they turn the government into this evil malicious monster, tormenting its citizens just for the fun of it. It’s always some secret branch of the government trying to develop some weapon, physical or biochemical, and always end up testing it on some poor town somewhere out in Bumblefuck. In this case, Eisner chooses not to get too in-depth with just how evil the government is. The government is actually acting more out of necessity, to stop the spread of the virus and keep as many people safe as possible. The Crazies could have easily gotten out of control, maybe adding a government agent character heading the organization and speaking for the whole government. You know, the stereotypical character who has to be the strong-arm of the law because he’s “just taking orders?” It just makes it easier to accept having all the orders coming from behind the scenes without knowing the real motives. Eisner stayed way from those clichés that take you out of the realistic category and put you more and more into the “campy” horror movie category as the original was faulted into.
All the technical aspects were solid, and The Crazies kept a tense atmosphere. With a town full of large wide open spaces, there weren’t many places to hide for the survivors trying to escape the conspicuous quarantine. Helicopters were always flying through the air, so too much time spent out doors would mean being spotted by the government. Eisner does a splendid job making the desolate area seem so much smaller than it really is though, creating an atmosphere where anything can happen. A lot of the time the characters are on the open road, so there is no opportunity for a cheap scare, but the terrifying movie still keeps you unnerved and on edge the whole time.
The characters were very well-played, including the infected townsfolk. When they had that blank stare on their face it made you incredibly uneasy, not knowing how they could react. There are no stand out performances really in the film, but the big actors were all very nicely cast. Olyphant and Anderson both played perfect lawmen, Anderson playing more of a loose cannon. It was very easy to picture both of them in the roles as it was real life, and no one seemed out-of-place. The casting was nothing to rave about, but it was good enough where it didn’t hurt the movie in any way.
But don’t get me wrong, this movie had its faults. For me I noticed the same shots being used over and over again, each time becoming more and more predictable. For example, it’s one thing to have someone saved at the last-minute once in a movie. You know, when someone’s about to die and seconds before the act is complete, you hear the gunshot and the assailant drops to the ground to reveal the hero standing in the doorway? When it happens once I can say “Ok, it was a lucky coincidence the hero walked in at the exact perfect time.” But when it happens over and over again, each instance becomes less and less realistic. I understand Eisner is just trying to build up tension, and it would work if the tactic was used sparingly. But when I’m expecting it, I’m not holding my breath anymore. Sure it doesn’t happen every time, but in my opinion any time after the first time is too much to have this “lucky coincidence” happen.
The Crazies was a much more enjoyable experience than I was expecting. To put it the best way possible, Eisner’s version was “a B-movie story with A production” (thank you Eric). The plot had the potential to turn into just an updated version with the same effect, just a repeat campy horror movie. But Eisner was able to bring an intensity to the movie that the original version lacked. In a way, the remake is a much more respectable version as a film, but again not taking away anything from Romero’s The Crazies. We wouldn’t have the remake without his contribution. But Eisner’s The Crazies just brings more to the table in every sense of film. The plot is tighter, the acting is better, the effects are much more stunning, the atmosphere is tenser, and the plot is terrifyingly more believable. This is one horror remake that viewers can actually be excited about, while fans of the original will definitely be able to respect what Eisner has done with his version.
Final Rating: 7 nightmare neighbors out of 10