by Mel Valentin
For the minority-free (fictitious) township of Ogden Marsh, Iowa (population 1,260), the center of Breck Eisner’s ("Sahara," "Thought Crimes") remake of George A. Romero’s fourth film (after the genre-redefining "Night of the Living Dead" in 1968, the little-known "There’s Always Vanilla" three years later, and "Hungry Wives," a.k.a. "Season of the Witch" in 1972), death comes on a sunny spring during a baseball game, dressed in dirty overalls, a somnambulant gaze, and a shotgun. Ogden Marsh’s sheriff, David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant), at the game with his chief deputy, Russell Clank (Joe Anderson), responds quickly, killing the man, Rory Hamill (Mike Hickman), in plain view of the crowd at the baseball game.What at first seems like the act of a depressed, drunk man, however, turns into something else altogether. His blood-alcohol levels come back negative. Other townspeople fall into trance-like states. Hours later they become homicidal, killing family, friends, and anyone who happens to be nearby. Three hunters find a dead airplane pilot in the local marsh. Dutton and Clank find a downed airplane submerged in the local river that provides the town with their drinking water. Those closest to the river become infected first. As violent murders gain in frequency and severity, Dutton attempts to contact the outside world, but discovers that he can’t call out or receive calls in (the Internet’s also down).
"Surprisingly engrossing, surprisingly entertaining horror remake."
The U.S. military arrives with armored personnel carriers and helicopters, follows the standard protocol for quarantining hot zones (i.e., no one gets in or out without the military's permission, soldiers and scientists wear gas masks or hazmat suits), and transports Ogden Marsh's residents to the baseball field, segregating them based on body temperature. The military separates Dutton from his wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell), the town’s doctor, due, presumably, to her pregnancy. A determined Dutton and Clank sets out to rescue Dutton’s wife, fighting off both the “crazies” of the title and a military determined to stop the infection from spreading and causing a pandemic. Along with Judy’s assistant, Becca Darling (Danielle Panabaker), Dutton, Judy, and Clank set out for the quarantine’s perimeter outside of town.
When George A. Romero filmed The Crazies 37 years ago, distrust in the United States government, due to the Vietnam War and Watergate, were at an all-time high, so it’s unsurprising that Romero made the U.S. military and government scientists the central villains in his film and not the “crazies.” Like the grimly bleak Night of the Living Dead five years earlier, The Crazies had a political statement to make. Forced to work with a low budget and an inexperienced cast, The Crazies suffered from crude production values, inartful set pieces, and histrionic acting. Despite its flaws, The Crazies became one of Romero’s better known and well respected films, one with an obvious influence on subsequent horror films, specifically Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (which also incorporated ideas from Day of the Dead).
Working from a screenplay written by Scott Kosar (The Amityville Horror remake, The Machinist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and Ray Wright (Case 39, the 2006 Pulse remake, Fatal Desire) and a more substantial budget, Eisner emphasizes directs with an efficient competency that other horror directors should emulate. Within the first film minutes, Eisner gives us a brief overview of Ogden Marsh, the quiet, idyllic Mid-Western town (actually rural Georgia standing in for rural Iowa), introduces Dutton, Clank, Judy, and Becca, and takes us straight to the baseball game where the first “crazy” makes an appearance.
Eisner resolves the initial mystery (who’s infected, the source of the infection, how it spreads, etc.) early on, turning The Crazies into a straight out survival horror. The flight from the military happens both at night (expected in a horror film) and during the day (the better to emphasize the dangers of wide open spaces). Eisner also keeps The Crazies tightly focused on Dutton and the other survivors. He never breaks away to explore the military or scientists on the other side of the divide as Romero did 37 years ago. Showing rather than telling (Screenwriting 101), Eisner doles out exposition through short, condensed sentences and reveals character primarily through action (rather than long monologues or dialogue).As a remake, it’s not surprising that "The Crazies" doesn’t offer moviegoers anything new or original (narratively or thematically). But while it stumbles by reusing the “nick-of-time” save one too many times and going with a denouement straight out of "28 Weeks Later," "The Crazies" succeeds in reaching its admittedly modest goals: delivering a tight, suspenseful survival horror film (with the obligatory, but never excessive dollops of blood and gore). And really, if you’re a horror fan, diehard or casual, you couldn’t ask for much more than "The Crazies."
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originally posted: 02/26/10 21:02:56