I have been eagerly awaiting Breck Eisner’s remake of the classic George A. Romero film, The Crazies, for about a year now. I first heard of it when I was living in L.A. and working for a horror/scifi film magazine. I followed its progress, and this past Friday I finally was able to see it in theaters. But of course, one cannot go see a remake without first having seen the original!
There’s some debate about this, however. Some say it’s best to wait and watch the original afterwards, so as not to spoil key plot elements in the new and (usually not) improved version. With ‘70s horror films, however, you can pretty much watch the original whenever in relation to the remake. I’m not really a fan of ‘70s horror except for amazing trail they blazed for horror today. And by that I mean they provided us with countless amounts of material to remake.
With films such as Last House on the Left, I found the original to be more interesting. The odd juxtaposition of such graphic horror and such an odd soundtrack (and clothing choice) was enough to win me over. It had just enough surrealist elements to make sitting through a brutal rape and numerous creative murders tolerable. With the remake, however, the ending didn’t balance out the extreme emotional stress viewers experience at the beginning, making it a horrible time in the theater (and then walking out to your car alone in a dark parking lot).
Luckily for The Crazies, this isn’t an issue. The remake was a vast improvement over the original in character development, dialogue and fright factor. I give the Romero version props for giving us an inventive storyline that has been reworked to near perfection in the Eisner remake, and even applied to other great horror films, such as 28 Days Later. I love me a good bout of unidentified infection!
The Eisner remake tightened up character relationships, basing the film around sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant), his pregnant wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell), his deputy, Russell Clank (Joe Anderson), and Judy’s receptionist, Becca (Danielle Panabaker). Sheriff Dutton watches as strange occurrences pop up around town, and usually passive kind community members seem to…go crazy (yup, I said it).
The ex-town drunk saunters onto the baseball diamond with a shotgun, and a kind farmer and family man turns on his wife and child. It’s not long before the government sweeps in and takes control, attempting a half-assed quarantine that Sheriff Dutton and Judy get separated in. This sets the sheriff and Deputy Clank off on a mission to find Judy and get the hell out of there without being detected by either “the crazies” or the military team that was flown in to regulate the situation.
It doesn’t take them long to learn the properties of the disease (Trixie) or how their town became affected by it. They battle their way through cornfields and hay barns to work their way to freedom. They lose a few companions along the way, but that’s to be expected.
The approach to the gore in The Crazies was (I’m gonna use an odd word here) classy. For instance, when a crazy decides to take a pitchfork and skewer fellow infection sufferers who are strapped to beds, we see the pitchfork come through the bottom of the bed and an appropriate amount of blood seepage. This sort of thing keeps with the gross out theme while staying creative. But don’t worry, there are plenty of spilling guts as well.
The cinematography is gorgeous. With a setting like rural America, it’s hard to go wrong with sunrise shots and sweeping fields of grain. Combine that with your classic fast paced and tricky horror style cinematography, and you’ve got yourself a feast for the eyes, my friend!
The end leaves some questions dangling—much like the brains stuck on various walls throughout town. Question one: The government is clearly exterminating these people, infected or not, so how will the Duttons be able to start a new life? As soon as there’s activity in their bank accounts or if they try to buy a house or get pulled over by a cop, the government will know and go blow torch them. Question two: How does an explosion of that magnitude (at the end) not affect more surrounding area. They explain it away rather cleverly, but I feel like there would be a lot of problems with a massive (nuclear??) explosion in the middle of our country. I found that to be a bit extreme, to be honest.
My favorite change in the remake was the elimination of the father daughter duo from the original. They were replaced by Becca. The father daughter pair from the original got a bit too creepy when he becomes sexually attracted to her and attempts an incestuous rape. No one needs that. I think the writers of the original realized that, too, because they have their main characters leave the duo to be offed by the government men.
All that being said, my expectations were met! My year of waiting was not in vain, and I encourage all to go see the film. It’s fun to watch the original too, and definitely an education.