The word in cinematic horror these days is “remake”. Week after week the studios have churned out one mediocre remake after another, and with the rare exception, they have been lousy enough to deaden the tiny black hearts of horror fans everywhere. So, it is with great pleasure and relief that I can say that The Crazies not only succeeds as a terrific remake, but it actually surpasses the original.
I know, there is a collective gasp out there for suggesting that anything could top George A. Romero’s 1973 original. But I have to ask: “Have you seen Romero’s The Crazies lately?” Because if you haven’t, you should. Romero was never able to overcome the miniscule budget, and although he was ambitious with his social commentary, the results were kind of sloppy and dull. Director Breck Eisner (Sahara) takes the reins this time and has delivered a leaner and meaner film filled with truly scary set pieces splashed with some humorous touches.
In a small town in Iowa, life is pretty laid back. It’s the sort of farming community where everyone knows each other, no one locks their doors, and the local high school baseball games are the biggest social events for miles around. Nothing much happens; that is until a dazed citizen marches onto the baseball diamond with a shotgun. Later still, another man burns his wife and son alive in their house. These events are the beginning of an epidemic of homicidal insanity that soon envelops the entire town, and when the military arrives to try and contain the crisis, things go from really bad to much, much worse. Not only do the townsfolk have to worry about their friends and neighbors going crazy, now they also have to fear the government that wants to just eradicate this little problem in any way they can.
Timothy Olyphant (TV’s Deadwood and Justified) stars as the town sheriff and he’s our focal point into the chaos and confusion. His performance is quite good, even if it really is just another shade of the kind of roles he’s played in the past. He gives us a strong but sympathetic character who convincingly displays the feelings of confusion, fear and paranoia that are essential in selling this story. Radha Mitchell (Surrogates, Silent Hill) as Olyphant’s wife and Joe Anderson (The Ruins) as his deputy, provide strong supporting performances.
Does The Crazies deliver the horror goods? You bet. Eisner does a remarkable thing here; he is able to generate some unsettling atmosphere, provide some wicked scares and then combine them with splendid action sequences. Most horror films are lucky to do even one of these things right. The Crazies does them all.
Much praise should also be directed to cinematographer Maxime Alexandre (The Hills Have Eyes, P2. Mirrors) who, thankfully, doesn’t go the trendy ‘shaky cam’ route, instead he lets his images linger and lend some horrific beauty. The scenes involving a thresher and a car wash are lit and edited in such a way as to provide maximum tension and discomfort.
The only real complaint would be in the film’s last act as the survivors finally make their way out town. The pacing slows down almost to a crawl in comparison to the earlier passages, but that’s really just nitpicking.
We can only hope studios will get a look at The Crazies and try to emulate what makes it a superior remake. But they probably won’t. For every great remake like this, there are scores of others that are incompetent, ill-advised and downright laughable. What the horror world needs is more films like The Crazies and fewer ones like Prom Night, The Amityville Horror, The Fog, Sorority Row or Halloween II. Do I hear an ‘amen’?