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Our reviews of The Crazies (1973) (published April 29th, 2003), The Crazies (1973) (Blu-ray) (published February 5th, 2010), and The Crazies (2010) (Blu-ray) (published June 25th, 2010) are also available.
Fear thy neighbor
Released in 1973, George A. Romero's The Crazies arrived at the halfway point between 1968's Night of the Living Dead and 1978's Dawn of the Dead, the two zombie movies for which the director is most celebrated. The Crazies was Romero's stab at making a non-zombie zombie flick, grounding his politically conscious horror in a greater sense of reality and character intimacy. Centered on the accidental release of a biological weapon that turns common folk into mindless murderers, the movie traces the adventures of a firefighter/war veteran and his girlfriend as they try to survive in their small Pennsylvania town even as masked government agents and military personnel try to contain the virulent disease. Made in the heart of the Vietnam era, the movie is a case study in early '70s paranoia and distrust of governmental authority. When the movie isn't trading on good old-fashioned suspense, it features government scientists yelling at military commanders, and military commanders barking orders out of frustration with the game plan coming out of Washington. The Crazies is one part scare-fest, one part indictment of bureaucratic incompetence.
One wonders what Romero's career might have looked like had The Crazies been a hit. Would he have made Dawn of the Dead or would he have drifted away from supernatural horror and into more direct political commentary? The question will never be answered because The Crazies was a miserable failure at the box office. But, like many of Romero's movies, it has since built a cult following through midnight theatrical exhibitions and various home video releases.
And so it is that we have this 2010 remake.
Facts of the Case
A high school baseball game in the small farming town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, is interrupted when a local man strolls dazed onto the field, clutching a shotgun. Forced to take action, Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant, Live Free or Die Hard) shoots the man dead. As other citizens of the town slip into odd and sometimes violent behavior, Dutton and his deputy, Russell Clank (Joe Anderson, Across the Universe), investigate the discovery of a military pilot's dead body in a local marsh. Dutton suspects that the pilot's fallen plane has released something toxic into the water supply, but before he can investigate, teams of soldiers and federal agents descend upon the town. The sick are quarantined. Among them is Dutton's pregnant wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell, Pitch Black). When the masses of increasingly violent sick break the military cordon, Dutton decides to rescue his wife (who he is convinced is not ill) and escape Ogden Marsh. Soldiers and the crazies who were once his friends and neighbors are all that stand in his way.
Like his fellow horror icon John Carpenter, George A. Romero's body of work has proven irresistible to Hollywood remakers, rebooters, and reimaginers. A couple of these do-overs have been surprisingly satisfying. Make-up effects legend Tom Savini's 1990 remake of and homage to Night of the Living Dead is a blast because of its lovingly detailed recreation of the original story. Zack Snyder (Watchmen) found surprising success with his version of Dawn of the Dead by stripping the story of its political subtext and delivering a technically precise and loads-of-fun action-horror flick. Director Breck Eisner's (Sahara) version of The Crazies isn't quite as good as those movies, but it's a decent little character-driven horror picture.
By shedding the military/bureaucratic half of Romero's original story (government agents and military personnel are only nameless, faceless drones carrying out casually malicious orders), Breck and screenwriters Scott Kosar (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ) and Ray Wright (Pulse) leave themselves more time and space to allow their characters to experience the horror of close friends brutally murdered or gone mad. Realized with a bigger budget and peopled with a more competent cast, Breck's Ogden Marsh has a genuine smalltown texture lacking in the claustrophobic and sparsely populated Evans City of Romero's original. This doesn't make Eisner's film superior to Romero's (stifling claustrophobia is a feature of the original, not a bug), just different. Though it sticks relatively closely to Romero's plot, this 2010 edition of The Crazies is its own beast.
Eisner proves adept at slowly building suspense, and then releasing it with brutal violence and gallons of bright red stage blood. The movie is packed with some truly nail-biting moments, made all the more intense by our easy attachment to the three principles (even if Olyphant, Mitchell, and Anderson seem a bit too polished and good-looking to fit in with the rest of the Ogden Marsh citizenry). The Crazies would be a remake on the order of Snyder's Dawn of the Dead (not as good as the original, but thoroughly entertaining) if it didn't stumble a bit in its final act. In order to move his story along, Eisner begins to allow his characters to make annoyingly stupid mistakes. A tense but jarringly ridiculous set piece in a car wash left me wanting to throttle all of the characters. It was followed by a number of scenes in which Dutton leaves Judy on her own (sometimes in the open, often in the dark) for no other reason than that her sudden isolation and vulnerability is sure to make audience members squirm in their seats. The Crazies begins as a thoughtful and often intense mix of warped psychology and gore, only to deteriorate into a collection of threadbare horror clichés by its end. It's not a bad horror movie; it just isn't anywhere near as good as it could, and should, have been.
Anchor Bay's DVD treatment of The Crazies is superb. The anamorphically-enhanced transfer presents the movie in its original 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The image is stable and richly detailed, with vivid colors. Deep blacks provide the movie with creepy atmosphere, though a couple scenes succumb to black crush. The only other digital flaw is a few isolated instances of noticeable haloing from edge enhancement (this is mostly noticeable in a shot in which Olyphant and Mitchell are framed in silhouette against a bright background; otherwise, edge enhancement is minor).
The sole audio option is a Dolby 5.1 mix. Dialogue is bold and clean; Mark Isham's (The Mist) spare score is allowed space across the entire soundstage; and the many effects are crisp, loud, and precisely placed in both the front and rear speakers to make viewers jump out of their skins.
The disc is fairly loaded with extras. In addition to a solid and informative audio commentary by Eisner, there is a quintet of featurettes as well as a number of other interesting supplements:
"Behind the Scenes with Director Breck Eisner" (10:35) is an oddly titled electronic press kit that includes contributions from the entire lead cast and some of the crew as well as Eisner.
"Paranormal Pandemics" (9:40) is another promotional piece featuring members of the cast and crew. It focuses on the nature of the disease at the center of the movie, how the sick differ from zombies, and how that influenced Rob Hall's (Quarantine) make-up design.
"The George A. Romero Template" (9:55) is a nicely produced Romero love-fest featuring Don Coscacarelli (director of Phantasm), Steve Barton from DeadCentral.com, Ryan Turek from ShockTillYouDrop.com, and others. The piece covers not only Romero's original The Crazies, but also Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead.
"Make-Up Mastermind: Rob Hall in Action" (11:27) gives us an inside look at Hall's Almost Human, Inc. make-up shop as he transforms an actor in a Crazy.
"Visual Effects in Motion" (3:42) compare raw production footage with final, color-corrected shots with digital effects added.
In addition to the featurettes, there are two episodes of The Crazies motion comic. The first episode runs just shy of 15 minutes and fleshes out some of the Ogden Marsh events leading up to the movie. The second episode is nearly 13 minutes long and provides additional background on one of the movie's more horrifying set pieces.
The disc contains a teaser trailer, two theatrical trailers, and a trailer for the motion comic series. A photo gallery contains 40 behind-the-scenes stills. Finally, storyboards and a screenplay for the film are accessible by DVD-ROM.
Breck Eisner's version of The Crazies may not be as taut or intelligent as George A. Romero's, but it's a step above most of what passes itself off as horror these days. It's not a great remake, but it's definitely worth a rental by fans of fright.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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