Generally, I’m not enthusiastic about remakes. Unlike many horror and sci-fi fans, I don’t thrill to news that a “re-imagining” is in the works of gems that were perfectly executed the first go-around, like “Nightmare on Elm Street” or “Total Recall.” Self-cannibalization is sickening to behold, so when I observe my own culture indulging in the act, I take a dim view of it. Did we really need “Halloween 2,” the sequel to the remake of a film that inspired nine sequels and spawned 147 knock-offs. (Okay, I confess I made that last number up, but you get the idea.) Did we really need to revisit “Friday the 13th,” a franchise that had already generated TWELVE films? Even that term “franchise,” when applied to an art form, betrays a grotesquely cynical and philistine attitude. But what really gets my goat is that this is an industry which prizes youth — a 40-year-old trying to launch a career as a TV writer is considered over the hill. No, executives are looking for “fresh” talent and ideas. Ha! I read that one of these young lions pitched the fresh idea of “ ‘Die Hard’ in an office building” — being so young and fresh that he’d never seen the original! You just know that somewhere a Hollywood bigwig is asking, “Is it too soon to remake the 1993 ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ movie?”
That having been said, I loved “The Crazies“!
There are cases where there has been an amazing leap forward in technology (as with “King Kong“) or where the original was deeply flawed, or where society has changed so much that a remake can be justified. “The Crazies,” a remake of George Romero’s low-budget, Nixon-versus-hippie-era picture of 1973, falls into the last two categories. That little-known film featured stilted dialogue, poor pacing, and was made at a time when the thought that the federal government might not always be a force for good was a relatively new and alarming idea.
The updated “Crazies,” now on DVD, is a scary, crisply directed, action-packed thriller, that — divorced from the now-antiquated political discussion — consistently delivers the goods.
The plot in a nutshell: A military plane carrying a genetically engineered virus crashes in a swamp near a small Iowa town. Designed to throw enemy cities into chaos, the “Trixie virus” slowly drives the townsfolk mad, transforming them one by one into crazed killing machines. To contain the epidemic, the government cordons off the town and sends in droves of gas-masked storm troopers to round up both the sick and uninfected citizens, whisking them away to an unknown fate. The intrepid Sheriff David Dutten (ably played by Timothy Olyphant) leads a small band of survivors, including his pregnant wife Judy, as they try against all odds to escape the town without falling victim to the zombie-like plague victims or the marauding army goons.
Director Breck Eisner creates a creepy atmosphere, starting with an early scene in which the town drunk interrupts a friendly community baseball game by marching onto the field toting a rifle. The film boasts some thrilling set-pieces, such as the Sheriff’s encounter with a runaway bone-cutting saw. In one of most nail-biting scenes in my recent memory, a character lies helpless, strapped to a gurney, while a madman lurches toward her, plunging a pitchfork into the chest of one fellow patient after another.
I like that, unlike many such flicks where the law enforcement officials are fatally slow on the uptake, the Sheriff quickly figures out what’s up. He makes all the right moves, beginning with shutting off the water that’s the source of the contamination (to no avail, needless to say).
I’ve always favored horror films that feature multiple menaces, as is the case here. The heroes must contend with not only the crazies and the trigger-happy soldiers, but also the threat from within. They must constantly ask whether their fellow survivors are becoming unglued due to the extreme situation — or because the disease has made its way into their brains. In some instances, all three threats are operating simultaneously, most memorably when a car wash is transformed into a hellhole of panic and mayhem.
Some will argue that “28 Days Later” trod the same ground, because those monsters, too, were not technically zombies but victims of a “rage virus.” But, apart from their accelerated speed, they behaved exactly like the shambling revenants of “Night of the Living Dead.” Here, interestingly, the infected talk and retain a good deal of their personalities, albeit dangerously altered — such as a trio of good ol’ boy hunters who take to hunting humans with guns after they lose their minds. The director’s choice in opting for makeup inspired by real diseases like rabies as opposed to the traditional rotting-corpse look also sets “The Crazies” apart from an ordinary zombie movie and lends the film realism.
Sure, we’ve been down this road before. So often, indeed, that it’s now a given that in the event of a plague, the government will round people up and put them in concentration camps. (Hey, some in the Sarah Palin crowd think Uncle Sam won’t even wait for a plague!) The 2008 movie “Quarantine,” in which the quasi-zombie outbreak takes place in an tenement, amped up the terror-level by introducing a more claustrophobic setting.
But “The Crazies” is a genuinely frightening, well-made movie any horror fan would be out of their mind to miss.
Copyright C. Michael Forsyth. All rights reserved