The Crazies Review: Not All Remakes Are Bad

Timothy Olyphant, you are now on my list of trust. You know the list I mean. I talked about it in my Avatar review. It’s the one of people whose movies I’ll automatically watch, trusting that they’ll be good. It’s a secret list that’s been becoming less secret the more I mention it. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about adding you for a while. There was Scream 2 and A Life Less Ordinary when I was little, then later Girl Next Door and Catch and Release. Around A Perfect Getaway I thought “a pretty good trend is developing here” and now, after I’ve seen The Crazies deliberation is over. You are officially awesome.

The Crazies is actually a remake of a George A. Romero film from 1973. Normally remakes are bad. They add nothing/change practically nothing and exist solely to part idiots from their money. Not this one, which has a plot that goes something like this:

When a startling number of townsfolk start losing their marbles and turning to murder, a sheriff in small-town Michigan (Timothy Oliphant) tries to escape the contaminated zone with his pregnant wife (Radha Mitchell).

Sounds like your standard virus apocalypse scenario, right? Well yes and no. About fifteen or twenty minutes in, the plot takes a left turn off Standard Avenue and onto Awesome Boulevard.

The movie starts out like the trailer does. Normal small town life in Ogden Marsh, Michigan is interrupted by the unfortunate shooting of a supposedly drunk citizen with a shotgun by the ever-vigilant sheriff Dave at a baseball game. Increasing instances of crazy behavior heralded by staring unresponsively at nothing…

Rather like they’re having a Petit Mal seizure, actually

…and culminating in murder follow, all of which is well trodden doomsday virus/zombie movie ground.

Helloooooo… where is everyone??

Naturally David and deputy Russell wonder what’s causing it. They wonder for about five minutes of screen time, then they discover that the craziness was probably being caused by a secret plane that crashed secretly in the bog that feeds into their water supply.

RUSSELL: Good thing we could rent this boat on such short notice.
DAVE: Yeah. Otherwise we’d have to wait till the END of the film to find out what’s going on.

At this point I thought “Well there goes the mystery subplot. Wasn’t that a bit too quick?” But the movie was just getting started.

Enter the military…

Enter, as in trot toward the camera like the cast of The Right Stuff

…and now things are really going to hell.

Or at least to Killzone 2 where they stole this box art from

There are crazy people trying to kill everyone…

Hello Dave…

…the military in their moon suit biocontagion gear trying to round everyone up for mysterious purposes…

It’s not a spoiler – it was in the trailer

…and in the middle of it all David and his beloved wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), who happens to be both pregnant and a doctor, get separated. David escapes containment to rescue her, and now the movie’s really going. What follows is the best kind of plot – one where I can’t guess what’s going to happen next.

Keep your shotgun ready. I didn’t read the rest of the script so I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

While the setup and character names are the same as the original 1970s version (which I have not seen), from the synopsis on IMDB I gather that there’s less emphasis in the modern version on ethics, military-political strategizing, and outright tragedy than there was in the original.

Which looked like this.

There is a bit of ethical grey area in the new version, mostly centered around how you’re supposed to tell if someone’s suffering from the crazy disease or just in shock (especially if you’re not sure how it’s transmitted or whether it’s even a disease or a poison)…

It’s okay! I’m not crazy!… Or am I???

…and whether it’s okay to kill soldiers if they tried to kill you first, but the movie doesn’t dwell on it, and I don’t mind. I didn’t pick a horror movie because I wanted to explore ethics and morality. I picked it because I wanted to have a series of small heart attacks.

I also don’t mind losing the political stuff. As a rule, I hate political stuff. And in a horror movie, hanging around with people who are safe in an office somewhere away from the emergency doesn’t help the atmosphere.

Unless said office is dark and scary.

In the new version, we stick exclusively with the townspeople so we feel their confusion and fear, which, as far as I’m concerned, is an excellent move. We shouldn’t know what the military is planning to do because not knowing causes tension and tension breeds fear.

Am I going to get killed in this bed??!?!?

This movie is one of the few horror films I’ve seen in the last few years that has made such excellent use of tension. Rogue had it in spades, and so did The Signal. In The Crazies, there are buckets of tense and watchful moments where we horror movie lovers will EXPECT something terrible to jump out. Sometimes a crazy person will suddenly turn up and you’ll jump. Sometimes something helpful will suddenly turn up and you’ll jump anyway. But sometimes nothing will happen, and your tension level will bleed slowly away, at which point there may or may not be a good/bad surprise. This effectively resurrects the surprise factor that was lost from these moments years ago.

Suffice it to say, I will never look at a car wash the same way again.

The Final Destination 3D tried and failed to make car washes scary. The Crazies does not fail.

The settings, scares and deaths are pretty varied and interesting. There’s a bit with a bone saw at the coroner’s office that’s particularly horrifying/hilarious.

And it’s not because the saw is threatening his FACE…

But the best part about the scare factor is that, like in The Signal, the townsfolk in The Crazies don’t go mad in a completely uniform way. Their existing personalities and desires are amplified and infused with an undercurrent of homicide…

Or not, in her case.

So Dave isn’t just being stalked by a crazed woman with a knife, he’s being stalked by a crazed woman with a knife who hates him for shooting her husband and wants to make HIM suffer through a loved one.

And she may or may not by lying in wait for him just off camera…

The poaching hunters who help uncover the crashed airplane in the beginning also make a pretty grisly return appearance as Crazies. They’re homicidal, but they don’t just throw themselves, gibbering and growling, on our heroes and try to eat them.

a la every zombie movie ever made

They come after them hunter-style. I’ll let you create a picture in your head about what that means.

There’s an almost perfect level of tragedy in this movie, too. Enough sad moments to jerk your heartstrings but not so many that you want to rail at the filmmakers for their heartless disregard for your love of character X. Like Daybreakers there are some really Holocaust-esque moments in here that illustrate what people are capable of doing to other people.

I wish I could find a bigger picture of this

My only complaints about this movie are minor. Some of the dialogue is a bit cliched.

“This town is dead. It’s dead and it’s never coming back.”

The best parts in the film, even the most touching character bonding parts, are parts without dialogue, because Timothy Olyphant is one of those people who can convey emotion without talking (i.e. a good actor).

Check out the fishing lure store scene in Catch and Release to see what I mean

So is Radha Mitchell usually, but in this movie she’s a bit too clingy and panicky, like a horror movie heroine from 20 or 30 years ago (i.e. around the time of the original Crazies). They should have updated her role more, especially since she’s supposed to be a doctor. No one wants to go to a doctor who’s going to scream and fly into her husband’s arms when you walk in with your bones sticking out.

David! He’s scary! Hold me!

That’s on writers Scott Kosar and Ray Wright, who adapted the screenplay from the original by Paul McCollough and George A. Romero. But even though it’s a pretty big mistake, it’s not a dealbreaking mistake, because the rest of their adaptation is good. You care about the characters, there’s a decent amount of jokes, and some cool action.

The actioney bits are a bit of a clusterf*** though, visually. There aren’t as many as you would expect (what with it being a movie set in a town of homicidal maniacs) since the characters actually act like sensible people and do a lot of hiding when weapon-toting maniacs turn up…

Someone’s coming! Hide!

…but the ones that do exist tend to be a blur of faces, forks, feet, and car tires. I didn’t expect this from director Breck Eisner (who did Sahara, which I really liked) but I guess he’s decided to be a trend follower and copy all the “cool” directors (Paul Greengrass, Marc Forster) who don’t like anyone to know what’s going on in a fight.

It also helps when everyone is dressed the same and the camera is being held by someone suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

And finally I wish modern horror filmmakers would resist the urge to do the cliffhanger or “and so it continues” type endings. I know it’s the “cool” thing to do, I know you want to make more money on a sequel, but please just STOP IT.

And I think we’ll leave it right about here.

This one’s not as bad as some. It lets you pretend in your head, if you choose, that everything works out. And they actually improved upon Romero’s blueprint ending, which was worse (read more tragic and less satisfying) than the new one.

But despite these problems this movie was definitely worth the $11 I paid to see it. And it’s going to be worth the future $20 I will pay to own the DVD. ‘Cause The Crazies is going on the “buy this when it comes out” list. (I have a lot of lists).

When I bring home the DVD copy, it could sit between Outbreak and 28 Days Later on the shelf… if I didn’t have them in alphabetical order.

Buy The Crazies on DVD

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One Response to: The Crazies Review: Not All Remakes Are Bad

Commented:  4 March 2010 at 03:11()


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