In among the many phases the horror genre went through at the turn of the Millennium, surely the most bittersweet was that of the blatant 70’s/80’s remake. Lodged between the final days of the 90’s slasher boom, Hollywood’s odd insistence on americanizing every single instance of J-horror it could find and the rise of Torture Porn, numerous classics were dusted off and given sleek new redos whether there was a call for it or not. If I’m being generous, the selection process were as incredibly random as the roll of a 36-sided dice and the results were even more so, but every now and then, an honest to god golden nugget would slip out and suprise us all.
However, none were as suprising as an attempt to bring The Crazies to a modern audience – a low budget, lesser-known entry from zombie master George A. Romero that took his trademark wariness of authority and dialled it up to eleven as government officials struggle to contain a virus of their own making as it sweeps through a small town.
Would a second attempt at this movie prove to be any more infectious..?
Welcome to the sleepy town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, where nothing out of the ordinary ever seems to happen – oh wait… Isn’t that the ex town drunk striding onto the baseball field in the middle of a game? I thought he was two years sober and why is he holding a gun? OH SHIT! He just drew on Sherriff David Dutton who just fucking gunned him down in self defence!
Anyway, this chaotic display of unsportsmanlike behavior kicks off a wave of death and destruction and when another seemingly passive member of the population suddenly decides to lock his wife and child in the house and then set the thing on fire, David and his town doctor wife, Judy, start investigating. Long story short, it seems a military plane delivering a payload of a man made pathogen crashed a few weeks ago in the exact section of river that provides Ogden Marsh with it’s drinking water and turning the decent townfolk into murdering crazies who delight in inflicting unfriendly acts on each other like seeing noses and eyes shut or casually perferating ribcages with handy dandy pitchfork. Worse yet, a faceless government agency drops on the town like a gas masked anvil and seals off the town as they check people’s temperatures with their digital thermometers and anyone running a fever is promptly dragged off to an uncertain fate – which is pretty much what happens to Judy thanks to her pregnancy her body heat higher than normal. Electing to not be transferred out of town, David sneaks back into town with the faithful Deputy Russell to try and break his wife out while simultaneously avoiding both the shoot first, use flame throwers later military and any drooling maniac that still lurks in the town who has a mad-on for murder.
Never mind if this desperate group can possibly escape the living hell that Ogden Marsh has become – the question hangs in the air if they should even try, as Russell starting to exhibit the early signs of going batshit mental begins to fray at David’s tenacious optimism.
Thankfully following in the path set by remakes such as Zack Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead and Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes, director Breck Eisner realises he’s got as much chance at matching Romero’s social commentary as Snyder did and so he follows the same route by also making his version fast paced and as incredibly tense as as getting a scrotum piercing from a trainee tattooist.
Where the original was a deliberately antagonistic look at military protocols going wrong while townsfolk frustratingly put the rest of the country at risk by trying to escape, The Crazies 2010 leaves a lot of the commentary at the door and make the presence of the government almost an an afterthought with our only connection to the brutal powers that be being an ominous eye in the sky, a passing attack helicopter or numerous faceless troops who refuse to take the time to explain themselves and thus seem as passive as a platoon of Darth Vaders kitted out in camo. Instead, Eisner focuses almost entirely on his leads and immediately makes you want them to survive thanks to the fact that they’re being played by the immensely dependable forms of Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell with Olyphant in particular enimating a powerful pulse of old school decency that overpowers the very real problem that dictates that them successfully breaking the perimeter would actually be incredibly bad.
The film may just be comprised mainly of the leads trying to make it alive through various horror scenarios – but luckily the filmmakers make the scenarios nicely harrowing and nastily violent. Be it the moment when Judy and the abandoned civilians are visited by a pitchfork wielding looney who randomly impales his victims as they remain helplessly strapped to their hospital gurneys is a fucking doozy, as is the moment when the Dutton’s realise that their home isn’t the safe haven they hoped it would be and the whole movie carries a nicely oppressive sence of dread about it’s grisly proceedings – especially considering that any form of outside help they have the misfortune to come across are more likely to splatter their brains than ship them out to safety.
Keeping things nice and tight (the original has a scrappier, more experimental feel), the movie consistently makes smart choices in keeping the audience engrossed in it’s nihilistic thrills; it wisely makes sure that at no point – despite the bulging veins and rheumy eyes – do the infected ever act like zombies and differentiates them by having them wield guns and drive cars. It also has a neat subplot that questions the ongoing sanity of the loyal Deputy Russell whose is he/isn’t he state of craziness is aptly portrayed by Joe Anderson’s razor sharp cheekbones.
A rare modern remake that stands on it’s own two feet, The Crazies may not have anywhere near as much to say as Romero’s grungy original, but it’s far more exciting and gripping than big George’s minuscule budget would ever allow and it’s that weird teamwork between the two versions that let’s Eisner’s slick, sick do-over enjoyable take it’s place along side it’s predecessor as an equal.
To declare it anything less would be… well, crazy.