by Steve Habrat
When it comes to horror remakes, I tend to be less forgiving than I usually am with my reviews of classic horror films or more recent original work within the genre. To me, the never-ending string of remakes and face lifts that have been given to horror classics in the past several years just reflect the sorry state of Hollywood and reveal their appalling lack of creativity. But since Hollywood continues to force them on us, I guess we have to separate the good from the very, very bad. In early 2010, we saw the Breck Eisner directed remake of George Romero’s 1973 cult horror film The Crazies. The Crazies ended up being one of the better remakes that I have seen, ranking next to 2006’s The Hills Have Eyes and 2004’s Dawn of the Dead as one of the best ones out there. The Crazies actually works because there is some minor involvement from Romero, who helped pen the screenplay and served as executive producer of the film. With Romero’s involvement, The Crazies plays with the idea of the people we know and love suddenly becoming homicidal maniacs and the savagery that lies in the ones who are supposed to be protecting us.
The Crazies takes us to the small farming town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, where a government engineered biological weapon code named Trixie is accidentally unleashed in the town’s drinking water. Soon, David (Played by Timothy Olyphant), the local Sheriff, and his wife Judy (Played by Radha Mitchell), the Ogden Marsh doctor, begin noticing strange behavior in the town residents. After an encounter at a high school baseball game and several other bizarre murders, David, Judy, and David’s dependable deputy Russell Clank (Played by Joe Anderson) find the town under quarantine and gas-masked soldiers separating the sick from the healthy. When Judy, who also happens to be pregnant, is separated from David, he breaks away from the soldiers and ventures back into town to find Judy and save her. With Russell at his side, they have to continuously avoid the trigger-happy soldiers patrolling the town and the roaming “crazies” who will tear anyone apart who get in their way. As they look for a way out of the war-zone town, the government’s horrifying plans to contain Trixie are revealed.
Director Eisner approaches The Crazies in a surprisingly conservative manner. Sure, it has its fair share of stomach churning gore for the horror gurus who thrive on the red stuff but it is incredibly muted for a horror film and especially for material from Romero. Even though it is conservative in approach, the film is fairy intelligent behind all the apocalyptic hoopla. The material is very weary of the government and what they are willing to reveal to their own civilians. The army refuses to tell the terrified citizens of Ogden Marsh what exactly is happening to their friends and family and even worse, if the army detects any sign of infection while processing the civilians at a makeshift quarantine camp, they panic and rip the individual away from their confused family. The images are reminiscent of those we have seen from the Holocaust and they still haven’t lost their lingering power. The film also touches on the idea of those that we think we know suddenly becoming homicidal maniacs who will maim in the blink of an eye. A scene in which a husband locks his wife and young son in a closet and then lights the house on fire will send chills down your spine.
The Crazies has a talented lead in Timothy Olyphant’s David, who is determined to protect his pregnant wife any way he can. His role doesn’t demand too much of him, playing the cookie cutter Sheriff who is just searching for answers and trying to protect the town citizens but Olyphant does his best to add some emotional depth. I did like the way Eisner had his character react when he was forced to take the life of one of the roaming “crazies.” Instead of reacting with indifference, his initial response after the shot if fired from his gun is, “Oh, my God!” The first time he is forced to shoot one, he races to the crumpled body, stricken with shock and grief over taking the life of someone who was close to him and he thought he knew. Olyphant also has some great chemistry with Mitchell as his soft-spoken wife Judy, the pair getting a handful of great one-liners. Together, they provide us with some tender moments of affection and even some sly black humor. Joe Anderson also gets to have some fun as the deputy who may or may not be loosing his mind. He ends up getting the best line of the film, “Welcome to Ogden Marsh! The friendliest place on earth!”
The Crazies doesn’t attempt to break any new ground and instead retreats to familiar territory to scare us. It applies the same old jump scares and despite my dislike for this technique, a few actually end up working. The premise of a small town gone to Hell has been done countless times before and Eisner really does nothing to build upon it. There are a number of chilling scenes; the standout is the group trying to hide from an army helicopter that wishes to wipe them off the face of the earth. They hide in an abandoned car wash that just so happens to be the hiding place of a handful of snarling “crazies.” The scene ends in a shockingly sadistic death that will not settle well in the pit of your stomach. The Crazies doesn’t shy away from B-movie premise and it is aware that the idea is a bit outlandish. Eisner does manage to pepper in a little fun in all the solemnity (both a certain nursery scene and a run-in in the town morgue come to mind) and the fact that the film doesn’t go on longer than it needs to is a major plus. Eisner wastes absolutely no time getting to the action that we came here for and I applaud him for it. Also, for fans of the Romero original, keep an eye out for a seriously awesome cameo from original cast member Lynn Lowry. Scaled back for mainstream audiences (there is no father raping his daughter in this remake), The Crazies is a bare bones horror remake that thankfully doesn’t ask us to switch off our brains to have a spooky good time. You’ll be happy you gave this remake a chance.
The Crazies is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Here are four more of the films that freak me out. Enjoy! And feel free to comment with your own favorites. I love from hearing from out ghoulish readers!
14.) The Exorcist (1973)
It’s not the scariest movie of all time. I think it’s more of the hype that surrounds the film than anything else. But The Exorcist is one hell of a wickedly good horror film. It’s really quite amazing that this film continues to scare the living hell out of people almost forty years after it’s release. What makes the film so effective is its lack of hope and the absence of a true hero at the heart. Sure, little Reagan puking pea soup churns the stomach. And I’ll agree that the anxiety of waiting for the Devil to flare up in his “sow” becomes unbearable by the end. But it all boils down to the lack of light at then end of this dark, dark tunnel. While it would be criminal to leave it out of the top horror films of all time, I really think the film has been made out to be something its not. It’s the superstition that I think frightens people away more than the actual film does. But as a film, it ranks as one of the most powerful of all time. Loaded with enough jaw dropping performances to fuel a dozen horror films, The Exorcist has left its mark on the horror genre. It set the bar high for demonic horror and all these imitators can do is swipe at its knees.
13.) Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Savage in execution, Night of the Living Dead pins you up against the wall with it’s cinema-vérité-esque, is-this-really-happening approach, and then proceeds to take a big bloody bite right out of you. It’s grainy black and white cinematography, claustrophobic atmosphere, and, at the time, it’s never before seen gore catapults George Romero’s first installment in his zombie series to the front lines of the horror genre. Utilizing it’s Who is worse: the zombies or the survivors? to brutal effect also brings another distressing quality to an already incredibly austere film experience. Dismissed upon first release, it stands as one of the heavyweights of the atomic age paranoia, the idea of turning normal people into bloodthirsty cannibals rather than giant mutated ants, blobs, or wasp women had to have audiences fleeing in terror. The best part is that it still sends people fleeing in horror and the weak stomachs grabbing for the barf bags.
12.) The Birds (1963)
Auteur Alfred Hitchcock’s apocalyptic nightmare The Birds is a concept that if you were to be told about it today, you would probably assume would be the hokiest film concept you’ve ever heard. In Hitchcock’s hands, you will never look at a bird the same way ever again. And those special effects will make your jaw hit the floor. Patient and calculating in nature, The Birds slowly builds upon one disastrous attack after another. Just check out the mounting tension when Tippi Hedren sits outside a school house and a lone raven lands on a swing set just a few yards away. Then one raven turns into twenty, then forty, then hundreds. I dare you not to start clutching the armrest of your seat just a little harder during that scene. And when these attacks finally erupt, they will make cower behind your couch. While its slow pace might drive some viewer away from it, when the shit hits the fan, you start to feel the dread of the characters. When will the birds attack again? How are they going to keep them out of the house? This is one that will cause you to yell at the screen more than once. Hitchcock weaves it all with devilish glee and elevates a simple B-movie concept to another level.
11.) 28 Days Later (2002)
Sure, Danny Boyle may have made the feel good film of 2008 (Slumdog Millionaire), but his 2003 apocalyptic vision 28 Days Later will scare the living shit right out of you. I’m becoming convinced that Boyle can perfect any film genre he wants! While widely known now, it still has to be the most artful vision of the end of the world ever dreamed up. It elegantly pays respect to the apocalyptic horror genre and through it all, Boyle brings a new brainchild to the table: running zombies. I should warn you, these zombies are absolutely terrifying. Flailing and snarling like demons and spewing bloody vomit, they are called infected and they have redefined the term zombie. While it mostly is an intimate portrait of survivors wandering a post apocalyptic Britain, the film manages to lure you in with it’s chilling shots of abandoned London. Boyle also makes stunning use of the atmosphere and he makes us feel the distressing isolation. The film becomes about finding love in the face of annihilation but the path it chooses to take is one that will shake you to your bones. I promise, if you have not seen 28 Days Later yet, it’s unlike any horror experience you have had. You will be left speechless by its beauty and rattled by its relentless intensity.
Creep on back tomorrow for the final entry in this Feature and see the final top ten. In the meantime, click on the Halloween pin-up girl above to be taken to our tiebreaker poll. The voting closes at midnight tonight. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!