Around this time last year we were treated to remakes of My Bloody Valentine and Friday the 13th; both were terrible rehashing of old material that was arguably not that great in the first place. This year Hollywood ups the ante by bring us updated versions of two classic horror films, Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street and George A. Romero’s The Crazies, which were actually good on the original go around. If Nightmare is anywhere as fun as Breck Eisner’s vision of The Crazies, then maybe there is hope for this whole remake fad after all.
The Crazies kicks off in Ogden Marsh, Iowa where the local sheriff, Dave Dutton (Timothy Olyphant), is forced to kill a man who steps onto the field of the opening day high school baseball game with a shotgun and a dead look in his eyes. As the townsfolk start becoming murderously insane the army rolls in, there to contain the outbreak of a bio-weapon mistakenly let loose on the population. When Dave’s wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell), is taken into custody the sheriff and his deputy, Russell Clank (Joe Anderson), must rescue her and high school student Becca Darling (Danielle Pannabaker) from the lingering maniacs, and make their way out of the hot zone.
The U.S. Army’s negative roll in the picture is an obvious go to villain in a viral outbreak film, but the interesting thing about The Crazies is the faceless nature of the military. The Army of One slogan comes up in a scene where a solider, held captive by the four absconders, agrees not to inform his superiors of their presence if let go. “I didn’t sign up to shoot innocent people,” the soldier says. This is the face of the new military image in film, a body that goes against the will of the masses, and even the young men and women who make up the rank and file don’t agree with their orders. Other than this one solider none of the military personnel are seen without a gas mask, a haunting image of anonymous authoritarian control.
However the true villains of this picture are the infected, those who have become corrupted by the malaise and paranoia brought on by that Military Industrial Complex. It is easy to see the citizens of Ogden Marsh, who have literally been driven insane by a random “mistake” of the army, to be a thinly veiled symbol of all citizens of this country who are daily confronted by a world dominated by tragedy, economic ruin, and wars raging around the planet. Are they really the bad guys, or is it the ones who drove them to kill? If the army is a faceless mass, and the populous is driven mad by their corrupt rule and clandestine dealings, who then is safe?
Eisner winds the film as tight as a drum, depending on the tense action instead of cheap scares and gore. A particularly creepy scene has a local principal running amok in a make-shift hospital ward with a pitchfork.Though judging from the characters involved and the amount of film still left to unspool through the projector the conclusion of the scene is obvious, but Eisner keeps you at the edge of your seat waiting to see how the inevitable will actually happen.
Drawing on his lawman past as Bullock on the HBO series Deadwood, Timothy Olyphant proves his heroic medal as the Dutton. He is perfect as the expectant father out to save his wife and unborn child from the clutches of those big, bad shock-and-awers. Though his story arc is not terribly obvious the guilt he feels at the beginning over killing the man on the baseball field serves as a counter point for the various killings he does through out the film. All were motivated by self defense, but as the rules break down so does his morality, and where the bullet fired at the beginning has meaning and consequence, those fired toward the end have none.
Having appeared in many sci-fi/horror pictures in the past Radha Mitchell is no stranger to the screams that come with the genre, and thus also fits well into the film. The arc of her character mirrors that of her on screen husband, starting off as both life giver (pregnant woman) and life defender (doctor), but by the end is motivated by her self preservation to become a life taker. Another victim of the circumstance thrust upon her, an allegory for the lone soldier they met along the way, and his real life counterparts.
George A. Romero always brought an interesting intellectual edge to the horror genre and here Breck Eisner, and writers Scott Kosar and Ray Wright, keeps up the tradition. The Crazies is a fun, smart, terror of a film, and in the very least doesn’t besmirch the source material on which it was based. If more films in this remake/reboot crazy era could follow the pattern this picture sets then maybe the box office landscape wouldn’t be such a dismal wasteland of manufactured garbage. Is that too much to ask of Freddy Kruger?
El Luchador Rating: 4 out of 5
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)