Mention the name of George A. Romero to anyone even remotely familiar with horror movies, and the first thing they’re going to think of is zombies. Why shouldn’t they? It was Romero who made what might be the first little film that could. Long before Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, Romero set out with his trusty 16 mm camera and a crew of pretty much local Pittsburgh friends, to make Night Of The Living Dead. With this film and the ongoing “Dead” franchise, Romero has pretty much written the rule book on zombies. He is no doubt the zombie king. That’s the kind of thing you think of when someone mentions George A. Romero. But, there is this small, at least until recently, group of die-hard Romero fans that might have thought of another film. They might, just might, mind you, be thinking of an obscure 1973 film called The Crazies.
It’s a typical small American town. Kids are blissfully riding their bikes. It’s the opening day of Little League baseball. Everyone is just enjoying their idyllic Norman Rockwell existence. Don’t worry. No one is really trying to pull anything over on you here. We know this pleasantry isn’t going to last when the first few seconds of the film depict this very town burning to the ground. Our first hint that something isn’t quite as American Pie as all that is when town drunk Rory shows up on the kids’ baseball diamond packing a 16-gauge. The gory results cause the town to ask some very easy questions, like why did Rory show up totin’ that double-barrel? Sherriff Dave (Olyphant) investigates that very question along with his wife who happens to be the town doctor (Mitchell). The answer, it seems, can be found in the town’s water supply and a recently-crashed plane. The U.S. Government has accidentally infected the water supply of a small town with the engineered bio-weapon called Trixie. It eventually infects people and becomes airborne instead. The first stage is a little harmless catatonia. The second stage turns its victims into raging maniacs on steroids before killing them 48 hours later. The feds close down the town and try to round up the residents, corralling them into two groups: The ones who have the virus and the ones who don’t. But Dave and his pregnant wife don’t intend to stick around while martial law reveals sheer brutality in this once picture-postcard town. It’s a tough time to be on the run. Doesn’t matter who you run into, crazies or soldiers, both are gonna kill ya dead.
I think I missed reporting on the event here at Upcomingdiscs, and for that you have my deepest apologies, but it appears that a law was passed a few years ago that mandates the remaking of any horror film made from like 1973 and forward. Just the other day I was watching a filmmaker discuss his as-yet-unreleased film, while reading a blurb online that it was scheduled to be remade/reimagined/rebooted or just ripped off next year. Okay, I made that last part up, but you get the idea. It should also be noted that subparagraph C23 clearly states that the quality of the original must not be considered while planning for a remake. At least, I assume that’s what it says, because the original The Crazies really wasn’t a very good film. Look. I love Romero and all he’s done for the genre and filmmaking in general. But the original The Crazies misfired. It’s little wonder that the film remained relatively unknown even as Romero became a legend. But, the law is the law, and now we have a remake of a pretty bad film.
What appears to make matters worse is that a guy who may have only gotten the gig because his last name is Eisner is put in charge of the film as its director. It’s only his second film, the first being the box office disaster Sahara. This is all sounding like a pretty bad experience, isn’t it? Except it wasn’t. I don’t really know how Breck Eisner got this job, but by the time the film was finished, he’d earned the gig.
While I was prepared for yet another bad remake, I ended up loving this movie. Eisner had his finger on the pulse of a wave of good ideas here. There isn’t one thing about this movie I can riff on. I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece at all. What I am saying is that this is a damn good horror movie. Let me count the ways:
First of all, the cast nailed these parts. I’ve really never been a particular fan of Timothy Olyphant. But he does a perfect turn here as the Sheriff. It’s the subtly nuanced manner of his performance that I just loved. You can read each new shock and discovery as his town falls to pieces, but you can also see a toughness kick in, which allows him to move his wife and others forward. Except it’s not the typical tough guy macho facade that too many of these heroes rely on. It comes more from inside, and you just have to marvel at the naturalness of it all. Radha Mitchell has come a long way from Silent Hill. She has learned to also keep a natural flow to her performance here. You’ll buy the part, which allows you to buy the extraordinary circumstances. Great chemistry between the two is the kicker. Joe Anderson steals every minute of screen time he gets. He’s both the comic relief and the stereotypical tough guy, but it takes Trixie to bring it out of him. He’s got all the good one-liners. Finally, Danielle Panabaker, who I first saw on television’s Shark, is maturing into a better actress than parts she’s been given to date. Take notice, filmmakers. Give her a shot at something big. She’s ready.
Next up has to be Breck Eisner. Yeah, he’s Michael’s kid, but the man has talent that just might not have been ready when he did Sahara. He was once connected to the upcoming Creature From The Black Lagoon remake as well, but seems to have bailed, or been pushed from, the SS Rita. Eisner knows how to pace a horror film. Every time this movie appears about to hit its stride and become formulaic and predictable, he changes gears as smoothly as a 35-year-veteran gear jammer on a smooth highway. He coasts just enough to get you comfortable and slides you into a slightly different film. I feel like I watched about a half dozen different kinds of horror film in 100 minutes. It’s like those old-style haunted house rides that takes you from one experience to the next, flawlessly. The film only had a $25 million budget, but you’ll believe it was much more. He made every penny of that budget count. It’s all on the screen.
Then there’s the script. The original adaptation came from Scott Kosar, but that script was for a much larger film that relied more heavily on the military aspect of the story. The truth is that we’ve seen that film too often before. Ray Wright took a couple of dozen passes and pared it down to a more succinct and fast moving film. The surprise is that Wright hadn’t even heard of the original film by the time he got this gig. Still, all of the elements of the first movie survive. This is perhaps the movie Romero might have made if he had had a little more than the 200 grand he did have.
Finally, give credit to make-up f/x that are as much in camera as possible. Robert Hall of Buffy and Angel fame brought together his crew at Almost Human and provided wonderfully visceral looks for the diseased Crazies in the film. It looks enough like rabies, or something closely akin, yet has enough original style elements to be something totally different. The result is a look that’s just familiar enough to allow our minds to accept it as possible. Everyone knows that possible is the scariest element of any good scare. It doesn’t hurt that Hall’s most recent project was the similarly-themed Quarantine.
I’ve just recently watched the original on Blu-ray courtesy of our wonderful sponsors at Diabolik. While you might not really want to check out that film, you might get with them for this remake at Diabolik DVD. Whatever way you get it, just get it, or you just won’t get it. Get it?
The Crazies is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with a VC-1 codec at an average of almost 25 mbps. There are really two sides to this image. The first look at the town has wonderfully deep colors and an ultra-sharp look. Here you can see the picturesque quality you’re being sold. Once the horror begins, the film gets darker and edgier as it goes along. The image here is faithful to this intended descent into a gritty and grainy look. Detail always holds up no matter what point of this progression in the picture you happen to be at. It’s actually quite a clever style that took me a while to understand. As the tone changes, the hues and atmosphere of the texture of the film follow. By the time you reach the end, it’s surprising to think that these images come from the same movie. The picture keeps up and won’t let you down. Black levels are solid, and that becomes more and more vital as the film moves along.
The LPCM non-compressed 5.1 track does offer incredible expansive range. I was most impressed by the sub here. Your theater will thunder at times. There’s a scene where a guy is sitting in a thresher, and it sounds like the tanks of Normandy coming through my sub. Dialog is placed well and always easy to understand. The score is subtle, but has its moments. Did I mention that sub…?
There is an Audio Commentary with Breck Eisner. He mostly talks about locations and budget items.
All of the extras are in HD
Behind The Scenes: (1035) Cast and crew offer their often passionate views of the film. They really seem to be into this one. There’s a rather long Eisner love-fest and then talk of both the Georgia and Iowa shooting locations.
Paranormal Paramedics: (9:41) I’m not sure why this one is called what it is. The feature is pretty much a continuation of the previous one, this time dealing with the research and final look of the Crazies themselves.
The George A. Romero Template: (9:56) Some folks talk about Romero’s political/social aspect in his movies.
Make-Up Mastermind Robert Hall: (11:27) This one looks at the methods of implementing the makeup with some of the Almost Human team members.
2 Animated Comics
This film bounced around for quite some time before actually getting made. It started as an option at Paramount and ended up in turnaround, where it landed at Rogue. Finally Overture got the job done. George A. Romero did serve as one of the film’s producers. The end leaves open the possibility for sequels, but I hope they leave this one alone. This one is perfect just the way it is. The film didn’t pull in a huge box office, but when the word of mouth gets around there will be some healthy numbers associated with this film. “You know what? We’re in trouble.”