Thanks to Michael Bay, most horror film remakes are regarded with scorn and skepticism. His production company has managed to crank out a string of unimaginative, slick rehashes often made by music video directors and starring young, unremarkable actors from television. So, there weren’t many expectations when it was announced that a remake of George A. Romero’s The Crazies (1973) was announced. It was a low-budget cautionary tale about the inhabitants of a town that go insane after being exposed to a top secret government toxin code named Trixie. Fortunately, this new version doesn’t have Bay’s stink anywhere near it and is directed by Breck Eisner, freed from director’s jail where he had been imprisoned for Sahara (2005). This new version of The Crazies (2010) would succeed or fail on the decisions he made regarded the tone of the film, how closely he would stick to the original and how he would contemporize it to reflect our times.
Eisner grabs our attention right from the get-go and lets us know that something isn’t right in the small town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa. During a Little League baseball game, a disheveled-looking man walks out onto the field with a loaded shotgun. Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) is in attendance and confronts the man. Dutton is forced to shoot and kill the man. Something doesn’t seem right about the situation. Sure, the man was the town drunk but the tests come back and reveal that he had no alcohol in his system. Pretty soon, other townsfolk start acting strangely. The sheriff’s wife, Dr. Judy Dutton (Radha Mitchell) sees a man who appears listless and tired, repeating himself. Later that night, he burns down his house with his family in it. It doesn’t take long for the military to step in and round up and quarantine the townsfolk including the Duttons. Naturally, the military are unable to contain the threat and all hell breaks loose.
Breck Eisner does a nice job of gradually building up the threat and taking enough time to let us get to know the main characters so that we care about what happens to them later on. Early on, he creates a sense of place with several atmospheric establishing shots of the town. There are also several tension-filled moments, like when Judy is strapped to a gurney in government quarantine with a room full of others and an infected person enters the room and begins stabbing those still alive with a pitchfork. There is a real, palpable sense that she’s in danger. Another frighteningly effective scene takes place in a car wash as our heroes are besieged by the infected. There’s also an eerily beautiful shot of the town at night, ravaged by fire and destruction brought on by its infected inhabitants.
The Crazies is anchored by strong performances by Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell. Playing the sheriff in this film seems like a warm-up, of sorts, for his current role as a U.S. Marshal in the T.V. show Justified. He brings just the right amount of affability and gravitas to the role while also having good chemistry with genre veteran Mitchell. She has a real knack for conveying the right mix of resilience and vulnerability while also imparting an intelligence to convincingly play a doctor. Plus, she’s got a great pair of lungs and can deliver an absolutely chilling scream when her character is being terrorized. Also worth mentioning is Joe Anderson who is quite good as the ever dependable deputy. He brings an exciting intensity to his role and does an excellent job realizing his character’s entire arc over the course of the film.
With 9/11, and with it the threats of Anthrax and SARS, as well as the success of chemical threat horror films like 28 Days Later (2002) and its sequel 28 Weeks Later (2007), it’s amazing that it took so long for a remake of The Crazies to be made. It’s really a testimony to how prescient Romero’s original film is that it’s just as relevant today as it was back in the 1970s. Thanks to the Patriot Act, if a town were infected by chemical warfare the government could do what happens in this film which makes it that much more terrifying. What makes this film a successful remake is the choices Eisner makes, like how he depicts the infected, shown in three distinct phases which is a nice variation on what Romero did in the original. One gets the impression watching The Crazies that the filmmakers put a lot of thought into this film. This isn’t just a carbon copy of the original. Unlike so many lazy remakes, this one examines some weighty themes and wraps them up in a very entertaining package.
There is an audio commentary by director Breck Eisner who, rather appropriately, starts off talking about how he got involved in the project. He wanted the film’s focus to be on the townsfolk, specifically David and Judy Dutton. He admits that initially he did not want to remake a Romero film but after watching the original again felt that he could increase the scale of it and update the premise to reflect contemporary issues. Eisner touches upon various aspects, including casting and locations, while also eloquently analyzing the film’s themes.
“Behind the Scenes with Breck Eisner” is a pretty standard if not well-made making of featurette that mixes interview soundbites with clips from the film. Eisner points out that an early version of the script he read had more of a balance between depicting the townsfolk and the military but he wanted to focus more on the town with an emphasis on horror rather than action.
“Paranormal Pandemics” takes a look at how the filmmaker designed the infected. The original design looked too much like zombies and so they went for a more vein-y look. We see actors getting fantastic-looking makeup applied. Eisner explains the three stages of infection and expanded on Romero’s original concept. They based the makeup on actual infections to give an added realism to the film.
“The George A. Romero Template” features filmmakers like Phantasm auteur Don Coscarelli and pundits from various horror film websites singing the praises of Romero’s films and how influential they are. Naturally, they talk about the original Crazies film and its relevance now.
“Make-Up Mastermind: Rob Hall in Action” goes into more detail about how they created the infected makeup. It’s pretty cool to see how they do it and how realistic it looks.
“The Crazies Motion Comic Episodes 1 & 2” features simplistic animated comic book art providing the backstory to the events depicted in the film.
“Visual Effects in Motion” takes a look at a few sequences before CGI was added and how, by stages, they achieved the end result. It is interesting to see how much a given sequence is enhanced by CGI.
Also included are a teaser and two theatrical trailers.
Finally, there is a “Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery” featuring shots of the cast and crew at work.
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