This is a remake of the 1973 film of the same name from George A. Romero. That earlier film came in the wake of his genre defining classic Night of the Living Dead. At the time Romero was still an unknown quantity, making films the only way he knew how and decidedly outside the studio system. The original version of The Crazies is a little free-form in execution, shooting as they could with locals in many supporting roles. He clearly did not want to make another Living Dead film so quickly, so he found another way to use a zombie-style outbreak while also playing with ideas of distrusting the government. It is a good, if odd film. Now, here we are 37-years later with a remake made from within the studio system. Does it succeed?
Yes, this new take on The Crazies is a surprisingly solid entry in the horror genre. It does not quite have the subversive patchwork quality of Romero's film, but despite the slick Hollywood sheen of this new production, it still manages to hold your attention. When you factor in the cult-status of the original, the fact that it is a little known film from the 1970s and not exactly well executed, it appears to be the perfect type of film that could use a remake, perhaps to clean it up, give it some slick production values, and hope for the best.
The movie is told from the side of the townsfolk, specifically Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant), people who are always on the far end of knowledge, always playing with bits and pieces, mere fragments of the truth. This being the case, we are kept in the dark about the specifics of what is going on. This leads to some interesting moments; it allows for inconsistencies in the events that could be misread as plot holes or story problems, but to me ring much more true to life.
This is not a zombie movie; this is an infected movie. It is about people acting irrationally under the effects of a virus. This virus makes people do strange things; it makes people violent, vicious, murderous, and generally unlikable to say the least. If you see someone who is sick, you are not going to want to stick around. Now what is most interesting is that different people react differently, succumb to the virus on different timetables, much like real life. Think about catching a cold or the flu. Does everyone get it the same, or have the same exact symptoms? Sometimes, but others can differ in severity and length. The same thing happens here.
The Crazies dumps us right into the chaos. No sooner has the problem been revealed, the military swoops in and begins to lock down the town, searching for the infected and separating the populace. This all goes down without stopping to explain anything to anyone. David must piece together the little bits he is able pick up along the way. Of course, the lockdown breaks down and David is able to escape with a small survivor group that includes his wife (Radha Mitchell), his deputy (Joe Anderson), and a young high schooler (Danielle Panabaker).
Together, this small group try to avoid the military squads that are sweeping the town and the remaining crazies that are still around. This allows for plenty of the traditional jump and scare moments and scary confrontations. It is a film that develops a hopeless atmosphere and is able to sustain it, more or less. It is a horror film that has bigger implications that reach beyond the small town. It is interesting to realize that no one in the film is a true villain; the virus is the bad guy, a bad guy who cannot be controlled, only unleashed. All right, I guess there are villains: the men responsible for creating/releasing the virus. Do you really buy it being an accident?
Whatever the truth of the virus is, it is never fully explained which makes it scarier. We get to follow the small survivor group on their desperate quest to escape and it is an entertaining one. It is well directed by Breck Eisner, has some good performances, and is eminently watchable. Is it great? No, not really, but it is quite good and in some ways better the original (blasphemy!).
Audio/Video. The film looks and sounds really good, presented in full 1080p high definition in its original 2.35:1 ration with Dolby Digital 5.1 and PCM 5.1 audio.
The image quality is quite good, although a touch inconsistent to my eye. It looked best in the daytime sequences or when fire was involved. The dark scenes were all right, but seemed to be a touch to the gray side. In any case, I loved the look of the house burning in the opening scene. The fire was sharp, crisp, and the crackle sounded like I was in the middle of it. I also liked a few short sequences including when our heroes are walking down the trashed main street of the town with the debris and fires, and the thresher in the barn that was lit from the back.
Sound is very good. It stood out with those previously mentioned flames and also when the pitchfork is being scraped along the floor. However, my favorite moment in sound comes during the fight at the morgue and specifically when the bone saw hits the floor and skitters across it. That sound gives me shivers.
Extras. This disk comes with a few extras of note.
- Commentary. The track features director Breck Eisner as he discusses the production, what he was hoping to accomplish, and how many different versions they went through. It is a good track that is well worth giving a listen to.
- Behind the Scenes with Breck Eisner. This is your standard press kit type featurette with star and director interview clips about the project and some behind the scenes photo. Decent for one viewing.
- Paranormal Pandemics. This is pretty interesting in how they went about designing the look of the Crazies, being careful not to make them look like zombies.
- The George A. Romero Template. I liked this. It took us into Romero's films and his ideas and ways of making films. It may not be as in depth as it could, but it is well worth watching.
- Make-Up Mastermind Rob Hall in Action. Ever wanted to see how make up in a horror movie is done? Here is a good look at the process of making the make ups and prosthetics and their application.
- The Crazies Motion Comic Episodes 1 and 2. Reminds me of the Watchmen motion comic. Essentially still images given voice and layers that move. Not too bad. I wouldn't mind seeing more.
- Visual Effects in Motion. This is pretty simple; it has no introduction, no narration, it simply shows the scenes, defines the different layers, and shows the final look. For example, for the truck sequence towards the end, it shows the original background, color correction, sky replacement, and the final effects shot. Sometimes we never realize how many of these layers are there.
- Storyboards: Building a Scene. A series of stills showing the storyboards for David's visit to the morgue after the outbreak begins.
- Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery. Exactly what it says it is, a series of photos taken during the production.
- Trailers. We get the original trailer, both theatrical trailers, and a trailer for the motion comic.
Bottomline. This is an example of the right movie being chosen for the remake machine. Is it perfect? No, but it is solid and quite entertaining. Director Breck Eisner does fine work, keeping the story focused and moving while dropping bits and pieces of story along the way.