A mother and her young son gaze out the window through the darkness toward the barn. Light streams out from its open doors. A combine roars inside. The boy asks, “What is daddy doing?” The fear in mom’s eyes says it all. Daddy’s gone crazy.
“Stay here,” she says. She cautiously enters the barn and climbs into the cab. It’s empty. She shuts off the engine and then she hears her son scream. She races back to the house and finds the boy huddled in a corner. “Daddy has a knife!” he says. They hide in a closet, peering out through the slats.
Daddy approaches, pauses for a moment – certainly he can hear their terrified breathing – and then he goes back downstairs, pouring gasoline along the way. One flick of a match and everything’s ablaze.
With that primal early scene and plenty of others – such as mayhem in a hospital with a pitchfork and an attack in a carwash – The Crazies delivers the goods. It had my audience gasping and jumping and squirming in their seats and it even earned applause at the end. That’s something I don’t hear often.
The story takes place in Ogden Marsh, Iowa – a quiet little Midwest town until a violent incident disturbs the calm. During an afternoon baseball game, a local man trudges through the outfield gates and onto the field carrying a rifle and wearing a blank expression. The local sheriff confronts him and is forced to shoot him dead.
One by one, and soon twenty by twenty, the whole town starts going murderously nuts. And it’s up to the sheriff, his wife, and his deputy (Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, and Joe Anderson, horror movie veterans all), to figure out what’s going on. They discover that a military aircraft has crashed into a nearby river, polluting the town’s water supply with a virus.
That’s the setup and also the only true misstep the movie takes. I always hate it when post-apocalyptic “zombie” movies offer too literal of an explanation for the dire state of things. A bit of mystery is much more satisfying than, “Oh, I get it. Another military screw up.” But it’s just a quibble.
This Crazies is a remake of a minor horror classic from 1973 of the same name. That one, directed by zombie king George Romero and set near his hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, had political aspirations, making frequent references to Vietnam. This time, much like the terrific remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (2004), the goal is less lofty – to scare you silly, plain and simple.
I suspected I was going to like The Crazies when I heard “We’ll Meet Again” playing during the opening scenes. And the movie grabbed me and wouldn’t let go as daddy quietly sings “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” while he watches his house, wife, and son go up in flames.
While he may not be cutting loose as crazily as James Gunn did with Slither (2006) – still the best dang horror movie in a long time – director Breck Eisner is clearly having a blast during those two musical moments. Both songs are prominently featured in Dr. Strangelove, another “end of times” movie with a military program gone awry, people going crazy, and an explosive ending.
I find it puzzling and a bit troubling as I read back over what I just wrote. What’s the world coming to? I just enjoyed a remake of a cheap ‘70s horror movie more than the latest Martin Scorsese picture. “Crazy,” I say.