The Crazies

Is this Heaven?  No, it's Iowa!

 

I recall a time, many years ago, when the world was young, when Frankie still said “Relax.”  On any given Friday night, once again lacking dates, a young Captain Midnight and his hetro-life partner Wonder Stork would  find themselves at the Drug Faire movie counter trolling for something reasonably entertaining to watch.  Yeah, Drug Faire, the one place in the Universe that met all five of my basic requirements for a successful movie night: One, it cost only ninety-nine cents to rent two movies.  Two, it was within walking distance of my house.  Three, my Mom foolishly put me on the account, so I could rent movies without having an adult present.   Four, Drug Faire had no qualms about renting rated R movies to a fifteen-year-old me.  This is how I became acquainted with Ilsa: She-wolf of the SS.  Go look it up on IMDB.   I’ll wait.

*elevator muzak plays*

Okay! You’re back.  Very awesome, huh?  Lastly, and most important, whoever chose the movies for Drug Faire’s  inventory must have been criminally insane, because there was never a shortage of weird, gory and low budget horror films.  Horror and exploitation films must have been nearly half of their collection.

*Love*

Wonder Stork and I would stand before the rack, looking over each and every VHS box trying to find the two films that would grace the screen of my family’s big Curtis Mathes console television.  Even now I still remember the cover art on many of those boxes.  One of the most distinctive was The Crazies.  We rented it.  I’m not going to talk about the original this time.  I’m going to talk about the remake.

 

When a movie, particularly a classic movie, is remade it is inevitable that the new version will be compared to the original.  You’re not going to get that from me this time, mostly because the first, last and only time that I saw the original was back in the mid-1980s and I remember next to nothing about it.  I know!  Blasphemy!  Sacrilege!  Shun!  Shun!  My apologies to those who adhere to the Church of St. George Romero.  The Crazies just didn’t impact me the same way that many of his other films did.  Sorry.

I remember the basic plot.  The Army whips up some horrible plague and dumps it on a small town.  After that  they go in wearing bio-hazard suits and abuse the infected locals.  None of that seemed like much of a stretch back then, given that the CIA was trafficking in cocaine to fund an illegal war in Nicaragua and AIDS was in full swing, a disease that at the time, seemed to be only killing the very people considered least socially desirably by the government.

When I saw the trailer for the remake, it looked to me like it had that same essential plot as the original, except that the infected seemed a lot more like 28 Days Later fast, infected zombies than I remembered them to be in the original.  I stared to wonder.  Was The Crazies a zombie movie and I just didn’t quite get it at the time?  No, it wasn’t and neither is the remake; though Overture Films’ promotion of the movie implies that The Crazies is an infected zombie movie.

If not zombies, then what are they?  They are people, mad people . . . homicidally mad.  There are variations from infection victim to infection victim as to how far they are taken from themselves by the disease.  Some of the characters in the movie seem to lose their personalities entirely, but others are modified in horrible ways, though still marginally functional.  None of them become mindless zombies.  I’m not complaining.  I’m saying that if you are expecting a zombie movie – don’t.

What you can expect is a tense, well-paced thriller.  There is no slow burn here.  The movie starts with Rory, the reformed town drunk, carrying a gun and walking onto the centerfield of the local high school’s baseball field in the middle of a game.  Dutton, the local sheriff, (Timothy Olyphant) happens to be there and confronts Rory, who raises his gun to shoot, and gets cut down by the sheriff in the process.  Initially Sheriff  Dutton thinks that Rory has fallen off the wagon, that is until the coroner reports back that Rory’s blood alcohol level was zero.

One by one, other townspeople begin to act violent and irrational.  Sheriff Dutton and his deputy (Joe Anderson) not being your typical dumb small town cops, quickly put two and two together.  Before they get a chance to act, the US Army comes in the isolate and contain the infection.  All hell breaks loose.

Director Breck Eisner, a fortunate son if there ever was one, is the son of Disney boss Michael Eisner, but we won’t hold that against him because he does a fine job here.  He was a solid cast, a good plot, a well-written screenplay and a decent budget and he wastes none of it.  There were no points in the movie that dragged.   We were given just enough time with each character to get them established before advancing along. For a movie like this, they could have done a bunch of cheap jump scares and called it a day.  They didn’t.  So, I’ll forgive Eisner and the writers for the one or two times that the main characters found themselves in a horrible situation there the resolution was  totally obvious.

Timothy Olyphant and Joe Anderson give the standout performances of this film.  This is what happens when you get good actors to play roundly drawn characters who are given decent dialogue.  I totally bought that they were a small town sheriff and deputy.  I totally bought that these two guys were friends who had worked together for years.  Their respective performances  are a large part of what draws the audience into the story – making the movie work.  Radha Mitchell as Dutton’s wife puts in a solid performance.  I always enjoy seeing her.  She’s pretty without being Hollywood over-the-top fake pretty.  And she’s just rough enough to make it believable when she goes into Ellen Ripley Mode when pushed.

The special effects are quality.  I did like the observation plane camera as a plot device. What a way to make Goggle Earth sinister!  There were a couple of shots that didn’t look totally convincing, but nothing that looked genuinely  bad.   There is a lot of blood, as you’d expect, but Eisner never goes beyond the pale.  It’s easy to imagine The Crazies remade as a super gory torture-porn movie laced with lame jump scares.  They never go there and for that I am grateful.  .

Starring:
Timothy Olyphant
Radha Mitchell
Joe Anderson
Danielle Panabaker

Screenplay:
Scott Kosar
Ray Wright

Director:
Breck Eisner

Three and a half out of five Vincents

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