There were three major trends in horror during the aughts: torture porn, the zombie resurgence, and remakes of older horror movies (which can include the J-horror thing). It is in that environment that one can understand a movie with a terrible title like “The Crazies” getting remade. Such a project would, after all, be a remake with zombies that has a level of violence that’s often associated with torture porn (even though it doesn’t really have any torture scenes). The remakes have probably been the least appealing of these trends, especially when the likes of Platinum Dunes are behind them. But if you’re going to do one it’s probably for the best that it’s done to something like George Romero’s 1973 film The Crazies, which really didn’t have the budget or the polish to fully live up to the potential of its ideas.
The film is set in a tiny rural town called Ogden Marsh, Iowa. Early in the film a local farmer walks onto the high school baseball field with a loaded shotgun for no apparent reason and the town sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) is forced to shoot him dead. Odd as that was, it quickly proves to not be an isolated incident, other acts of unmotivated crimes occur and the perpetrators seem to be, well… crazy. Soon Dutton manages to discover a downed military aircraft in the river that provides the tower with its water, but before anything can really be done about it the military arrives on the scene and initiates a quarantine. Fearing that his wife (Radha Mitchell) will be mistaken for an infected, Dutton decides to go on the run, but now he must contend with both the military and the mindless infected as he tries to escape his town.
Probably the defining feature of The Crazies is that the “zombies” are a bit smarter than they are in other movies, while they’re driven to kill in the same way that the average zombie is they do it in slightly more lucid ways. Take for example the scene that’s featured on the poster, where a “crazy” walks into a room filled with people strapped into cots dragging a pitchfork on the ground. In other zombie films the pitchfork guy probably wouldn’t have even been able to use a weapon and would have just bitten into his victims with an animalistic rage. Here though, the “zombie” walks calmly from one victim to the next and effectively murders each one with passionless efficiency. Interesting as this approach is, it is taken directly from the Romero movie and the film really doesn’t bring a whole lot new to the zombie genre aside from what it borrows from that film.
The idea of making “zombies” out of people who aren’t actually undead has been pretty prevalent since 28 Days Later hit the scene, and the idea of making military people as big a threat as the zombies was done pretty effectively in… 28 Weeks Later. But that’s alright, not every horror movie needs to reinvent the wheel in order to be effective, and that’s what The Crazies is, a very effective workmanlike thriller. The film is shot with a nice slick panache and there are a number of pretty cool zombie setpieces that are well choreographed.
It also helps that the movie has a pretty competent cast that are a marked improvement over the usual screaming coeds that we usually get in movies like this. I certainly wouldn’t call Timothy Olyphant’s work here to be a pristine example of film acting, but he does exactly the kind of B-movie acting that’s needed for a role like this. He’s has a certain kind of relatable toughness that avoids macho posturing but still makes his character appropriately strong. Olyphant does have issues delivering lines while he’s supposed to be angry, but for the most part he works here. The rest of the cast also works pretty well here and I really appreciated that the film follows a group of adults rather than the teenage douches that usually populate these movies.
So, is The Crazies a classic of its genre? Hell No. Is it one of the best horror movies of the recent wave of the genre? No. Is it likely to be the best horror flick of the year? Probably not. But hey, not every movie needs to be a grand slam home run, sometimes a solid dingle is all you need and that’s exactly what this is. It’s definitely better than a remake like thi has any business being and while I might not have wanted to pay to see it in theaters but it’s very good DVD rental material that will lead to a very fun night of entertainment.
*** out of Four