With Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson. Rated R for bloody violence and language. 101 minutes.
George Romero served as executive producer for this remake of his little known 1973 horror film THE CRAZIES. The earlier version is worth tracking down for the Romero completists, but it is one of his lesser works, a variation of his earlier and more famous “Night Of The Living Dead.”
In short, this was remade for the right reasons. The earlier film didn’t quite come off but there was some interesting ideas there for a horror film. Why not try it again, with a bigger budget, and see if it can be done right? That’s what they’ve done and the result is a fast-paced thriller. It won’t change your life, but it won’t leave you checking your watch every five minutes either.
The premise is that a government plane carrying an unknown cargo has crashed outside the small Iowa farm town of Ogden Marsh and contaminated the water supply. The first hint of something going wrong is when someone shows up at softball game toting a rifle. By the time sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and his wife, town doctor Judy Dutton (Radha Mitchell), figure out what’s going on, things have gotten out of control. The school principal is spearing people with a pitchfork, the town coroner isn’t waiting for people to die to start working on their bodies, and a farmer burns down a house with his family locked in the closet. Ogden Marsh is not a happy place to be.
Where the film may tap into the current public mood is when the military arrives on the scene. To put it mildly, the government doesn’t have the best interests of the local population in mind. By film’s end, it’s debatable who the real crazies are.
Olyphant and Mitchell bring a level of acting usually not seen in horror remakes. They are intelligent and sympathetic protagonists, and it’s easy to root for them as they try to make it past the cordon that has cut off the town. Joe Anderson is also solid as the deputy who fears he’s starting to become one of the crazies. Although there’s the expected gore and violence, we actually care whether these characters make it to the end of the film.
While it provides the thrills and laughs and scares expected, “The Crazies” can’t quite kick it up to the next level where the movie is about something beyond people fighting the zombies (or whatever they are). The cynicism about the government is in the background, not the point of the movie. Romero’s most critically acclaimed film remains “Dawn Of The Dead,” which set the human vs. zombie story at a shopping mall, turning it into a dark satire about consumerism. One of the big set pieces here is set at a car wash, but it doesn’t quite have the same resonance.
So as an excuse to get out of the house and enjoy being scared for a while, “The Crazies” is entertaining and well done. As a movie for the ages, it’s a big step up from original, but since most moviegoers won’t even know there was an original, going any longer about any more of the differences between them would be a bit, well… crazy.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.