The Crazies: Interview with Director Breck Eisner
Remaking Romero’s Infected People Film
Thursday, February 25, 2010
KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando interviews director Breck Eisner about remaking George A. Romero's The Crazies.
Back in the 60s, George Romero raised the dead and created the modern zombie film. But he also made one of the first “infected people” movies. His 1973 film “The Crazies” served up a premise in which people did not become reanimated corpses but rather were infected with a disease that made them, well, crazy…
Now 39-year-old director Breck Eisner is remaking Romero’s film. I spoke with the director about remaking the work of a horror film master.
BETH ACCOMANDO: What attracted you to this Romero film in terms of wanting to remake it?
BRECK EISNER: More than anything I’m a fan of Romero and I liked the idea of redoing one of his movies specifically this one because it has a great idea as its concept at its core, a concept I really believed in that suffered from a real limitation, which was the miniscule budget that they had to work with. I think he made the movie originally for $200,000. In a movie where the plotline or the partial plotline is the oppressive force of the military as a means of controlling a population, it’s tough to do that with absolutely no budget. So I thought the idea to scale up the movie and really spend more time on it because I had a little bit more money to do it was an appealing one. It was also a movie that at the time it was made in 72 or 73 and originally it was in the shadow of Vietnam it felt like at the time we were in development that we were in the shadow of the Iran and Iraq wars and that it is a similar mind frame in the country and it justified making the movie, a movie that has a message.
BETH ACCOMANDO: So do you remember what kind of an impact it had on you when you first saw it?
BRECK EISNER: I probably saw it during one of those periods in high school when you’re discovering the 70s horror. And for me the 70s were such a great period in horror movies, instead of it just being porn horror or just graphic gore horror, which is simply about escape or survival, or creative ways to kill someone, it was horror that always had a message whether it was Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist or The Shining or The Crazies, Romero’s other work, there’s always a message in the movie. That was the kind of horror that I really responded to as a teenager.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Do you see a reason why so many 70s horror films are getting remade now?
BRECK EISNER: There are multiple reasons. There’s the pragmatic, which is a new generation that a new generation is able to discover the movie and I think there’s a nostalgia to filmmakers remembering the experience of watching those movies.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Romero is looked upon as the father of the modern zombie movie but this is actually an infected people movie, and I don’t know if people remember it.
BRECK EISNER: I’m a big fan of the fact that this is not a zombie movie. One of the things that I think is so exciting about this movie is it’s not a zombie movie. The infected people are not undead in fact they are more alive than they have ever been. The disease itself, the infection, unlocks inner demons, the inner psyche of each of the character so when they are infected and they act out on their rage or these hidden emotions they are still within the character that they met beforehand. So unlike a zombie movie when they are undead they often have a singular goal to infect other people or to kill or to eat human flesh or brains it’s often that they lose their real persona there previous persons is gone completely they are taken over by this disease or the zombieism but for The Crazies, the people who are infected their persona remains and just heightens their persona and I think it makes it more interesting because each time you run into one of these infected people they’re different, they act different, they respond different and you don’t know if they are infected o not but they are and they still are your husband or your wife or your father or mother or your best friend and it makes it that much more terrifying.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Sometimes the most terrifying thing is not the gore or the creatures but how fast people will turn on each other. Was that part of the story’s appeal as well?
BRECK EISNER: What’s terrifying is not knowing if someone is infected or suspecting someone’s infected and not knowing how to react to that. Are they infected enough to have to take action, are they infected enough to have to leave them behind, are they a threat do they still retain enough of their humanity that the person is the person that you knew before the infection, it brings up a lot of really interesting questions and drama and tensions.
BETH ACCOMANDO: The setting also seems to be a character in your film.
BRECK EISNER: I wanted a Main Street city but not a perfect utopian vision, it was a slightly decayed, throwback version. So there aren’t McDonalds but the remnants of what had been so it has people but it’s not as crowded as it once had been. At the same time it had to be big vast open epic plains. So that when the characters are trying to escape from the military and the infected there’s nowhere to hide. You can look in all directions and there’s no woods to hide in.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Do you think you’ll stay in horror films or move on to something else?
BRECK EISNER: I love genre movies. I love horror because it’s a heightened genre and it allows you to peel back the layers of a character and get to those animalistic qualities. And another thing I love about horror is the movie going experience. Horror movies in a theater are so fun to watch. They’re interactive. The audience is yelling at the screen and laughing and jerking back in fright at certain scare beats and it’s a lot of fun to see a horror movie with an audience and it’s fun to make a movie that an audience has an active response to. So part of me really loves making a movie that is interactive.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Now that it’s done is there anything you are proud of?
BRECK EISNER: I’m proud that we retained Romero’s message: Beware of the government’s use of the military and the military as a machine it can be a very powerful weapon that should be controlled in its use and should be open to the populace seeing what’s happening as well as a concern about nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.