Sunday, February 28, 2010
“The Crazies” (opened February 26 throughout San Diego) serves up a remake of George A. Romero’s ultra-low budget 1973 horror film.
Hollywood’s frenzy to remake 70s and 80s horror films (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Last House on the Left,” “Dawn of the Dead,” “Friday the 13th,” “My Bloody Valentine”) is only slightly more annoying than its penchant for ripping off Asian horror films (“Shutter,” “Pulse,” “The Ring,” “The Grudge”). It would be nice to see more young filmmakers coming up with original ideas to pursue and studios backing those projects. That said, Breck Eisner’s remake on Romero’s “The Crazies” has a couple things working in its favor. For one, very few people have seen Romero’s original and it hasn’t been widely distributed (although it is now available through Netflix). And for another it was made so cheaply by Romero that Eisner’s bigger budget does allow him to expand on Romero’s original idea. (You can read my interview with Breck Eisner.)
Romero is best known as the father of the modern zombie film but he also made one of the first infected people movies. So in “The Crazies,” people aren’t being reanimated from the dead but rather infected with some kind of virus that eats at their brains and makes them crazy violent. David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) is the town sheriff and he gets unnerved when a local man trudges onto baseball field during a youth game and refuses to put down his gun. The Dutton, who’s used to a sleepier kind of town, is forced to shoot the man. And that’s just the beginning the day and the odd happenings. Things quickly spiral out of control and the government sends in the military to contain an epidemic that the military itself may have actually started.
Director Breck Eisner doesn’t have any credits to boast about. He previously made the atrocious “Sahara.” But he deserves credit for tackling this remake with some seriousness. He doesn’t resort to the default shakycam approach, which seems to be the only way recent horror films think they can create immediacy and tension. Instead, Eisner takes his time setting up the premise and building tension as the infection spreads through the town and the locals suddenly become unstable and dangerous. Not only does Eisner avoid the shakycam but he also refrains from heavy-handed music cues and frantic cuts to announce every scare. A couple times he has one of the crazies lurking in the background of a shot and then lets the viewer discover the potential danger in the frame. That kind of restraint is refreshing these days. In addition, Eisner doesn’t over deliver on the gore but again uses restraint to deliver what is needed to make a scene effective. He makes especially nice use of a pitchfork.
“The Crazies” (rated R for bloody violence and language) is in a similar league with “The Strangers.” Both films reveal potential on the part of their filmmakers but neither rises to great heights. They both deliver better than average horror fare.
Companion viewing: "The Crazies" (1973), "28 Days Later," "The Strangers"