There seems to be an epidemic in Hollywood these days with studios intent on wheeling out old properties and remaking them. Nowhere is this more evident than in the horror movie scene, with a spate of remakes ranging from downright rotten to devilishly good having been recently foisted upon us. The latest in this long line is The Crazies, a remake of one of the grandmaster of horror George A Romero’s lesser known works.
The remake differs from the original in a number of key regards, none more so than its relegation of the military sub-plot to fleeting glimpses of armed commandos and aerial shots of affected areas. Centring the action on the townspeople, both affected and unaffected, was a brave move but it paid rich dividends as it allows for a more focused movie, a more tense atmosphere and a much faster pace.
The plot is basic horror movie stuff, the inhabitants of a small rural community in the middle of America start suffering from a mysterious illness that turns them all insane and sets them on a murderous rampage. As always we find our protagonists caught in the middle of all this trying desperately to survive the threat from within themselves, the community at large and the military sent to stop the infection. So the plot really doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
It’s good then that the acting and the action do offer a little extra. Leading man Timothy Olyphant is great as the Sheriff, the lawman with the dependable everyman American air. There’s an intensity in his performance that makes you believe that he can survive the mayhem and the movie hangs on that fact. He is ably supported by the other cast members, with Radha Mitchell bringing more to her character than simply standing around screaming. The tension in the scene where she is bound to a table with Crazies all around is one of the high-points of the movie, and her reactions heighten the palpable sense of impeding doom. Joe Anderson also has a fine turn as the deputy. His character arc from loyal servant, to reckless gun-toter to potential victim is key to aiding Olyphant and the narrative as a whole.
Director Breck Eisner, son of the infamous former Disney head Michael, returns from a 5 year exile with style. It seems that the years away from the directors chair since the mediocre Sahara have matured him as an auteur. His set-piece build-up here is much better than anything is that Clive Cussler adaptation. Mind you finding a leading man you can trust to carry a movie (who isn’t Matthew McConaughey) is a good start. For the first 60 odd minutes of the movie Eisner ramps up tension marvellously, a key scene near the start showing a father torching his family within their home clearly marking that no-one is off limits and that anyone could be next. It’s such a shame then that the movie reverts back to old horror movie clichés in the last third. The car not starting that was working fine 5 minutes ago, the unintended fright where one characters sneaks up and puts a hand on another, the abandonment of one character by the only one with a weapon, the list goes on. All of these almost manage to undo the fine work from the start but thankfully the movie still manages to extort a few more frightening moments in its conclusion.
So a solid, enjoyable, if slightly unspectacular addition to the horror movie canon. It’s certainly worth mention alongside Zack Snyder‘s Dawn of the Dead movie as fine examples of horror movie remakes that do not tarnish the legacy of the original.