‘The Crazies’ movie review: Timothy Olyphant grounds bloody horror remake

George Romero’s 1973 The Crazies was a brilliantly directed piece of government paranoia focusing on a small town that becomes quarantined due to a biochemical outbreak, only to have the residents – infected and not – fight back against the white-suited, gas-masked military presence. 

It wasn’t a true horror film, instead focusing on the realistic logistical aspects of the situation, which made it all the more terrifying. Only budgetary limitations held it back.

So what better than a higher-budgeted mainstream remake directed by Breck Eisner (son of ex-Disney honcho Michael)? The bad: this one quickly becomes a shell of the original by turning itself into a generic zombie film. The good: on that level, it works well enough.

The small town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, is in for a rude awakening. During a high school baseball game, the town drunk walks onto the outfield armed with a shotgun; when Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and Deputy Russell Clank (Joe Anderson) find that they cannot reason with him, Dutton takes him out. 

Only problem: he hadn’t had a drink in two years. Another town resident sets fire to his own house with his wife and son inside. What’s causing the residents to act so strange…?

Whoa – we’re already way behind the original, which dove into the situation by establishing everything you need to know in the first five minutes. Here there’s a ‘mystery’ that Sheriff David needs to investigate, which proves inefficient because (1) those that have seen the original know exactly where this is headed and (2) it doesn’t really matter, anyway.

What matters is that everybody is going crazy, and soon the Sheriff, his wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), and the Deputy are fighting off their now-bloodthirsty friends and neighbors while also battling the military, which has quarantined the town and isn’t keen on providing any answers.

In the original, the crazies were regular folk that had just gone nuts, whether that meant blasting away with a shotgun or dancing in the meadow as if they were on LSD; here, they’re zombies-cum-serial killers, who go around methodically butchering people in gruesome, inventive ways. 

Mostly gone are the scenes of mass terror and paranoia, in their place dark corridors and things that jump out and say “boo!”

But like Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, while the deeper value of the source has been mostly jettisoned, the film is still effective. Olyphant, Mitchell, and Anderson make for likable leads, the production is efficient, and visceral thrills are provided.

 And underneath it all, the subtext of Romero’s original is still there, giving the remake a much-needed backbone. You could do worse.

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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