Ask some discerning zombie film fans out there what their favourite undead theatrical experience has been over the last few years and more than a few are likely to put Zach Snyder’s 2004 release Dawn Of The Dead at the top of their list. Though it’s a remake of George Romero’s classic film of the same name, Snyder’s film reinterprets the original’s material respectfully, thanks to a solid script, strong performances, and lots of style.
The same can be said for the latest remake of a Romero film, The Crazies, which hit theatres this past weekend. Based on a non-zombie film of the same name, released to critical accolades but virtually zero box office back in 1973, the updated remake or The Crazies is about the town of Ogden Marsh, population 1,208, and its citizens, many of whom have suddenly become homicidal, thanks to a virus that has contaminated the town’s water supply. The film revolves around the survival of the town’s Sheriff‘(Timothy Olyphant), his doctor and expecting wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), and Deputy (Joe Anderson). Can they make it out of the city alive? And why have the people of Ogden March all gone…crazy?
As directed by Breck Eisner (Sahara), The Crazies is a definite spiritual cousin to Zach Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead, beginning with the use of a Johnny Cash song at the film’s start (“The Man Comes Around” in the case of Dawn Of The Dead, “We’ll Meet Again” in The Crazies). Though the film has it’s share of jumps and creepy moments, The Crazies isn’t simply another horror film. There’s a specific focus on character and plot, a rarity in so many of the genre pictures that make their way onto the big screen. We get a sense of the town and the people in it and the relationships between them all. As for our leads, they don’t fall into the small town stereotype’s one might expect. The Sheriff is strong and forceful when he has to be, but Olyphant lets the character’s humanity come through as he tries to remain hopeful that he and family will be able to live a life when it’s all said and done. It’s an excellent performance and Olyphant makes a great leading man.
Of course, The Crazies is a horror film so there is violence and killing to be had, but what I found so refreshing was that those moments relied more on tension that blood letting. There’s a spectacular scene involving tied-up townspeople, a Crazy, and a pitchfork that is as perfect melding of fear, tension, and violence that you could ask for in a horror film. The same can be said about a trip to the car wash that turns ugly. Overall, there’s a minimum of on-screen kills, and few of them are overtly graphic. Instead, The Crazies lets plot and tension create the horror.
We’ve already seen a fair amount of horror films already unleashed in 2010 (the fun Wolfman, the sub-subpar Legion) with more on the way (most notably what appears to be an uninspired remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street), but you’ll be hard pressed to find a better one right now than The Crazies. It has everything one would hope to see in a good horror film, including my favourite sort of ending. Check it out, but word of advice – don’t drink the water while you’re there. You never know what’s in it.