Set Visit: The Crazies

Set Visit: The Crazies (click for larger image)It’s a quiet Midwest town like any other. Every inhabitant knows the business of everyone else, and most have known each other all their lives. Now something has come. The 2nd grade school teacher stops in mid-sentence and eyes up the flagpole, thinking it a good idea to impale his students on it. A local farmer points his mammoth corn picking machine out of the field and into town centre. As the madness builds, what was only brewing below the surface becomes apparent on the faces of its victims. Veins bulge, skin reddens, and eyes turn maniacal. “>The Crazies is putting it mildly.

Overture Films puts its stamp on a forgotten George Romero classic with Breck Eisner at the reins for the “re-imagining”. What’s changed? A bigger budget, first and foremost, will increase the scope and enhance a feeling that, even within this town of wide open spaces, there is nowhere to run. Eisner looked to create realistic characters who maintain their identity, even when struck with the madness tearing their town apart. These are NOT brainless, bloodthirsty zombies. These are people stricken with something that strips away all morals, inhibitions, and basic human decency. Of course, this is primarily a horror film, so Jed at the local Quickie Mart goes from mild-mannered shopkeeper to twitchy, irrational man who loses his train of thought and is prone to slight outbursts … to that loud guy who starts fights in the middle of the street … to a crazed psychotic clawing at your door to gain entry and rip you apart with his bare hands. With these four stages comes the visible change as well, and THAT is where we go from Outbreak to 28 Days Later. Extensive research was done to simulate an enhanced realistic look for the diseased psychotics, taking elements of Ebola, Tetanus, Rabies, and Stevens-Johnson Syndrome to create a unique and iconic but horrifyingly believable end result.

Eisner pushed this reality, even where the actions of the infected are concerned. “This is definitely not an in-your-face, balls-out horror movie. It’s horrific and graphic, but I wanted a real quality to it. The people should feel real … the movie should feel real … and when there’s death, it’s real. We aren’t shying away from it. We aren’t shying away from blood when blood is appropriate, when there’s an exit wound or an entry wound. We are certainly not shying away from blood. It’s not a ‘bloodbath’ by any stretch of the imagination, but it SHOULD be visceral and should be horrific in that quality.” This one will definitely be rated R. A “hard R”.

As we are led out onto the set, we immediately see small town America in the grip of its own government, for its own good. This is their most “ambitious” day of shooting with the military presence in full swing. Multiple helicopters circle overhead as smoke rises beyond a line of white tents. The wind kicks up and sends a visible chill through the crew. We are given a signal and press forward across a typical high school campus. A spotlight from the roof finds us, and blinded, we are reminded that all points of this “typical” landscape are about to erupt into chaos. Above, a military chopper streaks by, a flash of olive green against the jet black sky. We are now positioned in front of a playing field transformed into a sort of holding facility for the townspeople. As I take in the sight of the tired, shivering inhabitants, seemingly pulled from their beds, a rumble overhead whips me around. I hardly have time to shield my eyes from a spray of dirt as a huge chopper swoops in far lower than I’ve ever been witness to. Before I can regain my composure, a second chopper blows past, its rocket launchers visible as it moves in for a landing.

A fresh plume of smoke bellows from below a sign announcing “The Trojan Super 30 Club.” The smell reminds me of the aftermath of too many exploded fireworks on the streets of Brooklyn. Georgia locals beam with pride as the buses they operate parade past, no doubt co-opted for more dire purposes. Their excitement is counterpoint to the intensity of the scene playing out before us. Fences gleam against countless flood lights. Men in hazmat suits run past Humvees with 50 cal guns mounted atop. Huge trucks used to transport livestock await a line of citizens. Blinking lights reflect off a wet stretch of road, pointing the way to safety … or perhaps an indefinite quarantine.

Set Visit: The Crazies (click for larger image)As we are allowed time with cast members including Timothy Olyphant, Danielle Panabaker, Radha Mitchell and Joe Anderson, we are assured the tone of this film goes from folksy to bleak very quickly. When the people around you go from caring human beings you say hello to every day to raving lunatics using anything at their disposal to end your life, things get tense! As expressed before, this change doesn’t happen immediately, causing you to question who is actually free of this ailment and who might try and stab you with a rusty screwdriver minutes from now. That paranoia, hopelessness, and frantic pace are all captured here.

As horror fans, we have to ask, beyond the look of the “Crazies”, what can we expect to freak us out? Rob Hall gives us the answers in his trailer. Remnants of human-like shapes lay under semi-translucent tarps. Body parts lay nearby, some still struck by the bad end of an edged weapon. Rob’s crew members proudly show off a drawer full of appliances used to enhance the creep factor on a horde of infected folks. Hundreds were used to create the look of the infected and simulate their carnage on a human being unfortunate enough to be in their path. Having worked on Quarantine, they made a conscious effort to stay clear of anything done in that film. Rob clarifies, “Quarantine was a deadly strain of rabies. We wanted to stay clear of zombies … our guys aren’t dead. They are full of this ‘Trixie’ virus. It’s almost like they are the opposite of dead … like there’s too much life in them so they are bursting at the seams. Their faces are red and there’s blood blisters, there’s veins, and they are very vascular. Definitely the opposite of being dead.” Medical accuracy and cinematic expectation meet in things as simple as a neck piece to simulate severely stressed tendons in a person’s neck. Rob is most excited about his “giant fat guy” that gets torn into by the infected people. You’ll know it when you see it!

We’ve almost surgically pulled bits of info on the look of the infected through our interviews and found these individuals are far less the baddies from 28 Days Later than we thought. Think more the characters from The Signal juiced on super crack. They maintain all knowledge of what they knew before the virus, but something is eating at their grey matter. They can’t exactly get up on a roof with a sniper rifle, but they can pick up a weapon and shoot it, swing it, or use it to get into someplace you are hiding. Their actions lie somewhere between caveman and fry cook. We are sure stairs, ladders, and door knobs pose no problems for this lot. Don’t expect a field of slow lumbering moaners either. In between the occasional farm house or barn are wide open spaces and roads you can see clearly from hundreds of feet off. Traveling means exposure, and exposure means you are likely going to be attacked.

We head back to the set and duck into the heart of this “camp” of unhappy townsfolk, military personnel, and white-suited, faceless individuals herding people to unknown destinations. A line of miserable faces awaits firm direction from the masked soldiers. A young boy nods off against his mother’s arm while still standing. Joe Anderson is unceremoniously shoved into the room by an armed guard who clearly has orders to use force on anyone not in compliance. On a nearby monitor we see Radha Mitchell and Timothy Olyphant led along a gate until a signal is given and the two are separated without warning and no amount of finesse. As Timothy turns to protest, he is assured that the guns in front of him will back up any actions needed. Begrudgingly, he turns and walks away.

As night turns into LATE night, we are shuffled back into a van to call it a night, confident that our destination promises warm beds and a flat screen TV on the wall. The terror in The Crazies may lie in exposed veins and horrific actions by those you’d rather not shoot in the face, but there is also that paranoia. On any given day, people are experimenting with ancient microscopic life forms that were not meant to be poked and prodded. On any sunny afternoon, someone could unleash a virus capable of killing your family, friends, and neighbors. Even worse, this virus could turn that family against you. When that time comes and you must kill to survive, could you put your family down? Could you eliminate your friends and neighbors … and if you could, are you sure YOU aren’t the crazy one? I think I’ll just run.

Look for The Crazies to arrive in theaters February 26th, 2010.


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