Breck Eisner Talks The Crazies, Romero, and Casting Adults
Now that the dust has settled and The Crazies remake is making its home video debut, we caught up with director Breck Eisner to talk about all of the horrors he faced while working on the project.
The first thing we discussed was what it was like to walk in Romero's footsteps ...
"Without Romero this movie wouldn't have gotten made," says Eisner. "About two months before it was getting released, I set up a screening just for him of The Crazies up in Toronto, and he watched it alone. I called him the next morning, and this was an incredibly nerve-wracking call as up until this point I had never really talked to the man. I didn't know what to expect; all I knew was that I just remade his movie and he had sat alone at 9:00 AM in Toronto and watched it. So the time came, and I asked, "So what do you think?" and he was quite positive. It was a great experience to get that from him. Obviously he had things that he would have done differently, as we all do, I would hope, but yeah, that was the ultimate stamp of approval."
"In 1973, when Romero made his movie, this idea was way out there," Eisner continues. "The idea of water being infected and turning people into homicidal maniacs required a lot of exposition for the audience to really grasp what was going on. Cut to 2010, and that's like everyday fare for audiences. Given that, I knew I could get rid of a lot of the explanatory exposition that George was saddled with because he was the one breaking new ground. Thanks to him and the people who have been inspired by him, people get it. With my movie I was able to let the audience take the ride with my heroes as they figured out what was going on. Horror fans are amongst the smartest fans out there. They don't need their hands held anymore. These people know and love movies, and if you do wrong by them, you're in trouble! *laughs* When you do right, though, they reward you! You gotta take both!"
In terms of the look of the Crazies ...
"It took a long time and wasn't easy," explains Eisner. "The very first thing I did was go through books and online research and medical libraries and just kind of pulled all of the potential diseases that it could really be. In going through that process, I actually came up with a whole bunch of interesting diseases that I hope I never come close to having. I was able to kind of pick and choose what we wanted. The idea was that I was bio-engineering a weapon that took the three best, or worst, infections out there and combined them into a cocktail of sorts. What would the results look like? So in the end we kind of mixed together the greatest hits of awful diseases and added an accelerant. With that kind of image book in mind, we went to Rob Hall and Almost Human. He then did his own research on top of that. The first pass on the design ended up looking too much like a zombie. No matter how we looked at it, it just was a zombie. So we threw that away and began from scratch. Then we threw that one away as well, but then on the third or fourth try we discovered that what we needed to do was avoid decaying colors and go for more red and bloodshot colors as if the blood was really pumping. There would be no facial decay because not enough time would have passed, so we turned to this kind of enhanced veining and a neck piece which was inspired by tetanus, which causes an extreme tightening of the muscles in the face, neck, and body. It's really horrific looking stuff. Once we had all of these elements, it kind of cued the rage that that these characters were in. It was a lot of trial and error and a lot of different kinds of development to get to the final look of these things, but really it was Rob who was the one that brought it all together. He took all of these pieces and fused them together into this complex design of the Crazies. There were five different stages of the disease we had to deal with in terms of the look so our work was cut out for us."
To go along with his creatures, Breck also needed a very believable cast to sell the horror in the flick.
"Timothy Olyphant was the first person that we cast. He was number one on my list. He was the guy who I really wanted to play the lead character. Since the 'Deadwood' days and even before, I've been a big fan of his. He has a real low-key honesty in his performances. He comes off as more of a real down to earth human being than a movie star, and that was important. Once we cast him, we went directly to Radha Mitchell, who is an expert in this genre, but she's also an expert in regular dramas and roles that require a bit more heavy lifting from a performance standpoint. Together the two of them felt like a really natural and honest couple. The whole idea of the movie was to not create character types, but to try and create real characters and let the audience take part in their journey and relationship so that they feel like they're real people. A lot of times horror movies kind of forget to pay attention to that. In the end a good movie is a good movie whether it's horror, drama, or whatever. It all comes down to the writing and the actors who bring those words to life."
"We bounced between about three studios before we actually settled down to make this movie because a few of the bigger studios out there had decided that they needed this flick to be populated by young characters and this movie had to be about kids, and that just wasn't acceptable," continues Eisner. "At the risk of the movie falling apart, which it did and then came back together, we just wouldn't go that way. Spooky stuff happens to adults, too, and when an adult sees these things going on, it's even more intense because now we're dealing with a character who's lived life and has more life experience than a teenager."
Amen, Breck. Amen. Order a copy of The Crazies on DVD or Blu-ray below.
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