Reviewed by MattFini
Starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker
Directed by Breck Eisner
Distributed by Anchor Bay Home Entertainment
George A. Romero’s The Crazies hardly seemed like the perfect candidate for a remake. Casual horror fans are hardly aware of the 1973 original while a few of my hardcore horror fanatic friends have only recently bothered checking it out for themselves. It’s not exactly the household name that studios often seek to exploit when trotting out a tired new version of an established classic. And yet, even Romero’s staunchest defenders don’t put the original on a pedestal. It’s a good film that plays on many themes that Romero would revisit (and perfect) throughout his Laurel years, but The Crazies is a film that might’ve benefitted from an updated version.
But does it?
Not really. Breck Eisner’s remake takes the rough-around-the-edges feel that was a defining characteristic of the original and polishes the narrative into a slickly paced thriller. Gone is almost all of the political criticism (which might’ve made this low-reaching remake resonate a bit longer) that brought substance to original, leaving the leads, Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell, to navigate the twisted labyrinth of murderous psychos that quickly take over the small town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa once a deadly toxin infects the water supply.
The most disappointing thing about the streamlined story is that The Crazies seems content to wallow in the shadow of better films – echoing a more rural version of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, for example. Romero’s film was a collapse of small town civility, depicting a community that is ultimately done in by military ineptitude. The culmination of door-to-door horror came in a genuinely chilling moment where a previously protective father succumbs to the virus and launches a lecherous sexual assault on his young daughter. Here, there’s a relatively creepy barn fire in the first act (a re-working of a bit from the original), but there’s nothing nearly as frightening or memorable happening to warrant the Fear Thy Neighbor tagline. Instead, Ogden Marsh’s denizens are little more than faceless villains forcing our protagonists into a series of solidly staged, albeit typical, set pieces.
Looking past the fairly routine execution, Eisner stacks his film with a more than capable cast of genre veterans. Olyphant’s performance is low-key but grounded enough to make him a more than amiable leading man struggling to understand, and survive, the outbreak. Radha Mitchell is a bit wasted in the thankless role of his wife. Eisner allows these leads a subtle chemistry through worried glances and knowing looks, but a bit more time spent on developing their relationship as a couple would’ve gone a long way toward making these characters far more palpable. Joe Anderson plays the sympathetic deputy who may or not be infected and whose penchant for knee-jerk violence increases as the situation becomes more desperate. His scenes with Olyphant and Mitchell are among the film’s best and most tense.
As a director, Eisner straddles a fine line between telegraphed shocks and genuine thrills. The most promising scenes (one from which the poster art takes its inspiration, while the other involves a helicopter) are negated by calling far too much attention to what could happen long before anything actually does. He constructs a passable narrative, but the weak-kneed script by Scott Kosar (Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, The Amityville Horror remake) achieves far more success in its earliest, most quiet moments than by the time the third act finds our heroes battling demented rednecks in a bloodstained truck stop.
The Crazies comes stabbing onto Blu-ray with an impressive 1080p transfer. It’s a dark film, but black levels are rich and inky while offering striking detail at the same time. Flesh tones look perfectly natural, and the overall color palette is striking, despite the intentionally restrained look. Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray is a nearly perfect reproduction of the theatrical exhibition, and the audio is even stronger. The uncompressed PCM 5.1 track is constantly buzzing with rear-channel action: gunshots, explosions, general ambiance, and musical score. Dialogue is perfectly rendered through the front-channel speakers and remains level, no matter how loud the action gets. This is an incredible A/V presentation from our friends at the Bay. Well done and highly recommended.
Anchor Bay has also loaded this disc with a pretty nifty little package. Breck Eisner’s audio commentary is great conversation wherein he pays respect to Romero’s film while offering plenty of information on making his own version of The Crazies. A ten-minute featurette follows Eisner on a behind-the-scenes look at shooting the flick. There’s also a glance at existing pandemics, attempting to give the film some more relevance. The best piece is titled The George A. Romero Template, which features Don Coscarelli, Ryan Rotten, and our own Uncle Creepy. This bit pays considerable tribute to the horror legend – although at just eleven minutes, it’s over much too quickly. There’s also a look at Rob Hall’s FX work, two motion comics, a pair of behind-the-scenes galleries, and of course, a digital copy.
The Crazies is a perfectly reasonable way to pass ninety minutes, even if it feels a bit ‘safe’ in how it tries to scare you. Fast-paced and not without some enjoyable moments, it emerges as a worthy companion piece to the original, even if it could’ve surpassed it had the filmmakers set their sights a bit higher.
3 out of 5
4 out of 5
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