THE CRAZIES Review. [2010’s First Must See Horror Movie.]

Posted by Peter Hall - February 26th 2010 @ 8:00 am

Directed by Breck Eisner, 2010
Written by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright

You’re forgiven for being apprehensive about a remake of THE CRAZIES, George Romero’s classic (as in age, not quality) bit of ’70s violence and paranoia.  I know I was.  After all, we live in a climate where studio (not talent) driven remakes arrive at regular intervals calculated by accounting departments, where insulting remakes are a dozen a dime and where exceptional remakes are a dime a decade.  You’ll not be forgiven, however, if you call yourself a horror fan and still turn your back on Breck Eisner’s exceptional remake of THE CRAZIES this weekend.  I don’t care what your excuse is, either; if you have more than 2 hours time to spare in the next 72 hours and you opt not to pay deserving coin to see THE CRAZIES at your local picture house, you’re officially part of the problem.

For those who haven’t seen the original 1973 film, THE CRAZIES is about a small town held under brutal government quarantine after a plane carrying an insanity-inducing, water-born virus crashes into the county water supply.  That’s it, really.  Whereas the original film was a jumbled-up mishmash of an outbreak film that was as much about a few town folk as it was the govies’ inept handling of the situation, this new evolution of THE CRAZIES has abandoned the latter part wholesale.  Instead, it focuses entirely on the town Sheriff (Timothy Olyphant), his wife (Radha Mitchell), his deputy (Joe Anderson) and his wife’s co-worker (Danielle Panabaker) as they try to survive the arrival of this colossal government fluster cluck.

Not only do they have to contend with a ‘contain at all costs’ military presence, but the rest of the townies pose an even more lethal threat.  The virus, which carries over the original film’s codename of Trixie, has the effect of transforming the infected into hideous killers swarming with varicose veins.  They’re not mindless, though.  Depending on the stage and severity of incubation, the Crazies can still talk and plot, they’re just crippled by poor impulse control.  That last bit makes for an exciting and fresh variant of dread we don’t see often in Hollywood horror: human in thought, zombie in action.

That loss of control is the theme that runs throughout the film thanks to a script from Scott Kosar (THE MACHINST) and Ray Wright (CASE 39) that may just be the best horror remake script to reach production since the ’80s.  What makes it so outstanding isn’t how drastic of an improvement it is over Romero’s original, though that obviously doesn’t hurt, but how respectful it is of the audience’s intelligence.  There are zero cringe-inducing moments of, “Now why would anyone do that?” going on.  Every character has been written from the ground up to propel the storytelling through justifiable action and not clawing exposition.  We learn the mysteries of Trixie as the characters uncover them along their way out of Ogden Marsh, and the characters only ever come across the information organically; which is to say never does the script enter the standard issue “here’s where we explain everything” phase.

As strong as the script is, however, it would fall on deaf ears were it not for the cast, all of whom warrant serious investment from the audience.  No one ever appears above the material, instead each actor plays their role with the straightest of faces.  That may seem an odd compliment as that’s kind of their entire job, but it’s worth mentioning considering how easy it is to imagine other actors not giving their all to ‘just another horror movie remake’.  The chemistry between Olyphant and Mitchell makes for such a natural, genuine marital bond that when Olyphant tells a fellow detainee pleading for him to not rock the boat, “How about you don’t ask why I’m going back for my wife and I won’t ask why you aren’t,” you feel the considerable brunt of his determination all the more.

And as much as I am a fan of their work together, my hat is off to Joe Anderson as the scene stealing deputy.  I can’t stress enough how impressive Anderson is here.  His work in THE RUINS proved he has what it takes to sell emotion no matter the material, while his work in THE CRAZIES proves what he can do when a script keeps him walking and talking past the first reel.  He bestows the role of Olyphant’s loyal deputy with a protective edge I can’t quite place my finger on, but suffice it to say, no matter what kind of success this film ends up finding, Anderson possess the rare talent that allows an actor to vanish entirely into a role; a talent that almost always leads to becoming a household name.

But not only does THE CRAZIES have a smart script and an adept cast, it also announces the arrival of a great genre director.  I know Breck Eisner has been on the scene for a while now, but as enjoyable-in-a-fluffy-way SAHARA was, I’ve seen nothing from Eisner that screamed he’d be the right match for this material.  His “FEAR ITSELF” episode didn’t exactly help expectations for THE CRAZIES either, yet here we are with one of those rare, dime a decade remakes that just hums with quiet efficiency.  The plot of THE CRAZIES may be simple in description, but that’s not to say it lacks complexity.  In turn, Eisner was able to balance the delicate character work with the requisite quotients of gore and spectacle one expects from a studio horror movie.  I’ll not get into specifics so as to avoid spoilers, but there are three big sequences here that are guaranteed to get the audience squirming and buzzing in all the right ways.  And that’s not to mention the myriad of smaller gags, thrills, and earned (but not cheap) jump scares that contribute to the consistent aura of doom that hangs throughout.

THE CRAZIES is the kind of horror movie that just sneaks up on people.  Even though I’ve sung its praises quite strongly here, I wager you’ll still be surprised by how uniformly good it is.  Even as you read these words, I bet you’re thinking, “Nah, it can’t be all dead on, can it?”  Well, it can.  I’m honestly having a hard time finding anything all that negative to say about the whole production.  THE CRAZIES is just fantastic; a kind of mini-wonder that doesn’t come along all that often.  Please see this movie, good horror is too rare to neglect at the box office.

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  1. February 26th, 2010 | 9:12 am | #1

    I loved the movie and I agree that every horror fan should go see it, but I think you’re whitewashing over a handful of issues.
    Zero moments where you ask why the character would do that? I counted a few including turning your back on an armed and known infected person and leaving your unarmed wife TWICE with a “wait here, I’ll be right back” before going to explore a sketchy area that shockingly ends up being filled with baddies.
    They also used the cheap jumpscare of a hand on a shoulder TWICE when it was just someone saying Hi.
    They also had way too many ‘just in the nick of time’ scenes of someone getting saved.
    That said, I still love it. I even compared it to Hurt Locker in my FSR review. Scary, creepy, tense, fun, well acted, great score, fantastic effects… definitely worth seeing.

  2. February 26th, 2010 | 9:45 am | #2

    Fair points, but for me I didn’t think any of those moments particularly lacked motivation on the part of the characters. When I think of “why would they do that?” moments, I think of movies that have characters willfully ignoring the pleas of those around them, which never really happens in The Crazies.

    As for hand jumpscares, they didn’t really bother me because they didn’t grate on the senses. They weren’t accompanied by nerve-jangling dogs barking or ear piece music cues (Fuck you, Wolfman).

  3. February 26th, 2010 | 10:02 am | #3

    You are one suave and convincing motherfucker Peter S Hall, and I’d follow you through the hell of an uncomfortably warm room.

    But I don’t know what this –> “characters willfully ignoring the pleas of those around them” <– means exactly. Please elucidate.

  4. February 26th, 2010 | 12:54 pm | #4

    I’m talking about the typical scene of two characters having a conversation when person A sees something and starts slowly reacting without responding to person B wondering wtf is going on. I can’t stand that in movies.

    The Crazies borders on a few of those moments, but it handles them in a much more adult way. The characters actually say what has them so scared and react accordingly.

  5. Matt J.
    February 26th, 2010 | 4:10 pm | #5

    I think I am one of the few people that honestly enjoyed the original The Crazies, first saw in a drive in when I was 12. It was a Romero double feature, Night of the living Dead and Crazies freaking sweet! I was very worried about this remake when I first heard about it little over a year ago. I will be seeing this one this weekend.

  6. February 26th, 2010 | 9:48 pm | #6


  7. hansulu
    February 27th, 2010 | 8:09 pm | #7

    Per your recommendation I plunked down my dollars and saw the movie today. I enjoyed it. It wasn’t anything special but I had a good time. I must say, Hunter hit at all the issues I had with the film. It is flawed. Especially with the nick of time saves. After the first couple I became desensitized to the scary scenes because I knew someone would save the day before anything really bad happened. That and the silly leaving the wife alone multiple times aside, it had a great setup, creative dialog and a believable cast. I also am a sucker for a good sheriff and deputy team in horror.

  8. February 27th, 2010 | 9:21 pm | #8

    I, much like Matt, enjoyed the original but this is still one of the best remakes I’ve seen. That ending was a little much though but the movie was good enough to let me ignore that.

  9. February 28th, 2010 | 6:43 pm | #9

    A lot of times I wondered how someone died from this, or why didn’t they die from this. The car wash and the truck driving scene really threw me off, because I was enjoying it and then suddenly that happened and it’s like “…what?”

    That said, definitely one of the movies that I went to see without coming out disappointed.

  10. March 6th, 2010 | 12:20 pm | #10

    Hearing such praise for a remake is both rare and encouraging. I will be sure to pay out the “deserving coin” and go see this at my first available opportunity.

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