So a few weeks ago, in preparation for the release of this remake, I watched George Romero’s original Crazies. In retrospect, I’m glad I did, because although this film is unusually good compared to recent horror films, it’s also especially good when you’ve seen the original, and can admire how well they have shifted the narrative, what they have kept and what they’ve tossed, in service of cleaning up all the problems with the original.
So we’re in the small town of Ogden Marsh, where we quickly meet town doctor Judy, played by Radha Mitchell, and her husband, town sheriff David, played by Timothy Olyphant. David is at the local baseball game when a local man wanders onto the field with a shotgun. He won’t respond to David, who ends up shooting him when the guy raises his shotgun. They assume the guy was drunk, but soon get an autopsy back that he had a zero blood alcohol level. Soon after, a local guy locks his wife and son in a closet and burns his house down. David and his faithful deputy, Russell, go out to check a report, and find a pilot who parachuted from a plane into a local marsh. Soon after, they find a crashed plane right smack-dab in the town’s water supply. Why does the toxic material ALWAYS end up in the water supply?
So people are starting to act weird all over. Lynn Lowry, who had a notable role in the original, is seen riding a bike through town as a crazy person. There’s a good, scary scene in a coroner’s office as David is attacked with a bone saw, which at one point skitters across the floor at him propelled by its whirling blade. In fact, we’ve had a few scary scenes in here, mostly of the variety where you’re waiting for something to jump out. Then suddenly—the military invades the town!
The original divided its time neatly between our escaping main characters and the military, so we saw the military's side of the story as they tried to manage the outbreak. This provided Romero with an opportunity to ladle on his anti-military social commentary, but also slowed the story down as the military side didn’t really have much to do. This remake wisely omits that perspective, and we stay on the side of our escaping heroes, seeing the military as this sudden invasion force and with them as they are unaware of the larger picture going on.
So basically it turns into a messed-up road movie as our heroes try to escape the military, reunite after they’ve been separated, and survive the whole ordeal. As it continues, one has cause to note that the script is actually pretty good, and contains a number of piquant lines that linger in the memory. The characters and motivations remain quite high for this type of horror film, and the whole thing generally makes sense and the characters never do anything incredibly stupid, nor does the entire movie ever seem totally stupid, as many current horror films do.
And I have to say there was a moment toward the end when I thought to myself: “You know, this movie is TOO scary.” But after a little thought on that what I mean is that there are a great many scenes in which it’s just a matter of time until something jumps out, and that is not a type of suspense I particularly appreciate—especially as I spend those parts staring at the floor of the theater. And as I thought about it more I realized that a great many of the scare scenes are exactly that—something is about to jump out, and in retrospect I could have used a bit more variety in my suspense, but this is a small quibble. At least there are no pointless jump scares where it turns out to be just the cat or someone’s boyfriend.
So overall, a quite good, smart horror film that doesn’t make you feel dirty or used afterward. And if you’ve seen the original [not really recommended] you can also admire how well this new version straightens out the kinks in the narrative to make a much clearer statement. So big A- on The Crazies.
Sure, it’s quite good and not stupid.