The horror genre is something that I feel has been dying a long and slow painful death as of late. We’re forced to submit to waves of shitty remakes crash against the rocks again and again, in the hopes that something decent might break through. When we do find something worthwhile in the genre, it’s usually in the form of an indie film with a minuscule release, or a foreign movie neglected because we’re all too lazy to read. It’s rare that a mainstream American horror film ends up actually being worthwhile.
The Crazies, though a remake itself, is a completely surprising and well-made horror effort that offers a clever new twist on the classic zombie genre. It’s tense, and genuinely frightening at times, and actually surpasses its original film in terms of quality.
The small farm town of Ogden Marsh turns from a picture of serenity to a burning, murderous hellhole in under forty eight hours. It all starts with a few townsfolk acting a bit off, turning mute and then unleashing unrepentant violence on their friends and families. The madness soon spreads and town sheriff David (Timothy Olyphant) and his wife, the local doctor, Judy (Radha Mitchell), must gather as many of their friends as they can and escape the nightmare.
However, when the source of the pandemic is revealed to be government created (trust me, not a major twist in the film), the majority of the movie involves both the evasion of their demented neighbors, but also teams of US soldiers, sent in to contain the infection by any means necessary, and unfortunately their means usually involve lots of automatic weapons fire and flamethrowers. It’s a movie that where you look at where it starts and where it ends, you’ll hardly even believe where you end up by the finale.
“Don’t be alarmed, we’re just here to cure you. With fire.”
The first half of The Crazies is pure horror genius. It’s a different take on zombie-dom, where instead of being undead and stupid, the Crazies are very much motor-functional, as you’ll see by their propensity to problem solve and use a vast array of power tools. Seeing a father burn his own family alive, or a school principal impale helpless patients at a makeshift hospital makes for some truly terrifying moments.
I had an interesting thought during these parts of the film, that this is what M. Night Shyamalan’s disastrous The Happening should have been. Sure, these folks are homicidal rather than suicidal, but it’s similar behavioral patterns, but instead of being laughable, the film is generally pretty terrifying and unnerving. Maybe it’s that Timothy Olyphant can act circles around Mark Wahlberg, and government experiments trump evil, vengeful plants, but The Crazies really is the movie that The Happening aspired to be.
One of the scariest scenes I’ve seen in recent memory.
But once the second half of the film comes around, and the focus shifts from combat to escape, the pace of the thing slows way, way down, as we’re treated to long stretches of the survivors trudging through fields, avoided army patrols and suffering from exhaustion. Sure, every so often, they’ll throw in a zombie encounter to wake you up, but it feels a bit forced, like one particular car wash scene that effectively preys on every four-year-old’s greatest fear (those things did used to be terrifying), but really only seems like a time filler.
It’s also unfortunate the movie feels the need to modify the disease for the sake of the plot as time goes on. In the beginning, once the Crazies are infected, the behavioral change is instant, they become spaced out, and eventually completely mute and murderous. But later in the film, the line between infected crazy and regular crazy is blurred, and anyone acting jumpy is now suspect of having the virus. Infected people talk, and make threats and are paranoid, giving justification for their murderous rampages. You might explain this away as tangential madness being brought on by the ACTUAL infected, but once the veins start bursting out of their faces, you know the movie wants you to think they’ve legitimately got the bug. It’s a completely different set of symptoms from what was set up at the film’s outset, and though it does move the plot forward, it just seems very inconsistent and it bothered me quite a bit.
Just take a little Robitussin and that’ll knock that right out.
But really, that’s a pretty minor gripe, and I can’t let it overshadow what is a legitimately well done horror remake. Most new and worthwhile entries into the genre are original stories, so to see a remake that’s actually good is a rare sight to behold, and the last one I can actually remember before this as surpassing its predecessor was Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead. And funny, that was Romero too. Call me a blasphemer if you like, but the man inspires better films than his own, what can I say?
3.5 out of 5 stars