Forty-two years ago, George A. Romero popularized the zombie apocalypse sub-genre with his ground-breaking “Night of the Living Dead,” a film that combined the searing social commentary of political dramas and the scares of bloody horrors. Romero continued to release several other films in the “Dead” series, including “Dawn of the Dead,” “Day of the Dead” and “Land of the Dead.”
However, one film in Romero’s extensive filmography that is generally ignored is “The Crazies,” which starred W.G. McMillan as David and Lane Carrol as his nurse girlfriend, Judy. Set in a small town in Pennsylvania, “The Crazies” follows David and Judy as they try to escape from the town’s inhabitants after the military accidentally uses a bioweapon on the town’s drinking water thus causing the residents of Evans City to transform into mindless, homicidal zombies.
Unfortunately for David and Judy, their neighbors are not the only problem as the government set up “containment protocol,” sending out armed soldiers and bombers to destroy the town.
Romero portrays his disgust in the military through their idiotic and forceful behavior. Soldiers are barely distinguishable from the infected residents of Evans City as both are mindless and dull and place violence as a top-priority.
However, this review isn’t for the original “The Crazies” and instead is for Breck Eisner’s remake, which opened Friday. Shockingly, unlike most recent horror remakes, Eisner’s envisioning of the unappreciated Romero work is what a remake is supposed to be — a homage that both shows appreciation for the original and smooths out its rough edges.
In place of McMillan and Carrol are Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell. The original plot is still there and aside from some minor changes (in the original, David and his partner Clank are firefighters — but in the remake, they’re marshals), Olyphant and Mitchell share the same characteristics as the original protagonists (even sharing the same names).
Eisner also changes the setting of the original from Evans City to Ogden Marsh, Iowa, but this is an unrecognizable change as, in essence, both towns are the same. Plus, Ogden Marsh has a more haunting ring to it.
The one major change Eisner makes is that he removes Colonel Peckam, the deranged military-figure assigned to maintain the infection from the original “The Crazies.” By focusing on the escape efforts of David, Clank and Judy, Eisner gets rid of Peckam’s superfluous presence, which was a negative factor in the original.
However, just like the original, Eisner’s remake is not perfect. Aside from Olyphant, who has always been a talented but underutilized actor, the performances range from passable to downright annoying. Joe Anderson, who plays Clank, comes off as whiny and Radha Mitchell does the same sub-par work that she did in her last film, “The Surrogates.”
The scares are also amateur and rely on the same formula of “orchestral music, something jumps out, protagonist screams.” However, just for the polished story-line and tense atmosphere, this is forgivable. “The Crazies” may not make you scream, but it will maintain your interest.
Usually dumbing down a classic damns any remake, but in this case it works, because Romero’s version was undeniably constrained and borderline pretentious with its all-too-thorny political subtext. Eisner, however, turns down the social commentary in exchange for psychological thrills. Though streamlined, this remake is still surprisingly smart and enjoyable and Eisner deserves to be commended for this alone.
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Follow Mariusz Zubrowski on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ItsJustMariusz.