If any horror movie deserves a reboot, it’s George A. Romero’s The Crazies. The premise is still intriguing, but the execution is dated leaving room for improvement. Nowadays, this type of improvement comes in the form of ultra bloody horror reboots that desperately try to one up each other by having the most brutal kill scenes. Rather than rely on sheer gore, The Crazies mixes charming characters, suspense and disturbing behavior to provide a well-crafted and downright horrifying experience.
Everything seems normal in the quaint town of Ogden Marsh. Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and his deputy Russell (Joe Anderson) are busy maintaining order, while David’s wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell), and her assistant, Becca (Danielle Panabaker), are keeping everyone healthy at the local medical center. But that all changes when the townsfolk start to go crazy, literally. Those who were once friends and neighbors transform into violent bloody versions of their former selves with one goal in mind: kill.
Before they can attempt to escape the madness, the military infiltrates the town herding everyone into a restricted zone for sorting. The infected are funneled into the local high school while those who retain their sanity are bussed elsewhere. After the operation breaks down, David, Judy, Russell and Becca find themselves trapped in the town they once loved, being hunted by the army and terrorized by the crazies.
This is the horror movie we’ve all been waiting for. As opposed to the most recent slasher releases, The Crazies doesn’t rely on an overdose of blood and guts to give you a good scare. In fact, director Breck Eisner gracefully conceals what could have been extremely gory moments in favor of leaving the imagery to the imagination, ultimately making them far more frightening. Eisner also does away with the excess of cheap scares. The film’s most terrifying moments are the ones that are the culmination of a marinating process. The scene is set, the characters are positioned and then the threat slowly creeps into the room leaving the viewer more than enough time to recognize and feel the sheer horror of the situation.
The Crazies isn’t a slasher flick, but it isn’t really a zombie movie either. Yes, there’s a herd of humans-turned-monsters, but unlike zombies, the crazies retain some of their personality. They’re not members of a massive mob with the sole goal of devouring flesh; they’re extremely enraged versions of their former selves and have very particular methods of killing. Paradoxically, the film’s human evil entity, the army, does take on the form of a soulless mass. Whether the troops are armed to the tee or sporting chemical protection suits, their faces are covered by gas masks completely dehumanizing them.
These two deadly enemies couldn’t be nearly as dreadful if those they are terrorizing aren’t genuinely petrified. David, Judy, Russell and Becca create the perfect combination of lone survivors to take viewers through the film. Olyphant makes a strong lead and emits a sense of comfort in the midst of the insanity. He’s further softened by his clear devotion to his wife, Judy. Rather than resort to excessive screaming to express horror, Mitchell decides to do so by simply delivering a proper performance. A fantastic but modest dose of comedic relief comes from Anderson as Russell. He’s there to deliver the standard sidekick one liners, but gets occasional and perfectly timed moments to shine. The most helpless of the bunch is Becca, and Panabaker’s performance will rip your heart out. She’s a teenager being forced to witness the extermination of her friends and family, the effect of which is visible through her cowardly tendencies.
There are just two elements of The Crazies that aren’t quite convincing. First, David is a tad too smart. He’s the hero and his potential to save the day must exist, but he puts the pieces together far too quickly. Secondly, minus bloody noses and enlarged veins, a particular trio of crazies doesn’t really seem too crazy. We’re introduced to a band of hunters pre-infection and reunite with them twice post-meltdown. Most of the crazies benefit from a hint of personality, but these three have too much and come across as human psychopaths rather than virally insane.
However, thanks to excellent execution, these faults are easily overlooked. Eisner has created a perfectly paced creepy movie with the power to scare the crap out of you, but permits you to retain your senses. Then, you’re able to digest what just happened and recognize the sheer insanity of the situation making it exponentially more horrifying. Lastly, and most importantly, The Crazies is a terrifying blast. If you’re looking for a good scare, The Crazies delivers big time and, as an added bonus, has a degree of sensibility and depth making it so much more than an average horror movie.