The Crazies first published by EyeforFilm, 26 Feb 2010
In George A. Romero’s original The Crazies (1973), the insanity of post-Sixties America – where soldiers were firing live rounds at unarmed students and the spectacle of flaming corpses and chemical warfare in Vietnam was playing out nightly on the TV news – was contained within a genre narrative about a small town turning against itself after a deadly, madness-inducing virus accidentally finds its way into the local water supply.
Accordingly the film, much like Romero’s 1968 foray into horror, Night Of The Living Dead, employed and reinvented the tropes of horror to deliver a reflection, through a glass darkly, of the troubles of its times. It was a film to be treasured not for its low production values, but rather for the evocative power of its ideas, relocating horror in a place not so very far away from the realities of its own here and now.
That was then and there, but in Bush’s post-9/11 America, civil liberties were again being eroded in the name of national security, old polarisations were resurfacing and the lunatics appeared again to be running the asylum. In short, the time for a remake of The Crazies seemed truly ripe – and yet it proved to be one of the only horror films from the Seventies to be overlooked for a Noughties relapse. Until now, that is, as a new version breaks out in our cinemas at the most irrelevant moment conceivable in the last decade.
It seems unlikely, however, that veteran remake-writers Scott Kossar (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 2003) and Ray Wright (Pulse, 2006) care much, for their script has painstakingly stripped away all the political focus from Romero’s original, while leaving, and indeed amplifying, its genre thrills.
The original divided its attentions between a group of fugitive citizens, a team of underresourced medics and a despairing military co-ordinator. But here everything – apart from the occasional ‘God’s eye’ satellite surveillance shot – is shown from the locals’ point of view, as police chief David Dutton (Tim Olyphant), his pregnant wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), his deputy Russell Clank (Joe Anderson) and Judy’s young secretary Becca Darling (Danielle Panabaker) race to escape the onset of the virus, the soldiers’ concentration camps, and the manic onslaughts of their fellow townspeople.
Their experiences are a series of clichéd set-pieces, as they fend off attacks in darkened barns, the county jail, a morgue, a nursery room, a diner, a kitchen storeroom and even an automatic carwash. Meanwhile, those afflicted with the fast-working virus behave like blank-faced zombies or giggling slashers, and exhibit hideous external symptoms – facial haemorrhaging, necrotised skin – to match their inner decline. Now, with the infected so readily distinguishable in appearance from the healthy, the sharpness of Romero’s allegory is blunted, and the only political subtext to be found here is the blandest, most generic variety of shadowy government conspiracy.
Still, if The Crazies is content just to be a ghost-train ride of empty genre thrills, at least it manages to be a slick affair, mixing convincing performances with plenty of well-handled tension. Indeed, if it were somehow possible to merge the intelligence of the original with the fluent stylishness of Breck Eisner’s remake, the resulting hybrid might come close to being the perfect horror film. As it happens, however, such a monstrous merger, far superior to either Romero’s or Eisner’s film, already exists in the form of David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry and Dan Bush’s The Signal (2007), in which the alienating terror of our own ‘connected’ age is exposed as everyone contracts a dangerous psychosis from their TV sets and cellphones. Their clever and radical reimagining of The Crazies went straight to DVD in the UK, while Eisner’s competent but point-missing Romero rip-off makes it to our big screens. Talk about crazy.
strap: Breck Eisner’s remake ups the genre thrills in its smalltown apocalypse while altogether abandoning Romero’s allegorical political subtext
© Anton Bitel