It is rare to find a movie remake that may actually be better than the original, but the new version of The Crazies is very good indeed. First filmed by George Romero in 1973, the original film has become a bit of a cult classic and is very good itself. The original version, filmed as a reaction to the Vietnam War as well as Romero’s long-standing fear of government interference, was an effective, paranoia-inducing thriller. The newest version also succeeds in commenting upon government screw-ups and interference with the ordinary man while also conjuring eerie feelings of voyeurism and paranoia through the use of technology that Romero could only dream of in 1973, such as satellite photos and listening devices.
Timothy Olyphant plays Pierce County, Iowa, Sheriff David Dutton who is married to Radha Mitchell’s character, Dr. Judy Dutton, a small-town doctor. The sheriff has a loyal deputy, Russell Clark. The film opens with a community baseball game. As the game is underway, the town drunk hops the outfield fence and walks toward the infield carrying a shotgun. Sheriff Dutton confronts the man, whom everyone in this small town knows, but is forced to shoot and kill him when he is threatened by the shotgun. Thus the strange events begin.
Events rapidly deteriorate as another well-known and harmless man mysteriously falls ill only to be turned into a raving lunatic with an urge to kill. About this time, a corpse is found by some hunters in the local swamp, with a parachute still attached to it. When this is reported, it triggers Deputy Clark’s memory of a strange tale he heard the week before about a crash in swamp. He dismissed the story at first as a prank, but on second thought, the two-man police force decides to investigate this story. All too late, they locate a submerged plane in the swamp and Sheriff Dutton starts suspecting there may be a government cover-up. After all, when a plane goes down, it always makes the news; however, this plane went down right in their back yard and there was no mention of anything in the news reports. He does some more investigating and decides that he needs more help than he has in the small town. But by the time he reaches his wife, the military has swept in to quarantine the entire town.
In what is eerily similar to a Nazi concentration camp selection process, the entire population of the town is rounded up and separated into two groups: those who aren’t sick and those who may be sick. Dr. Dutton is taken away when it is discovered she is running a fever, triggering her husband and his deputy to sneak out of the containment area to try and help her escape. Along the way, they pick up Dr. Dutton’s teenaged secretary and her boyfriend. As the group tries to make their way out of the containment zone, they must face cold-hearted military personnel trained to kill without a thought, crazy, virus-plagued townspeople who want nothing more than to kill them, and, as the tension mounts, the realization that some of them may be sick and it’s just a matter of time before they turn on each other.
As mentioned above, the film does a terrific job of making the viewer feel like they are being watched. We see satellites homing in on specific and minute targets, we hear the radio crackling with barely-understood instructions to soldiers who are on the prowl, and we see the “crazies” stealthily tracking down our heroes, ready to puncture their chests with pitchforks if they aren’t careful. The interesting camera angles only add to the paranoid, voyeuristic atmosphere of the film.
There are plenty of scares here, with a great deal of tension and creepy set pieces. The director did a good job of milking a scene for every drop of anxiety he could wring from the viewer. There is no doubt that bad things are going to happen, but it’s the fact that the audience doesn’t know when or where the threat is coming from that is the source of the tension. There is some blood, but this is not a particularly gory film. And the tension mounts even more as the group of rebels continues to shrink as they are picked off either by the military or by the crazies. As the group continues to shrink, they soon realize that one of their own might be sick. As the suspicion continues to mount, so does the anxiety.
Who will survive this biological catastrophe gone awry? Will anyone make it out alive? The Crazies is a taut little film that delivers the goods on the fear scale. It is effective without the continual use of extreme gore and it had me on the edge of my seat. My one real complaint is that the small-town sheriff, who also happens to be awfully young, was able to connect the dots and figure out what was happening so quickly. The character was able to make connections that only a government conspiracy-theorist would consider, and the sheriff did it with very little evidence. He seemed too smart and experienced for being so young and living is such a small town. But I suppose a little leniency with these plot conventions are needed so the viewer can be treated to the real meat of this movie, which is the cat-and-mouse chases between the soldiers, the crazies and the protagonists.
Overall, I thought this was a great film that may have succeeded in being better than the original. There were several creepy and effective scenes as the crazies tracked different members of the group and plenty of action as the protagonists fought off both soldiers and crazies. It was very enjoyable and I would definitely recommend seeing this film if you like your horror films high on the chill factor and low on the gore factor.