Visionary horror filmmaker, George Romero takes another stab at scary film audiences out of their wits revisiting one of his underrated films of the past, “The Crazies.”
Unlike the original 1973 story that takes place in Pennsylvania, this latest version moves the action to Ogden Marsh, Iowa a quiet peaceful town in middle America straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Quiet, quaint and neighborly, one would think that this would be the last place that absolute panic and bedlam would spread . . . well not exactly.
But this is just the quiet before a very peculiar storm. During a routine baseball game, a man literally comes out of right field armed with a shotgun before he is taken down by the town’s upstanding Sheriff Dutton (Timothy Olyphant). Soon, another nearby neighbor locks his wife and child in a closet and burns down their house. Pretty soon, the sheriff and his doctor wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell) begin to suspect foul play.
Their suspicious wouldn’t be wrong as there appears to be a mysterious government cover-up that is behind the strange activity. Within hours, everyone in the town has slowly turned into blood-thirsty zombie-like creatures bent on death and destruction. Soon a brave band of survivors must band together to fight for their survival.
This latest version is directed by Breck Eisner who creates a hodgepodge of a story that isn’t the scariest film nor the goriest but surprisingly effective nonetheless. Unlike the iconic horror classic, “Night of the Living Dead,” this story largely plays off the serene setting to create absolute mayhem. But the main problem with the story is the inconsistencies among the story’s infected townspeople. Some fall into a lazy stupor, others plot and plan on wiping out their former friends and neighbors. They’re zombie-like but not really zombies. This discrepancy creates confusion as all of the action unfolds in this tiny rural community.
In addition, much of the story seems dated with plenty of contemporary horror movies going for a larger gore factor. There is indeed a high body count in this film but the difference is that instead of focusing on death and dismemberment or a high shock value, to borrow a line from Bee Gees, the principles are only interested in staying alive.
Much to Olyphant’s credit, he manages to inject nobility and honor in his town’s sheriff who must safeguard his pregnant wife, deputy and others through the maze of bat-shiznet crazy townspeople and mysterious government operatives to escape. What the film lacks in gore it makes up with old-fashioned 1970s tension build-up and enough jolts of scares to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
Not as fun as last year’s horror-favorite, “Zombieland” and lacking the utter fear and gore of either “Dawn of the Dead” or “Living Dead,” there is a reason that “The Crazies” is one of Romero’s least remembered titles. While it may have been scary in ’73, this latest version is trapped in a horror purgatory, not smart enough for audiences looking for something neither new nor gory enough for fans of contemporary horror films. While the only thing to fear is fear itself, it really is crazy making the same movie and expecting a different result.