The scene: Ogden Marsh, a peaceful Midwestern town of ~1,000 where everyone knows everyone and it is safe to keep the doors unlocked and windows open at night. Certainly not the place one would ever imagine a neighbor ruthlessly killing another. And that is what makes The Crazies all the more creepy. When a plane crashes into a reservoir contaminating the towns’ water supply, the friendly folks become maniacal – suddenly turning on their friends and family with ferocious and sickening intensity.
Unfortunately, this remake of George Romero’s 1973 cult classic doesn’t emphasize this nightmare scenario nearly enough as we tag along with survivors Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant), his pregnant wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), Deputy Russell Clank (Joe Anderson) and the teenaged Becca (Danielle Panabaker). Instead Scott Kosar and Ray Wright decide to simply ratchet up the gore factor (which I suppose is now the new barometer for how good a horror film is) and inundate the viewer with jump scare after jump scare after jump scare. Had they infused better the horror associated with watching people you know and love become monsters, The Crazies could have worked on a completely different level.
The beginning of the movie sets the ominous mood appropriately though – Sheriff and Deputy must shoot a deranged resident on the baseball field after repeated attempts to reach him fail. Something is clearly off center further solidified with Dr. Judy seeing patients suffering from a growing level of violent dementia. But nothing screams dread greater than when the government clamps down on the town with heavily armed soldiers dressed in eerie, unfeeling chemical suits.
But once the government takes over the town, The Crazies falls into a typical cat and mouse survival chase — our heroes run and hide from the demented and from the soldiers sent in to kill and quarantine indiscriminately. There are several viciously distressing moments to note during this period of the movie — a car wash ride comes instantly to mind — that are frenetic and reengage the viewer to the absolute craziness of it all.
Reengagement, however, shouldn’t have been necessary. Had the characters been even slightly more fleshed out — Timothy Olyphant acts like a cardboard cutout showing little to no believable emotion to the carnage going on around him and the others fair little better — there would have been an investment for the viewer to care about our protagonists fate. Similarly, during the elude capture half of the movie there is a bit too much down time between encounters with the infected and our overzealous military. Once the decision was made to roughly create a 28 Weeks Later type of movie, then a steady stream of the “undead” needed to be lurking around every corner, effectively upping the ante for every other zombie flick to follow.
Nonetheless, this version of The Crazies is infinitely better than the low budget, campy original. Its set pieces have tons of gore and violence that will turn off just as many as it turns on. But like I said earlier, it takes much more than that to make a truly horrific (scary) film.