REVIEW: The Crazies (1973 & 2010)
Will MacMillian – David
Lane Carroll – Judy
Harold Wayne Jones – Clank
Lloyd Hollar – Col. Peckem
Lynn Lowry – Kathy
Richard Liberty – Artie
Richard France – Dr. Watts
Timothy Olyphant – David Dutton
Radha Mitchell – Judy Dutton
Joe Anderson – Russell Clank
Danielle Panabaker – Becca Darling
Genre – Horror/Zombie/Viral Outbreak/Remake
Running Time – 103 Minutes (1973)/101 Minutes (2010)
If there was ever a list of influential directors in the horror genre, George A. Romero would have to be on it. While his latest films have left a lot to be desired, no one can dispute that 1968’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD changed horror, especially the zombie sub-genre, forever. With his intelligent screenplays and social commentary, Romero turned the monster story into a thinking-man’s platform.
Even though he’s known mainly for his …OF THE DEAD films, Romero has cranked out some underrated gems not dealing with zombies. For example, 1976’s MARTIN, 1981’s KNIGHTRIDERS, 1989’s MONKEY SHINES, and probably his most popular, 1982’s CREEPSHOW. And then there’s 1973’s THE CRAZIES, a film that pretty much bombed when it was released and mainstream audiences had forgotten about until the 2010 remake was announced. With its themes of biochemical warfare and government distrust, THE CRAZIES seems to resonate more these days than it did 37 years ago. But does it still hold up? Is the remake a better film or just pointless? In the official return of “Original vs. Remake“, we’ll see how the two films stack up against each other.
Both versions of THE CRAZIES seem to tell the same story: In a small town (1973 – Evans City, Pennsylvania; 2010 – Odgen Nash, Iowa), there’s mass hysteria as a quarantined is in effect due to the release of Trixie, the code name of a deadly virus. This bacteria seems to either murder the infected, or turn them insane. Because of the outbreak, these cities become war zones as the military [in gas masks] shoot and burn anyone considered a threat. When a group of survivors try to escape, they must deal with the fact that eventually each one of them will succumb to the virus.
The difference in each version is that the 1973 THE CRAZIES is more focused on the military and their incompetence to find a cure and keep the virus from spreading outside the quarantine. The 2010 THE CRAZIES is more concerned with the residents and their struggle to escape quarantine and the virus.
George A. Romero’s THE CRAZIES is a decent horror flick that was ahead of its time. The idea of biochemical warfare is something audiences probably relate more to today than back in the early 70s. Romero allows us to see both sides of this issue: the human side that doesn’t understand what’s going on and must struggle to figure it out in order to survive, and the government side that wants to find a cure while trying to cover their asses by any means necessary at the same time. It creates an interesting contrast, as we see all sides of this viral mess. However the balance is a bit flawed, proving that THE CRAZIES is a case where less should’ve been more.
I think the main issue with THE CRAZIES is the usage of Romero’s social commentary. Now I like watching Romero’s films because there’s more to the story than what we see on the surface. His films are always ABOUT something and once it ends, it leaves you thinking about the message he’s sending out. For THE CRAZIES, Romero was obviously disgruntled about the government and their handling of the Vietnam War, as well as the Watergate Scandal that took the world by storm around this time. In the film, the military personnel come across as confused, incompetent, and just downright shady – murdering people infected with the virus to cover up their mess and somehow eventually enjoying their actions in doing so. It’s gritty, edgy, and absolutely realistic and I have no issue that Romero wanted to explore the dark side of our government. But the fact is that Romero seems to push the message a bit too hard on his audience. We get a lot of scenes where a doctor is finding a cure and going ballistic on his superiors when they refuse to listen or even care. We get a lot of scenes of soldiers and government officials irritating each other with their confusion and lack of action and knowledge, which irriates us at the same time and not in a good way. There’s just too many of these scenes and most of them don’t really move the story along all that much. Personally, I found a lot of them to be boring. I know Romero wanted to create a deeper story than what’s on the surface, but hammering the commentary into your audience over and over again isn’t the way to do it. It’ll just alienate them to the point where they’ll want to watch something else. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD worked because while the social commentary was obviously on civil right issues, the film was still about zombies wanting to kill a small group of survivors. Romero didn’t need to tell us that. We knew just by watching the story unfold and how the characters interacted with each other. The message never overshadowed the true purpose of the film. THE CRAZIES suffers because it’s not subtle in what it’s trying to say. The focus should have been more on the survivors rather than the people who caused this problem to begin with. Let the audience figure out the message. We don’t need it forced upon us. We have the media for that.
Luckily, Romero has his scenes with the survivors which keeps audiences captivated until the very end. Obviously audiences can relate with characters who distrust the government and feel as if they’re victims of their actions and reactions. Sure, the characterizations aren’t all that great to be honest, but they still come off as likeable. Plus, knowing and watching how each one of them starts to become mad is pretty fun. I feel that the characters from the earlier …OF THE DEAD films are more complex, but you were invested in the relationships of these unfortunate citizens through their actions and their thought processes. I mean, that scene where the father seduces his own daughter and eventually rapes her under the effects of the virus is pretty edgy, even for today, and shows the deterioration of not only these characters, but society as a whole underneath a messed up government. Honestly, I wish the film was more about these characters than on the annoying military stuff because I found the survival instincts more interesting than how to cure the damn thing.
George A. Romero is a fine director and makes use of his low budget to create a gritty and visceral film at times. I do feel that the low budget sort of hinders the story Romero wants to tell, but his direction works for the most part. The editing is good and the cinematography is pretty decent as well. The gore sequences aren’t over-the-top gory, but it works in a low budget way. I do think he tried to balance too many sub-plots within 100 minutes because the film feels a bit disjointed at times [was never really sure who were the more important characters here – the goverment officials, the military, or the citizens who end up being despensible anyway]. But everything is shot and handled competently enough and like I mentioned, uses his limited budget in the right away.
The acting is mixed. Will MacMillian and Lane Carroll are pretty good as David and Judy. They play their roles pretty straight and are very convincing as the leads. Harold Wayne Jones is also good as Clank, who really becomes interesting to watch once he goes gun crazy on the military and succumbs to the virus. Richard Liberty, who would eventually play Dr. Logan in Romero’s 1985’s DAY OF THE DEAD, doesn’t do much but seduce and rape his daughter, cult favorite Lynn Lowry [who plays her insanity in a subtle, but believable way]. Lloyd Hollar is pretty on the radar as Col. Peckem, playing a stereotypical role pretty stereotypically. And Richard France as Dr. Watts is so over the top with his performance that I didn’t believe him for a second. If the film had a cheesy and campy tone to it, it would have fit right in. But amongst all the seriousness, it sticks out like a sore thumb. But overall, the cast isn’t all that bad, although it could have been better if the budget allowed it.
Brett Eisner’s remake of THE CRAZIES gets rid of the commentary [which is ironic since it resonates more now than it has ever before] and sticks with a standard thriller about a small group of friends who are trying to understand and escape the Trixie virus and the government officials who want to get rid of them to cover their mess up. For that alone, I was more into this remake than into the original. Would have I liked a deeper narrative like the one in the original? Absolutely. But I’m actually glad the remake is kept to a more single, simplier structure. Compared to Romero’s version, the remake is more basic and focused.
I think an improvement, in my opinion, is keeping the number of main characters to a minimum. We have four main characters in the remake and we’re given enough time to connect with each one. Sure, the character development could have been stronger [name and occupation seems to be the way to go here], but the journey these characters take and the decisions they make tell quite a bit about who these characters are. I think what also helps is that each character seems to have a relationship to the other. From David and Judy’s marriage [they were just boyfriend and girlfriend in the original, plus Judy was a nurse as opposed to being a doctor here – gotta love woman’s lib], to David and Clank’s relationship as Sheriff and Deputy, to Judy’s relationship with co-worker Becca, these are people who know each other well and it’s interesting to watch what they do when they start going crazy on others and on each other. I feel that Romero had too many characters in his version and it sort of watered down the tense and scary nature of the situation. So having less people to focus on is a definite improvement.
I also like that we don’t know much about the situation until near the end of the film. In the original, we’re given a lot of information right away, especially about the Trixie virus. It takes away some of the suspense from the film for me. I like a film to build mystery before giving us answers. In the remake, we don’t really know what’s really going on until an hour into the movie, giving people who may not have seen the original and know what’s going on a chance to figure it out on their own.
I do have issues with the narrative though. For one, Judy’s pregnancy doesn’t seem like much of an issue during the entire film. I would think that if a deadly virus is going around, the concern for my unborn child would be a huge deal. But it’s never really brought up or remotely mentioned during the escape sequences. And it doesn’t effect the character towards the end either. She doesn’t miscarry or even has cramps. Was she even pregnant? Ladies, help me out!
Also, I wish the military presence was more visible in the film. It’s funny that the original had too much of them, but the remake had too little. And there weren’t enough “Crazies” to compensate for it. At least what was shown stayed true to the original pretty much, with the guys in the gas masks and stuff. Plus the very explosive ending [wink wink] was nice to see as well.
The direction by Brett Eisner worked for me. I liked how he slowly built up suspense, which would later bring a nice level of violence and blood to the proceedings. I think the car wash scene where the four main characters are trapped and fighting for their lives is the most tense scene in the film and it works really well. I do think the last act fumbles a bit, with moments that left me scratching my head [Judy drinking water which is probably contaminated and Dave leaving her alone to stock up on food and weapons], but Eisner overall does a good job creating a feeling of isolation and vulnerability. I also dug the irony of the cinematography at times. When things are happy and normal, the picture is a bit washed out. When things get worse, the colors become brighter and more polished. It’s an interesting visual style. I’m also glad Eisner did his own thing instead of rehashing the original. It does what a good remake should do – take elements of its source material and use them in different ways while telling the same story. It’s just a faster paced film than Romero’s was and more about how the virus effected the citizens. I found this version more appealing than the original.
The acting is the best thing about the remake. Timothy Olyphant is an underrated actor who turns a mediocre, cliched role as Sheriff David and turns him into a deeply heroic, likeable character. He has a great presence and charisma that more famous actors lack at times. Radha Mitchell was also good as Judy, even though she doesn’t do as much as Olyphant. But they shared a nice, comfortable chemistry with each other and I bought their relationship. Joe Anderson is very good as Clank, David’s Deputy. His descent into madness is believable and he shares even better chemistry with Olyphant than Mitchell does. And Danielle Panabaker as Becca is pretty much the obligatory four wheel/teenager who doesn’t really add much to the film. But she does what she can with the role. A very solid cast, I thought.
THINGS I’VE LEARNED WHILE REALIZING THAT MY COUGH MAY NOT BE FROM ALLERGIES
– A man murdered his wife and tried to do the same with his kids. I guess this is TLC’s newest reality program: Jon Minus Kate Plus Eight!
– One of the military doctors asked if the clinic had more syringes. If they had first gone to Courtney Love’s house, this wouldn’t be an issue.
– The virus is called “Trixie”. I don’t see why adults were so worried about this. After all, Trix(ie) is for kids!
– The military burns the crazy to erase any sort of evidence of this viral mess. If Beavis is still looking for a job involving fire, he should go to Evans City, Pennsylvania!
– Kathy’s father felt no one deserved to have her innocence, as she’ll always be Daddy’s Little Girl. It’s like Hulk Hogan’s relationship with his daughter Brooke, except with less incest.
– A guy walked on the baseball field with a shotgun. If Pittsburgh had played better, this kind of crap wouldn’t happen!
– Bill set his wife and kid on fire. Someone took Blue Oyster Cult’s “Burnin’ For You” a bit too seriously.
– A buzzsaw stopped just right in front of David’s crotch. That almost took some balls. Literally.
– Some crazy dude kept stabbing people with a pitchfork. That is, like, so HALLOWEEN 5! And besides, couldn’t he have picked a better HALLOWEEN sequel? He definitely lost his damn mind!
– Dave got ambushed by a pissed off mother and son tag team. He’s pretty unskilled for a HITMAN, in my honest opinion.
THE FINAL HOWL
Both versions of THE CRAZIES are worth a look. If you want a more historical, intelligent, and slow building movie – or just want to see a George A. Romero film that hardly gets talked about – then the 1973 original is for you. If you want to see a more thrilling, gorier, well-acted, fast-paced horror flick, the 2010 remake is right up your alley. Personally, I think the remake is the better film entertainment wise, but the original is more thought-provoking. Either way, give either one of these films a shot. They’re the cure for any mental disorder.