A horror legend, fans most strongly associate George A Romero with his defining ‘dead’ movies. Starting with Night of the Living Dead, Romero’s zombie films spanned an amazing five decades. But early in his career, Romero experimented with genres. If you dig through his filmography, you’ll even find a romantic comedy. Among those early works, The Crazies hemmed most closely to his ‘Living Dead’ franchise, sharing similar themes. Though it wasn’t initially a success, The Crazies would later earn appreciation among genre aficionados. Year later, it even earned the remake treatment. Not all remakes are created equally. So how well does the 2010 version of The Crazies measure up to Romero’s vision?
George A Romero’s The Crazies (1973) Still a Potent Political Horror Movie
Like most of Romero’s work, The Crazies was clearly a low-budget, independent movie. You can see it in the production values, gore effects, and acting performances. Of course, none of these factors adversely impact the movie. Moreover, Romero’s story of a military quarantine of a small Pennsylvania town following a biological weapon leak hasn’t lost any relevancy. The Crazies was released in 1973, near the end of the Vietnam War, and the extended US military conflict clearly informs the subtext. Today, with increasing fears around pandemics and accessible borders, Romero’s low-budget paranoia thriller should still resonate with audiences.
The Crazies was released in 1973, near the end of the Vietnam War, and the extended US military conflict clearly informs the subtext.
In spite of its limited budget, The Crazies also wastes no time. The opening scene, for instance, is chilling and brutal even if the execution feels a little clumsy. From that scene onward, The Crazies is a lean thriller. Romero seamlessly blends exposition and action. Characters and relationships are established quickly while still managing to elicit audience identification. Additionally, Romero’s juxtaposition of military containment with his civilian characters’ struggle to survive heightens the tension. In many ways, the low budget belies the movie’s violence, adding a sense of harsh realism. Lastly, in true Romero fashion, the director ends The Crazies on a bleak note, fitting the era in which it was released.
The Crazies Remake Keeps the Story, Drops the Commentary
Though The Crazies earned its cult status, it was still a good candidate for the remake treatment. Aside from a bigger budget and polish, a good filmmaker could adapt Romero’s subtext to contemporary times. And director Brock Eisner certainly polished Romero’s early 70’s thriller with his 2010 update. With a $20 million budget and a cast that included Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill, Rogue), and Danielle Panabaker (Friday the 13th) was far removed from Romero’s indie roots. Yet The Crazies retains the original’s basic story. Once again, a biological weapon is accidentally released in a small town. As the toxin drives the residents man, a handful of survivors struggle to escape a brutal military crackdown.
Outside of the story setup, this version is more interested in lean horror. That is, Kosar and Wright don’t make any effort to place the story in any particular socio-political context.
This time around, Scott Kosar and Ray Wright’s screenplay cuts out the original’s joint focus on the military perspective. In addition, The Crazies remake allows for a slower build-up in its first act. But it’s biggest change concerns the pointed commentary in which Romero engaged. Outside of the story setup, this version is more interested in lean horror. That is, Kosar and Wright don’t make any effort to place the story in any particular socio-political context. Instead, The Crazies remake uses a ‘faceless’ military solely to set things in motion.
The Crazies Remake Still a Lean, Thrilling Horror Remake
Arguably, there’s a missed opportunity in the remake. Nevertheless, The Crazies is definitely one of the more underrated recent horror movies. It may not have much of an agenda, but Eisner does what he does very well. Specifically, Eisner balances jumps and measures in equal balance. Eisner’s rendition of Romero’s opening comes late but is no less brutal. And the pitchfork scene, which featured prominently in the movie’s marketing, is a white-knuckle scene. Consistent with Romero’s original movie, the remake is lean, well-paced, and benefits from a budget allowing for crispier execution.
The Crazies Remake Mostly Does Romero’s Concept Justice
Younger horror fans may not appreciate Romero’s The Crazies. Undoubtedly, it’s a product of the early 1970’s in every way imaginable. Yet it’s also one of Romero’s better, more unappreciated, works. In 2020, The Crazies still tells a very relevant, frightening story. Despite sidestepping Romero’s subtext, the Crazies remake also works as a pure horror roller-coaster ride. Consider it to be one of the better horror remakes produced in the last 20 years.