I dug it in theaters, and I dug it again at home. While it’s not going to reinvent the genre, Breck Eisner’s update of George Romero’s (also imperfect) The Crazies is, like the Dawn of the Dead remake, an action movie version of the original horror tale, with much of the social commentary stripped to the bone in favor of scares (many of which are effective) and big action sequences. Two different approaches to the same story, both with merit.That story is fairly simple: a plane carrying a powerful bio-weapon crashes into a river that fuels the town’s water supply, turning everyone who drinks it into a zombie-esque rageaholic. There is no other way of being infected (therein lies the “it’s not a zombie movie” argument), it all depends on whether or not you drank the water. Thus, after the initial signs of panic (and a quarantine), it becomes a bit of a Thing type scenario where you’re not sure if someone is infected or not. On a 2nd viewing, I found I would have probably liked a little more of that, but on the flipside, such scenarios can also lead to inconsistent plotting, with people turning “bad” much quicker than others just for the sake of a cheap scare.
It’s also the rare modern horror film (a remake at that) that favors adults over teens. Even the largely great 2004 Dawn had two teens that somehow managed to outlive grown adults (including trained officers). But here, our primary characters are three adults and one young lady (Friday the 13th’s Danielle Panabaker), and she’s given the least amount of screen time. They also hired capable actors giving good performances, instead of say, Idris Elba literally mumbling and sighing his way through Prom Night. I’ve been a fan of Tim Olyphant for years, and I like that he has finally managed to take on lead roles after countless supporting roles in big budget stuff like Gone in 60 Seconds (thanks, Deadwood!). He’s got a slight Nic Cage-y quality to him, where he manages to take generic lines and situations and turn them into memorably quirky moments, such as in the car wash scene when his wife (Radha Mitchell, another welcome presence) reiterates their need to find a road out of town.
And it goes without saying that the action/scare scenes make for a top notch Blu-ray experience. Anchor Bay always delivers A+ transfers, and this is no exception. The car wash sequence is a particular highlight, as the strong video transfer handles the watery visuals with ease (water is famously one of the hardest things to compress for disc), making those POV shots of infected folks making their way toward the car (which is gradually being covered with soap, preventing them from seeing what is happening) all the more terrifying. Of course, with a great transfer comes poorer looking FX shots – the truck “race” at the end of the film looked cartoonish in theaters, and it looks even worse now, as you can see parts of Olyphant’s face disappearing into the green-screened backgrounds, and the explosions that come later give the thing all the realism of a PS2 cutscene. On the audio side, Mark Isham’s Carpenter-esque score sounds terrific throughout, as does the sound mix on the quieter, suspense driven scene, such as when they first enter the truck stop during the film’s climax.
The disc comes loaded with about 90 minutes of extras as well, most of which are worth a look. There’s a pretty standard making of that covers everything in quick “detail”, but everything else is a cut above the usual marketing-driven fluff. There’s a nice piece about George Romero’s contributions to the genre, featuring new interviews with Don Coscarelli, Uncle Creepy, and Ryan Rotten, as well as some cast and crew from the Crazies remake obviously taken on set. It covers Crazies as well as his Dead films, discussing his tendency to make his horror films socially aware. It’s oddly lacking clips from Dawn and Day though, opting for stills instead of footage (both films are Anchor Bay titles), though of course the perennial public domain favorite Night is well represented. Then there are not one but TWO looks at the creation of the infected makeup; the first mostly covers the inspiration for the look (mainly rabies and tetanus victims), the second goes deep into the process of making someone up, from matching the skin color of the actor to adding appliances that can be manipulated just as easily as skin so that the actor can move normally. FX geeks will love this stuff, because it’s all practical, instead of watching a guy make a monster on his laptop. CGI is also represented, however, in a wordless “before and after” look at the progression of some of the FX shots, such as the great reveal of the plane in the water. Some trailers and two (of the four) motion comics round things out. The motion comics flesh out some of the back-story and experiences of minor characters, but they aren’t particularly necessary (nor are they as well produced as the Watchmen motion comics that came out in advance of the feature film – those set the standard for such things, in my opinion), and you can watch all four online for free, so I’m a bit puzzled by their inclusion. And as always, there’s a digital disc so you can enjoy the film on the tiniest screens you own.
And then of course there’s an audio commentary by Eisner, sadly joined by no one. To me, the best commentary tracks are the ones with a few people chatting their recollections and making fun of each other, but as far as solo tracks go it’s not too bad. He repeats a lot of the same information that’s on the other bonus features, but there’s a lot of other information to learn, such as the difficulty in finding a location for the finale, as truck stops by law are open 24 hours and they didn’t have the money/time to build a fully functioning one as required for the story, as well as pointing out some of the subtle homages to the original. He also hints at an alternate ending that “will be on the DVD” (it isn’t) and points out the credit for a ‘producer’ whom he had never met, so that’s kind of amusing. All in all, a pretty standard track; if you hated the film it won’t change your mind about it, and if you really dug it you’ll enjoy spending more time with it.
As I’ve said countless times, the best remakes are the ones that borrow the basic concept and little (or nothing) else. It’s not really fair to compare the two films, as both work as intended by their respective filmmakers who set out to make completely different versions of the story (as opposed to say, Nightmare on Elm St, which copied as much from the original as they possibly could without giving a thought to whether or not it still made sense within the context of what little they DID change). If you’re a kneejerker who hates any and all remakes, then have fun with your moronic approach to movies. For everyone else, they should find much to enjoy in this flick, and the generous supplements make the package all the more enticing.
Film score 8/10
AV Score: 9/10
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House Mother (Short Film) - Written and Directed by Andrew Bowser
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