MARCH 1, 2010
While the remake is a full out zombie-wannabe horror movie, the original The Crazies is more of an action-drama. There are creepy moments, particularly one with an old lady and her knitting needle, and of course the concept as a whole is “scary”, but as a whole I think horror junkies would get a better fix from the new one (since, I assume, many will be like me and see the original after seeing the remake, though in my case it wasn’t my intention).
But even though many of my peers HAD seen the original, I think they need to take another look at it, particularly if they slammed the new one. One common complaint I saw on negative reviews of the 2010 version is that we didn’t get a chance to know the characters prior to the virus. Well, guess what - the original begins even QUICKER! Eisner’s film had about 10 minutes of pre-virus stuff, but Romero opens his film with a crazed father immolating his family (a similar scene occurs near the end of the first reel in the new one). Also, since Romero’s film focuses on all aspects of the virus - government, local law enforcement, military, regular people, I actually think the characterization was IMPROVED in the new one, as by only focusing on a few “good guy” folks, we got to learn a little more about them than the original had time for.
In retrospect, it is sort of a shame that the remake stripped the social commentary to the bone, as there were a lot of good ideas in Romero’s film that he simply couldn’t afford to depict. Halfway through, there’s a scene of people attacking the haz-mat types, and it’s suggested that they aren’t crazy at all, but simply pissed off at being contained. I would have loved to have seen this concept explored, in a film that had enough money to do more than one vague scene with it (though I love the small touch of an obviously infected woman sweeping up after the marauding killers).
Speaking of that, I liked how this one didn’t just present virus victims as, well, zombies. Everyone got affected a bit differently here - some turn murderous, others turn into babbling idiots, etc. Not only does it make it harder to tell whether or not someone is infected (again, a concept that could have been explored in greater detail in the more horror-minded remake), but it’s simply more interesting than odd colored folks lunging at everything in sight.
But enough of the remake vs original nonsense - is it any good? Yes, but it’s sort of a tough sell. The lack of resources cripples it in many ways, and not only obvious ones. For example, Romero never apparently had the time/money to shoot master shots of anything, making certain conversation scenes between 4 or more people a bit confusing. Knowing where they are in relation to each other or even who they are addressing is not always easy to understand. At one point he cuts to the late Richard Liberty (Doc Logan!) talking, and I thought he was talking to the character whom they had just cut away from, only to discover that the guy wasn’t even in the same room anymore. On the flipside, this makes certain scenes really feel as chaotic as they are supposed to be, as the constant cutting and awkward edits mirrors the characters’ confusion and frustration. There’s a great scene at the military’s base of operations that reminded me of the “All is going to hell” newsroom scene at the beginning of Dawn, as they both had that “you are there and it is NUTS” feel.
The satire is also a bit too dated. A nameless US President literally turning his back on his people just feels a bit tame nowadays, where Will Ferrell and Timothy Bottoms brutally lampoon George W on television weekly and Stephen Colbert more or less calls him an idiot to his face. A film like Dr. Strangelove has this sort of “The more things change the more they stay the same” quality to it that keeps it from being too dated, even when referencing specifics (the Cold War), but I don’t think Crazies is quite as successful. The “voiceprint” stuff is certainly prescient, however - the cure is essentially destroyed because the scientist didn’t have the patience to confirm his identity over and over. Nowadays we can’t even pay our gas bill unless we can remember the name of our fourth grade teacher (Ms. Soucy, for the record - pay my bill for me!).
Blue Underground’s Blu-Ray transfer is damn near flawless, though I was a bit miffed they didn’t expand the original mono into 5.1 surround. It sounds fine, but it’s a bit low - even a stereo mix would have helped (though I suspect the several scenes of people talking over each other would have been a nightmare to separate). They have included a commentary by Romero (moderated by Bill Lustig) that was recorded in 2002, prior to even the Dawn of the Dead remake, let alone Crazies (hilariously at one point, Romero says that he wishes he could remake Jack’s Wife (aka Season of the Witch), which is one of the ever fewer number of his films that hasn’t been remade or been seriously considered for one). It gets VERY technical at times - at one point they wax nostalgic about certain light models and film stocks - but it’s a good track all the same, as Romero comments on both the film and filmmaking in general terms. He also takes a shot at Armageddon’s editing, which I found both unnecessary and a bit ironic, considering how the editing was one of my concerns here. There is also an interview with Lynn Lowry about her career, though hilariously she doesn’t remember much about shooting The Crazies, so it’s probably the least informative section of the piece. Seems like a nice lady though.
So, like Dawn, we have two movies that can co-exist peacefully, each with their strengths and weaknesses. If you want more full blown, traditional horror, then I’d say the remake is more for you, though advance the genre it does not. If you want something with a bit more to say, even if that message is sometimes obscured by the film’s low budget, then go with Romero. Either way, enjoy some nice paranoia and child immolation.
What say you?