Holy Shit, Did You See That Pitchfork?

    “The Crazies” is the perfect movie to walk into drunk, with decidedly low expectations. Another unnecessary Hollywood remake, this gory, piece of “social criticism” by George A. Romero is as useless as it is campy. You know the drill.

    Story goes, a government plane carrying an insanity-inducing bio-weapon crashes near a small town and the disease slowly infects the townsfolk, turning most of them into — you guessed it, “crazies.” Only the tough but caring Sheriff (Timothy Olyphant), his damsel-in-distress wife (Radha Mitchell), and their respective sidekicks have managed to keep their sanity and must fight their way out of town. As they battle their zombiefied friends and evil government agents sent to exterminate the town, each scene escalates into bloody assault after another.

    After the first 15 minutes, during which our Sheriff shoots the first crazy and becomes emotionally tormented by the “murder” he just committed, you’ll realize that, even if you’ve pounded five beers before stumbling into the theater, you’re way too sober for this shitty excuse for cinema. But if you can avoid passing out up to the halfway mark, you may have a change of heart. After watching a dude with a pitchfork systematically impale a series of helpless victims, you may find the gore mildly entertaining, if not just absolutely ridiculous.

    High production value lets this remake shine far brighter than its 1973 counterpart. Eerie ambient music — creepy high-pitched violins (think subtle “Psycho”) and low bass organs — helps predict the scary parts, hinting to an inevitable “pop-out and scare” moment, or a fadeout to nervous silence.

    It is the grisly attacks accompanied by their insidious instrumental build-up that overshadow the unoriginal plot. If Director Breck Eisner’s had a strategy, it could be summarized as “Hit ‘em hard, hit ‘em fast, hit ‘em in the gut and always tease ‘em about when they’re gonna get hit.”

    Constricting camera angles are frequently interspersed with wide, open shots, giving the viewer the illusion of safety. Then the music gets a little tenser and our Sheriff, crawling with a crazy on his back, struggles to reach his gun. Suddenly he gets a fucking knife jammed through his hand. These viscerally churning shots are spread thinly enough and well concealed to the point that they never feel like a gimmick.

    Not that anyone would mind, but all four main characters are essentially horror archetypes. Olyphant plays a solid, tough-but-caring leader, but he and Mitchell lack any kind of real chemistry — their only believable emotions are fear and anger, though they make many painful attempts to go beyond that. Our sidekicks are equally uninteresting: A deputy (Joe Anderson) filling the role of “Guy Who is Negatively Affected by Stress of the Horror Situation Before He Redeems Himself,” and a nurse (Danielle Panabaker), playing the “Innocent and Perky Female who Randomly Ends Up With the Heroes So She Can Die in a Surprising Way Later in the Film.” The latter I’m sure will win an Academy Award for “Most Awesome Death Scene Involving Zombies and a Car Wash,” but it doesn’t mean she can act.

    And that’s the truth of “The Crazies” — it’s fun and suspenseful without being amazingly good; it’s unoriginal and shallow without actually being bad. If you’ve got the money and the time to spend on a movie that is mediocre at best, or if the name George Romero leaves you craving for brains, check it out.

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