Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Crazies – Breck Eisner (2010)

Most remakes are not going to live up to their predecessors. I understand that and I've made peace with it.

Romero’s 1973 film is a landmark as much of his early work is so Eisner has some big shoes to fill.The reason I think that film worked so well is that it was obvious, to me at least, that Sullivan and probably everyone else who worked on the film had seen the original "2000 Maniacs." The image of that kid lifting one foot and putting it front of the other screaming "I can’t! I can’t!" over and over has stuck with me since the first time I read it in Jr. High.

Without question, my favorite sequence was the pitchfork in the hospital scene.

Remakes, especially horror remakes are difficult to pull off.
I could probably count the good ones on one hand.
We have Philip Kaufman’s 1978 update on "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," along with Abel Ferrara’s 1993 eminently creepy "Body Snatchers" for that matter.
And there’s Tim Sullivan’s darkly comic and gleefully brutal "2001 Maniacs" which I just adored.
No, "2001 Maniacs" didn't come close to Hershell Gordon Lewis' gleeful, bloody masterpiece, "2000 Maniacs," but it was fun as hell to watch.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Sullivan had a shrine to Herschell Gordon Lewis in his home that he burns candles or incense to like a saint or a Buddha.
Rob Zombie also did a hell of a job reinventing Michael Meyers.
He didn’t come anywhere close to the proficiency or depth he showed with "The Devil’s Rejects," but Zombie’s "Halloween" films both scared the hell out of me and gave me a protagonist in place of Jamie Lee Curtis that I simply adored.
And you have to tip your hat to the greatest horror sequel in existence, John Carpenter's "The Thing."
But as a general rule, horror remakes suck. "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Prom Night," "The Stepfather," "Friday the 13th," "My Bloody Valentine," and on and on and on.
So I didn’t go into this 2010 version of "The Crazies" expecting a whole lot.
And nothing much is exactly what I got.
But goddammit, I was let down right from the beginning.
What with the trailer and its "before our lives end and before our cities are taken over blah, blah, blah... It will begin here" and then we see the guy walking onto the field of a Rockwell-esque baseball game with what might be a shotgun or a baseball bat or something.
I was hoping for a scene reminiscent of Shirley Jackson or something from one of Stephen King’s creepier stories.
You know the ones I’m talking about.
Where nothing supernatural is happening and it’s scary as hell just because of what human beings are capable of doing to each other?
The best example, in my opinion and my favorite story King ever wrote is "The Long Walk," a novella published under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman.
I've read it at least six or seven times and it still scares the hell out of me.
But I digress.
The opening scene I’m talking about was not shocking or horrifying or menacing or even tense.
Fortunately, after that things picked up a little.

Eisner and scribes Scott Kosar (who on the one hand, wrote Brad Anderson’s brilliant "The Machinist" but on the other hand wrote the god-awful screenplays for the remakes of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "The Amityville Horror") and Ray Wright (who really has no resume to speak of) wisely stick to George Romero’s formula.
And please don’t misunderstand. When I call it a formula, this is not a put down. Romero does not revisit the same territory over and over.
His philosophy of horror is that it ought to be a vital part of the social and political debate. This was evident from his original "Night of the Living Dead" in 1968.
Romero's formula, for lack of a better word, or his motif, (I guess I didn’t lack for a better word after all) is that in any kind of crisis like a zombie apocalypse, our fellow human beings are much more dangerous than any monster or mutant.
Kosar and Wright certainly do that here in their screenplay.
With Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, the 2007 Blackwater massacre in Baghdad, it’s obvious that the film is telling us that our rogue and mercenary government is far more dangerous than "The Crazies."
In a scene where our heroes capture one of the military men, he talks about how he doesn’t want to be committing the atrocities they just witnessed, but he was just following orders.
You understand.
The film is comparing the impunity we’re giving those who abuse their power in the name of the ‘war on terror’ to the argument used by the defendants during the Nuremberg trials.
Had Romero written the screenplay, he would have made the same point, but he would have done with more wit, subtlety and style.
Also, in Romero’s 1973 classic, the actions of the military in the film were clearly Romero’s indictment on what happened in the killings at Kent State.
This time, The Crazies is a plea for disarmament. The message is that we have as much to fear from our own weapons of mass destruction as we do from the WMDs of other ‘rogue nations.’
Okay, enough political analysis. What say we move on to the scares, or what little there were.
There were a handful of malicious moments, but they were few and far between and none of them were genuinely frightening.
And Eisner doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor.

Films like "2000 Maniacs" and its remake, "2001 Maniacs" have very sadistic and dark streaks of humor running through them.
And they manage to do so without compromising the unsettling nature of the film.
(Could I possibly plug those two movies more?)
How can you not love a movie where Southern Belles stand in a line and open their umbrellas to keep themselves dry from the shower of blood?
I think Eisner wanted to avoid humor altogether because he was afraid of making something that would be perceived as a parody.
Well, you only have to worry about that if you’re not a good enough director to walk that tightrope. Eisner didn’t even try to walk that tightrope and he still didn’t make a very good film.
It sounds like I hated this move and I really didn’t. My son and I went to see it and it was an enjoyable enough film. Just a side-note, "The Crazies" is rated R and my son is 15, so that gives you an idea of how gruesome it was. Not very.
I wouldn’t take him to most horror films, but if you’re on the fence about letting your teenager watch this one, "The Crazies" really isn’t so bad.
As I was saying, I really didn’t hate this movie. Like I said, infrequent as they were, there were some tense moments.
If you’ve seen this movie, you know what I’m talking about and if you’re a horror fan, it was probably your favorite scene, too.
That sequence was wonderful. It stuck out as a brilliant, sickening thrill as opposed to the rest of the dull film.
Along with a handful of gruesome moments like that, Kosar, in spite of some flaws, does know how to tell a story. And that’s important.
I liked these characters and cared about whether they lived or died which is rare for a horror film.
The most disturbing scenes were of the military killing uninfected civilians. It’s grounded in reality.
There’s no need to suspend your disbelief, there's no safe feeling of 'yeah right zombies, whatever, that won’t ever happen' element that allows you to separate yourself from that fear.
But soldiers shooting unarmed civilians and then blasting their corpses with flamethrowers so their germs would die with them?
Far-fetched to be sure, but unlike zombies and all that supernatural crap, it’s a physical possibility. And yes, I'm aware that technically, "The Crazies" is not a zombie movie, but it's structured like one and it plays out like one, so for all intents and purposes, let's not split hairs.
I think my exact words to my son when we walked out of the theater were, “Well, that was fun enough.”
His reply was, “Yeah, there were some fun parts.”
Then I came back with, “It’s nothing I’m gonna run out and buy when it comes out on DVD.”
And he responded by saying, “Meh.”
I think that sums up "The Crazies" perfectly.
I'm not tagging this movie as 'bad' but the pitchfork in the hospital scene is the only thing saving "The Crazies" from that fate.

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