Remake of ‘The Crazies’ plays on still-relevant fears (with a little beefcake)
3.5 out of 5 Stars
with Timothy Olyphant, Joe Anderson, Radha Mitchell.
Rated R. 100 mins.
Now playing in wide release.
A small Midwestern town. A middle-aged woman riding in circles on a child’s bicycle, singing church hymns. A full-service automated car wash.
Yep, all the classic elements are in place for one helluva scary movie.
In a glut of horror remakes — some good (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), some not-so-good (Friday the 13th) and some yet to be seen (Piranha 3-D, anyone?) — The Crazies is a solid reinterpretation of the often-overlooked 1973 George A. Romero film. When the citizens of Ogden Marsh, Iowa start acting a little off their rockers, it’s not immediately apparent why (though lack of a good sushi bar and Nordstrom could be partly to blame).
When the sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) discovers that the good townfolk are becoming crazed killers due to a biological weapon that has leaked into the water supply, it’s a race against time to stop the contagion. The cop’s pregnant wife, town physician Judy (Radha Mitchell), her assistant Becca (Danielle Panabaker) and his deputy (Joe Anderson) band together to escape once the number of crazies increases. Then the military invades the town and goes on its own murder spree in an attempt to contain the outbreak, as well as cover up its responsibility for it.
What makes the movie so much fun is that it’s not just a game of cat-and-mouse, but cat-and-cat-and-mouse. Not only are the sheriff and his gang warding off their demented neighbors, but the U.S. government personnel as well. And then there’s the part about becoming infected themselves. All I know is, I probably would’ve given up to the guy with the penchant for the pitchfork-poking and called it a life. Escaping from killers requires too much cardio.
A fair motivation for seeing The Crazies is the faint hope of Olyphant having to strip naked as the only way to prevent infection, but alas, the writers missed an easy way to further justify the R rating and guarantee the gay man/straight woman box office dollar. However, he does rock that police uniform, and what is that, a 28-inch waist?
Happily, there was more to the movie than simply being a vehicle for possibly satisfying my unrealistic fantasies. It did exactly what it (and any horror movie should) set out to do: shock, scare and create new everyday locations to dread.
Many moviegoers developed a fear of water thanks to Jaws, Japanophobia because of Godzilla and a flat-out refusal to trust Jennifer Aniston after Leprechaun. But we now have The Crazies to thank for bringing terror to the car wash. In the film’s greatest and most intense scene, a car wash becomes a symbol of claustrophobic helplessness while the culmination of everything at stake becomes abundantly clear to our beloved protagonists.
The timing of the movie’s release couldn’t be better, with fears of pandemic outbreaks still fresh in people’s minds and the ever-present, "what if?" scenarios of biological weapons deployment against the United States. The fact that the movie has a hint of this-could-really-happen makes it more frightening than if the people were possessed by demons instead of a manmade toxin. Even if the movie itself doesn’t scare you, the concept behind it is enough to leave you at least a little bit shaken.
And at least for the time being, I’m getting out the bucket and hose and washing my car in broad daylight. Just in case.
‘The Ghost Writer’
A European celebrity accused of a terrible crime risks trial and imprisonment if he steps foot in his favorite country. Is that the plot of The Ghost Writer or the story of its director, Roman Polanski? Part of the brilliance of the movie is, it’s both. This crackling, pensive thriller about a biographer (Ewan McGregor) hired to pen the memoirs of a British P.M. (Pierce Brosnan) is a moody bit of movie magic, full of long shadows, eerily quiet beaches and misdirection. Echoing Polanski’s The Tenant and Frantic, it’s the smartest suspense film in ages, one you can’t look away from.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 26, 2010.