CINEMA: I Walked With A Zombie

the-crazies-movie-poster.jpgTHE CRAZIES (2010, directed by Breck Eisner, 101 minutes, U.S.)


This latest cycle of films about the End Times has no end in sight.  Was it the 2002 film from Danny Boyle, 28 Days Later that got this zombie apocalypse ball rolling?  I can’t remember, its been a blur of flesh-eating zombies and doomy-gloomy conclusions for years now, and hopefully there will come a day when we’ll look back at the genre and it will look as quaint and reassuring as a 1950’s Western.

Taking it on the chin this week is the All-American town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, whose citizens begin inexplicably to become glassy-eyed killers. It all starts when a town drunk turns up on the high school baseball field wielding a shotgun. Timothy Olyphant plays the sheriff who guns him down in front of a bleacher of horrified townsfolk and before he can shake his guilt-ridden conscience one Middle-American after another starts their own mindless rampage.

Haven’t we been here before? You bet. The whole thing is a remake of George Romero’s 1973 film, which itself was a re-working of the seminal zombie text Night of the Living Dead.  But director Breck Eisner’s (son of Disney exec Michael Eisner, btw) lean storytelling and eye for everyday places keeps this zombie holocaust chugging along in its own grimly entertaining way.  Eisner’s remake hints at the political depth of the original by making not just the zombies the enemies, but also the military forces — who are trying to contain the contagion and the local yahoos infected by it — who are spotted whooping and hollering at the chance to shoot and loot.  Dodging all theimpalings are the sheriff and his pregnant doctor wife (the always excellent Radha Mitchell), her cute young assistant (Danielle Panabaker) and his slowly-sickening deputy (Joe Anderson, who played bassist Peter Hook in the Joy Division bio Control).  Where Romero’s film was pointedly about the emotional upheaval of Vietnam, Eisner’s remake lacks the guts to put too fine a point on its analogy.  Sure, you could see the prison camp the townies are rounded up as a parallel on our treatment of Iraqis or you could see it as a paranoid Tea Party fantasy; it’s up to you.  Maybe that’s why the original limped through its distribution while the remake will open to millions.

One other thing about this modern Crazies that separates it from the original is the state of modern special effects.  It’s almost hard to believe watching the_crazies_1973_poster_01.jpgthe original today, that Romero’s films were singled out as being the most violent films imaginable.  Yes, they’re filled with violent imagery yet there is a difference in their effect that is palpable. The gore effects of the 70s were more like theatrical magic tricks, horrifying conceptually yet with a blatant fraudulence that demands the viewer engage their imagination to bring the illusion to life.  With the computer-generated violence of the type shown here, one doesn ‘t take part in that final leap of imagination; a knife slowly being withdrawn from a person’s hand is thrust in your face in a way that is more believable and sadistic without requiring any imaginative input from the viewer.  It is the difference between a game you play along with as opposed to a game that is played against you, and the former can’t help but to be more fun.

But complaining that The Crazies is too disturbingly gory is like trying to scare ants away from a picnic by throwing sugar at them.  If you’re still trying to process all this free-floating contemporary dread, The Crazies is a particularly potent and memorable nightmare of societal collapse.   The horror fan in me is pleased that the zombie holocaust genre still has legs but I can’t but help but hope the needling pressure that keeps the genre popular might abate some day soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *