George Romero is a god in the horror community. With a legendary filmography, he single handedly brought zombies into mainstream cinema. While most are familiar with the 'Dead' series, Romero has quite a few films that get a fraction of the attention. One of his lost treasures is a 1973 film titled 'The Crazies'. The movie has flown under the radar for decades, but recently surfaced as part of the 'remake/reimagining' era that seems to be overtaking theaters today. What happens when Breck 'Sahara' Eisner is given free rein in Romero's world? Things get a little crazy.
Imagine living in the small town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa. It's a farming community where everyone knows everybody. One day, while enjoying a high school baseball game with the majority of the townsfolk, a member of the community randomly walks on to the field with a shotgun. He looks dazed and confused when approached by the local sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant). After a few words, Sheriff Dutton has no choice but to fatally shoot the man. There is no explanation for the unusual behavior. The next day, David's wife Dr. Judy Dutton (Radha Mitchell), treats another man who was brought in by his wife. His behavior is odd as well and turning worse by the minute. All of the sudden this once peaceful town is unraveling with confusion, chaos and violence. The military steps in. Rather than help, they seem to be covering things up and doing whatever it takes to reduce the spread of this mysterious outbreak. It is up to a few locals to try and deal with not only the military, but 'The Crazies' as well.
The opening scenes in 'The Crazies' are outstanding. The film starts of very strong by unfolding the problems quickly without giving many answers to the odd behavior and violence. There is a lot of tension and genuine fear that helps provide a solid foundation for the movie. When the military steps in, the intensity drops off a bit. While the rest of the movie has a good pace, it never quite gets back to the quality provided in the first thirty minutes. Holding the film together throughout is Timothy Olyphant. Eisner couldn't have gotten a better lead. Olyphant is an outstanding everyman. He loves his wife, cares about his town, and strives to do the right thing regardless of the situation. Sheriff Dutton is the backbone of the film and provides an element that is missing from a lot of horror movies - heart. Another standout is Dutton's right hand man Russell Clank (Joe Anderson). Does he have the virus or is he just crazy? While everyone else seems to be quickly losing their minds, Clank keeps clinging to his sanity. Anderson balances the emotions perfectly and gives another layer of horror to the film. The rest of the cast does well in their respective roles, but without Olyphant and Anderson, the film would lack depth and find itself searching for an audience.
'The Crazies' hits DVD with a 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. Overall, the transfer is nice. Black levels are top notch and there is very little edge enhancement. There is a toned down look throughout the film, so colors are not overly vibrant or detailed. Having seen this in the theater and on DVD, it is obvious that this desolate, muted look is the style Breck Eisner intended. The isolated feeling adds more of a 'horror' element to 'The Crazies'. Don't mistake the style for poor presentation. Anchor Bay has a reputation for great DVD releases and this is no exception.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track can be summed up in one word - aggressive. Horror movies typically utilize the full sound field to enhance the scare factor. This DVD wants you to know that 'The Crazies' are all around. While a great deal of the sound is up front, the rear speakers which typically don't get used much will be thumping with music, effects, screams and more. There is great use of directional activity that gives more depth to the onscreen action. Even with this aggressive mix, the dialogue is mixed well and understandable throughout the film.
Director Breck Eisner provides a full length commentary for the film. The commentary is informative, but not captivating. It is rather dry and not very screen specific. The majority of the commentary covers the development, casting, and ideas behind remaking a film from the iconic George Romero. Eisner really needed another cast/crew member with him to give the commentary a fluid, natural feel. 'Behind The Scenes With Breck Eisner' (10:35) is similar to the HBO First Look features that you'll see from time to time. Cast and crew give their thoughts on the movie with teasers for the movie cut in. If you can't make it through the dull commentary, use this feature as your cliff notes. 'Paranormal Pandemics' (9:40) tells how actual diseases were an inspiration for the Trixie virus. The goal was to keep things less zombie-like and give a sense of realism to the terror. 'The George A. Romero Template' (9:55) is the equivalent of fanboys bowing before a master of horror. It consists of various personalities explaining their love for Romero and how he has revolutionized cinema. 'Make-up Mastermind: Rob Hall In Action' (11:27) breaks down the process involved with transforming Brett Wagner from a mild mannered actor into one of the Crazies. 'The Crazies: Motion Comic Episode One' (14:40) has a style similar to 'The Watchmen' animated comic release already on blu-ray/DVD. The story serves as a prequel of sorts. It gives depth and background information on Rory and the hunters. 'The Crazies: Motion Comic Episode Two' (12:44) continues the story by showing us the events that lead up to Bill being brought to the doctor by his family. The story intertwines with the movie a bit more than the first episode does. Both comics fill gaps that don't necessarily need to be in the movie, but are great extra features for the DVD. 'Visual Effects In Motion' (3:42) shows a handful of scenes from the film, layer by layer, to shed light on how post-production effects can bring effects and atmosphere to an otherwise dull shot. 'Behind The Scenes Photo Gallery' has over three dozen pictures at various stages of production. The disc has with two theatrical trailers and a teaser for 'The Crazies' along with trailers/promos for 'Brooklyn's Finest', 'Spartacus: Blood And Sand', 'Pandorum', 'Law Abiding Citizen', and 'Ultimate Fighting Championship'. The final features are DVD-ROM versions of the screenplay and one titled 'Storyboards: Building a Scene'. Both are in PDF format, so you will need a computer to view them.
One complaint about the original 1973 version of 'The Crazies' is that it can be a bit too slow at times. Breck Eisner certainly took care of that problem with his 2010 reimagining. Scaling back a bit on the social commentary, it hits the ground running and doesn't let up. The beginning of the film is excellent - some of the best horror that I have seen. Once the military plot starts to settle in, the movie loses some of its intensity. As far as remakes go, 'The Crazies' is one that makes the cut. The DVD has good video, aggressive audio, and a lot of extra features that add value to the disc. Horror fans won't be disappointed with this release.