That song and its lyrics — forever since linked to the blazing imagery of mushroom clouds — suggests a kind of insanity driving the pro-military/government mindset of our country. Post-Kubrick, the song intimates mankind’s unchanging, self-destructive nature. We’re always on the brink of wiping ourselves out with some new, high-tech weapon.
Doomsday, we shall meet you again…don’t know where; don’t know when.
This is a powerful and welcome note to begin The Crazies on; one that suggests that this impressive-looking production carries an intention to be the spiritual heir to Dr. Strangelove and Romero’s incendiary original, both of which showcased the lunacy behind international war, and also behind ever-more insidious weapons of mass destruction.
Since The Crazies involves the occupation of a small American town, Ogden Marsh (population 1,260) by the U.S. Army and the contamination of the innocent populace by a bio-weapon called “Trixie” (designed to “destabilize a population“) the tune “We’ll Meet Again” and the oblique Strangelove reference are appropriate and even a little subversive.
So it’s terribly tragic then, that the movie proceeds to drop the ball entirely on virtually every thematic front imaginable; refusing even to take genuine advantage of today’s anti-government Zeitgeist and the pervasive fear (especially on the Right) of Federal Authorities usurping local ones.
For instance, there’s a moment when a soldier blandly informs a citizen “It’s okay, Ma’am…we just gotta process you” that intimates the terror of Big Government/Big Brother or a Socialist State working against its citizenry in a fearsome (but seemingly routine…) fashion. But the film doesn’t push any of this sub-text beyond mere lip service. Almost like it doesn’t want to offend anybody.
Instead, the U.S. Army is present in the picture largely as but another obstacle for the protagonists to navigate around and to assure more action-sequences, including a nail-biter involving a chopper and sanctuary inside a car wash. One soldier even sympathizes with the innocent refugees and doesn’t rat the heroes out when he has the opportunity. I can imagine that someone in the studio marketing department must have demanded that the military not be depicted too negatively in The Crazies, or the movie would be accused of not supporting our troops during wartime, or some such nonsense.
The idea of a citizenry bullied and controlled by its own armed forces and overreaching government was far more powerfully conveyed in the original film (which by miraculous coincidence, I first watched in the year 2000…on the very weekend that Federal Authorities broke into a private residence in Florida to remove a Cuban boy, Elian Gonzalez at gun point.)
Judy — a doctor, mind you — even gazes directly at the nuclear blast; an act that in reality would have burned out her eyes and resulted in total, permanent blindness.
Which, of course, doesn’t happen here…
I find this turn of events disappointing and also depressing. The original The Crazies was an unrepentant taboo-breaker, one that violated the established decorum of Hollywood movies of it’s era in powerful and deliberate fashion.
In the original, the Trixie contamination, for instance, caused one man (Artie) to engage in sexual intercourse with his own biological daughter. In the original, an American priest immolated himself in the town square, and the image alluded to a real incident with a Buddhist monk in Vietnam; thus equating the Army’s actions in Evans City with the War in Vietnam…a leftist and incendiary implication, certainly, for “The Silent Majority” that had just re-elected Richard Nixon in a landslide.
And then there was the film’s final existentialist — nay, nihilist — bent. An infected pregnant woman (and the film’s heroine), Judy (Lane Carroll) was murdered by the occupying military force, and her fiancee, a fireman named David (W.G. McMillan) learned that he was immune to the contaminant. But rather than aid the bullying military (and his fellow man too), David kept his mouth shut…and let the apocalypse spread. Out of revenge, perhaps. Or perhaps just because he believed that humans, as a species, weren’t worth saving.
The original The Crazies also featured Strangelove’s sense of the absurd…of life as a cruel comedy. A cure for Trixie was discovered by a scientist, but the military mistook him for an infected man, and the cure was lost. Forever.
I don’t feel that I’m spoiling anything to let you know that there is very little critique of the military or the government in Eisner’s The Crazies. Rather the film’s anger is directed at the easy target of rednecks with trigger-happy instincts. Furthermore, the pregnant woman survives (and likely carries her baby healthily to term, despite having battled the infected and coming in close proximity to a nuclear blast…).
Long story short: The Crazies is not nearly crazy enough, and certainly not even half-as-crazy as the Romero original of a quarter-century ago.
Contrarily, this re-do is an entirely safe horror movie that carries no meaningful subtext and, ultimately, does the open psyche no real harm…because it isn’t about anything other than surviving another zombie-like apocalypse. Romero’s original film has been thematically neutered here. This movie is but a Michael Bay-styled roller-coaster ride.
What makes this such a sad lobotomy, unfortunately, is the fact that Eisner is clearly an immensely skilled director, and working with a fine cast (headed by Timothy Olyphant of Deadwood and Radha Mitchell of Silent Hill  and Pitch Black ). Eisner stages many fine horror moments and “jolts” throughout the picture, and I can say without reservation that they are brilliantly, artfully-achieved.
A scene in a coroner’s office featuring a bone saw is disgusting and downright harrowing. The now-trademark scene of the Infected Man with the pitch-fork is also wrung for maximum suspense, though the scene’s punctuation is disappointing and predictable: a re-affirmation of the film’s total and utter lack of descended testicles. There’s even a great surprise reveal in a baby nursery that will have you leaping out of your seat.
What this comes down to, I suppose, is what the viewer seeks in a horror film. If you are looking for the equivalent of a roller-coaster ride, an essentially harmless exercise with loops, dips and jolts, the movie is undeniably effective. Still, even on this front, it doesn’t achieve anything that 28 Days Later (2002) or the Dawn of the Dead (2004) re-make haven’t already achieved with greater success.
But if you are seeking a horror movie that speaks meaningfully about your world, and that conveys something important about the human condition — as the original The Crazies did — you are going to be severely disappointed by this by-the-numbers, Cliff-notes version of superior material.
Empty-headed, mainstream remakes of horror gems?
I’m sure we’ll meet again…