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Monday, June 14, 2010

THE CRAZIES -- DVD review by porfle

Executive producer George Romero's 2010 remake of his 1973 classic THE CRAZIES is tinged with the usual political undertones that he's known for, but that stuff doesn't really mean all that much to me.  (The government sometimes does secret bad things?  Get outta here.  DAWN OF THE DEAD is a wicked jab at consumerism?  Jeepers.)  What interests me is the fact that, in addition to being an effective horror movie with lots of cool makeup FX and gore, THE CRAZIES redux is also a cracking good action-suspense flick.

In an opening that's almost as picture-perfect as the first minutes of BLUE VELVET, we see the idyllic small town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa on the opening day of the high school baseball season.  As young sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, HITMAN) and his lanky deputy Russell (Joe Anderson) enjoy the game, they notice something amiss--a rumpled, dazed-looking man with a shotgun has just wandered onto the field.  It's an old acquaintance, Rory Hamill, but it seems he isn't himself today.  And when he levels the shotgun at them, David has to put him down like a dog right there on the pitcher's mound. 

Elsewhere in town, in a scene right out of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, David's wife Dr. Judy Dutton (Radha Mitchell, PITCH BLACK, SILENT HILL) is examining a man whose worried wife claims he "isn't himself."  Later that night he'll prove it by burning down their house with her and their son Nicholas in it.  David and Russell investigate the growing epidemic of savage homicides and discover a crashed airplane in a lake that supplies the town's drinking water, surmising that its cargo must've contained some kind of mind-altering chemicals.

Sure enough, their town soon gets locked down by scary military types in hazmat suits and people start getting executed and incinerated.  With dozens of bloodthirsty crazies running around and armed soldiers shooting anything that moves, the unaffected characters decide it's time to get the hell out of Dodge.  But will they make it?

The story does a good job of building tension with the initial incidents of irrational murder, some being committed by characters (the school principal, the medical examiner) we already know to be normal, everyday shlubs.  As the mayhem escalates, so does the fear factor, with some pretty good jump scares here and there and some rather grisly sights such as a man with his mouth and eyelids sewn shut.  The worst of the crazies is a trio of hunters who take advantage of their wonderful new lack of inhibitions to engage in a full-scale people hunt in which they bag more than their limit. 

The film begins to resemble Stephen King's THE STAND when the military moves in and starts rounding up the citizenry, holding them in pens at the high school and restraining those who display any possible signs of infection.  One of the most nerve-wracking scenes occurs when Judy,  her teenage assistant Becca (Danielle Panabaker), and several others are strapped to gurneys when one of their former neighbors wanders in with a pitchfork and starts ventilating them.  David has his own problems when the medical examiner attacks him with an electric bone saw and comes close to giving him a humdinger of a circumcision.

One suspenseful setpiece follows another as David, Judy, Russell, and Becca set off on foot to try and reach the safety of a truck stop where they believe the town's unaffected citizens are being protected.  Procuring an old patrol car at the Dutton home (where they run into the vengeful survivors of the Hamill clan), they flee from a passing helicopter by ducking into a car wash where the service is to die for.  And as if that weren't enough, things get even more complicated when one of their group slowly begins to get a little...crazed.

Impressive direction by Breck Eisner and some beautiful camerawork, which makes the most of some panoramic vistas in Iowa and Georgia, highlight the film's impeccable production values.  The story is simple, straightforward, and fast-paced, slowing down only a bit in the second half before the survivors reach the truck stop where the final desperate battle against the worst of the crazies takes place.  But the film has one last trick up its sleeve after that, with a slam-bang finale boasting some dazzling CGI and edge-of-your-seat excitement. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby 5.1 sound, with English and Spanish subtitles.  Extras include a director's commentary, three making-of featurettes, a look at Rob Hall's grisly makeup effects, two chapters of "The Crazies" motion comic, a step-by-step demonstration of how some of the CGI visuals were done, trailers, a photo gallery, and a couple of DVD-rom features.  (There's also a three-part Easter egg, so happy hunting.)

Come for the horror, stay for the action and suspense, and let THE CRAZIES entertain you as much as it did me.  Or not...I'm aware that there are people who don't like this movie.  But who knows?  They may be...crazies!

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