Down with the sickness

Is he infected? Or just handsome?

Is he infected? Or just handsome?

Rated 3.0

I like this trend of directors starting off their George Romero remakes with Johnny Cash tunes. Zack Snyder began his Dawn of the Dead remake with “The Man Comes Around” and now director Breck Eisner uses Cash’s version of “We’ll Meet Again” to kick off his redo of The Crazies. I just think late-period Cash’s wavering, vulnerable voice acts as a nice precursor to zombie terror.

It’s a beautiful day in Ogden Marsh, Iowa, and Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) is attending the first baseball game of the season. While he’s admiring the pitcher’s fastball, an old townie strolls onto the field with a shotgun, and it’s looking like he wants to cause some trouble. The townie used to be the town drunk, and Dutton thinks he can talk him to his senses. But there’s a strange glaze in the man’s eyes, and the confrontation doesn’t end peacefully.

This marks a great beginning for what turns out to be a decent doom-and-gloom pic from Eisner. As it turns out, a government plane carrying a nasty toxin crashed into a lake that drains into the town’s water supply. The toxin makes those who consume it crazy ill, essentially turning them into psychopathic zombies. For much of the film, the viewer has no idea who is coming down with the illness and who is safe. This makes things more than a little tense.

The zombies in this movie aren’t out to eat your flesh, but they will burn your house with you locked in it, or drive a pitchfork through your chest as you are helplessly strapped to a gurney. Eisner and his writers (Scott Kosar and Ray Wright) do a nice job keeping the specifics and symptoms of the disease a mystery for much of the movie. You never really do get a concrete explanation of what’s really going on, just informational bits from the occasionally cornered government worker.

And those government workers make for decent secondary monsters. Clad in camouflage and donning gasmasks, they have orders to round up all the townspeople and execute anybody who resists. So, if one of your infected neighbors doesn’t get you with a pitchfork, a National Guard guy will shoot you in the head.

Olyphant, so good in last year’s A Perfect Getaway, anchors the mayhem nicely. He always has something in his eyes and voice that makes you think he could be coming down with the crazy disease, as does Joe Anderson as his deputy, Russell Clank. You might remember Anderson from his awesome turn in Across the Universe. Here, as a deputy sheriff either slowly going insane or simply crumbling under pressure, he is equally awesome.

As Judy, Dutton’s pregnant wife, Radha Mitchell is her usual capable self. Judy seems to have it together, although her elevated temperature could be a possible indicator of the sickness as well. All of this contributes nicely to the film’s sense of paranoia.

Eisner knows his way around a horror film, and is equally good with psychological and physical terror. He inserts just the right amount of “jolt” scares into his movie, and I admit that his jolt scares made me jump a couple of times. There was more than one time when I was sitting in my seat knowing something was coming, and I still got freaked when that moment arrived.

It’s nice to get a good, old-fashioned genre flick this early in the year, one that provides enough suspense and creeps to totally justify a Saturday night late show. And, to be honest, these Romero remakes are better than the latest Romero films. Diary of the Dead was terrible, and Land of the Dead was so-so. I’d watch The Crazies remake any day over either of those.