Set Visit: The Crazies

Remakes get a bad rap amongst filmgoers, and understandably so. Instead of attempting to fulfill the potential hinted at in failed or dated movie projects, Hollywood has proven time and time again that the sole purpose of most remakes is to cash in on the success of the near faultless original films. Occasionally though, there's a glimmer of hope. A quick glance at two of the best horror films the genre has to offer—The Thing and The Fly—clearly demonstrates that technological advances in filmmaking can be used to more effectively convey an older film's story. While those films were remakes of '50s cinema, we've also seen a vast of array of '70s remakes—Dawn of the Dead, The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left—that have proven to be worthy modern takes on dated (albeit classic) material.

The Crazies, due out September 25, is the latest remake to attempt to join the ranks of those films. Based on the cult classic directed and co-written by George Romero, the film tells the story of a small town struck by insanity when an unknown toxin starts turning its happy, law-abiding citizens into mindless killing machines. Trying desperately to survive both the infected populace and the subsequent military response, the town's Sherrif (Timothy Olyphant), his pregnant wife (Radha Mitchell), his deputy (Joe Anderson), and an assistant at the medical center (Danielle Panabaker) find themselves forced to band together if they ever intend on getting out of the town alive.

Last week I was granted the opportunity to visit the film's set at Peach County High School in Georgia, where the crew was getting prepped for a lengthy night shoot. Once there, we first spent some time speaking to director Breck Eisner (Sahara), who explained his stance on remaking the film.

Honestly, any time you do a remake or a reimagining, and this is definitely more of a reimagining than a remake, you want to have target aspects of the movie that they didn't have access to when they first made it. My theory on remaking movies or reimagining movies is that there should be something that they weren't able to do the first time around. That you can do differently. So it's not like just redoing Psycho or redoing a perfect movie, it's redoing something that had limitations. One of big limitations for [George] Romero was obviously budget. I think he had 200 grand or 275 grand to make the entire movie. We're obviously spending more money than that—it's not a big budget movie, but we have better assets so we can represent the government as the scale of the force that it needs to be in a movie like this that is oppressive and realistic for us.

We spent the rest of the evening having the end of that comment proven to us, as we ventured next to a massive field on the outskirts of the high school. The area was littered with dozens of identical white tents, black police cruisers with flashing lights, armored trucks, shining spotlights, military men wearing black gas masks, and best of all, numerous combat helicopters flying right overhead. The scene in question was clearly depicting one of the government's attempts to contain the outbreak, as the masked soldiers were escorting many of the 300 odd film extras they had on set (comprised of nearly as many children as men and women) into various grated vehicles and fenced-in areas of the camp.

One of the scenes we witnessed being filmed was a lengthy single-take tracking shot, which followed Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell as they're escorted off a bus, through one of the tents, and eventually ends with them being separated by the soldiers as Olyphant violently struggles to remain with Radha while she screams in the distance.

In terms of scope, I think it's safe to say that The Crazies won't disappoint, but it's still too early to tell if the film is capable of providing us with something we haven't seen before.

Helping to quell any remaining fears though, we return to Eisner, who also answered a number of questions I suspect horror buffs have been wondering ever since the project was first announced. Let's start with the big one: Yes, the film will be R-rated. In terms of how violent the film will be, Eisner commented that, "It's horrific and it's certainly graphic," but also explained that "It's not a blood bath by any stretch of the imagination." The focus here is on realism over excess gore, always showing blood when appropriate but never going overboard.

Another point of interest was some of the differences from the original, such as the look of the "crazies" themselves. Whereas in the original the infected were visually no different than anyone else, here there are 5 different stages of development—the first being before anything happens, and the fifth being death. The second stage involves noticeable psychological changes, but no physical alterations. After that, the effects become rather gruesome. Massive veins run from their neck up to their face, their eyes are blood-red, and nasty blemishes cover their disease-ridden faces.

Eisner explained:

The challenge for us was making them look interesting, making them look iconic, but not look like zombies, and not look so far over the top that you don't believe that there could be a sickness that made this happen. You'll see when at the very latest stages of the disease, it's pretty pronounced. We just went through these really horrific books of diseases and started pulling from the best.

Seeing what the "crazies" look like was a personal highlight of the set visit for me, since it also entailed examining make-up designer Rob Hall's FX trailer. Inside we caught a glimpse of what Hall claimed was one of his favorite kills in the film, featuring the remains of a sleazy-looking overweight man that's had his jaw ripped clean off. We also saw the dead body of, if I'm not mistaken, the town's mayor, who's had his rib cage ripped open. As brutal as both of those deaths looked though, I'm much more curious to see the events that lead to the prosthetic hand we found getting a knife stabbed through it, which Hall let slip belongs to Timothy Olyphant's character.

Clearly, the quality of gore is another area in which the remake seeks to improve on the original, but the changes don't end there. In the original film, Romero structured the narrative to focus the point of view from both the survivors and the military, whereas this time around Eisner informed us that "There's no military point of view at all."

Any time you go into the point of military, it goes away from horror and it goes to action and 'Bourne Identity' kind of tension and not 'horror' tension. So, to me it was much more interesting being in the point of view of our townsfolk and with the suppressive, nameless, faceless force, i.e. the military, in bio-containment suits wandering around and being the force that's putting them through the terror. That as well as the other infected crazies that are roaming the town.

In addition to speaking with Breck Eisner, we also had a chance to talk with the film's cast. But for the sake of brevity, I'll simply address some of the more interesting things they had to share. In our interview with Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood, Live Free or Die Hard), he discussed how he originally didn't find the character in the script too appealing: "I felt like I had a cliché. We had a wife who was pregnant, we had that, but it wasn't enough." But after collaborating with Eisner, they were able to flesh him out in a way that really helps to strengthen the relationships in the film.

[It's] this idea of being a guy whose father was the sheriff and whose father's father was the sheriff and watching this unfold and him kind of trying to figure out if he took this job for the right reasons and if he's the right guy for the job. And of course the fun of it is he doesn't know why these things are happening. The audience is in on the joke that he's not.

Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill) had a very different type of roadblock to overcome, sharing with us the experience of one of her many physically-draining scenes where she had to bash in the head of a "crazy". Joe Anderson (The Ruins), meanwhile, elaborated a bit on his character in the film: "Russell's not a particularly bright guy, but I think he's kind of driven. He's a little more gung ho and a little more hot-headed than Dutton [Olyphant's character]."

One of the more intriguing bits of info came from Danielle Panabaker (Friday the 13th), who hinted at what appears to be a very cool car wash sequence: "We pull into the car wash to hide from the helicopters. Things go very wrong."

Not particularly revealing, admittedly, but hopefully this early look at what The Crazies has in store for us is enough to tide you over until a trailer gets released in the months ahead. And remember, you can check out the film in theaters this September.