The Horror Advocate makes cases for the under-appreciated cinematic treasures that lurk just beneath your bed. If your horror film is publicly derided, undeservedly ridiculed or generally forgotten, you may find yourself in need of… The Horror Advocate.
In the midst of a battle between the living and the homicidal diseased, the real horror of The Crazies is the innate fear of an overruling body taking supreme control of its citizens with no regard for due process. Numerous residents of the quiet, country town of Ogden Marsh are succumbing to a sickness and turning violent against anyone in their paths, including and especially their loved ones. As the government, being wholly responsible for the accidental release of the toxins, descends upon the town we only see them in flashes — SUVs careening out of sight, squadrons rolling up in the dark — even up through the corralling of the town into quarantine zones. Their faces, covered by gas masks, are indistinguishable and representative of a faceless overlord.
And then the masks come off. Behind these visages, we see there is a human underneath, as confused by the situation as any of our heroes. We get only a couple of brief moments with these people wearing government clothing, within which we see the humility and willingness to help despite the orders they’re following.
In a barn where our possibly infected heroes are trapped, the government search teams scour for their existence. One soldier missteps and is overtaken by the group. They remove his mask and he’s immediately sure that he’ll die just like the rest of the town because now he’s breathing it all in. As an audience, we haven’t been shown this not to be the case, but we have no reason to believe it is so. Just as the lack of information is present within the town’s residents, it is also present in those who have come in to “clean up”. The movie presents not the human at fault for the crisis, but the machine.
The Crazies is bookended with satellite shots from an unknowable source letting us know that there is something seriously wrong with the town pictured. First, it’s Ogden Marsh and the site of the plane crash (Technical difficulties? Faulty wiring? This might not have been the pilot’s fault?) then it’s Cedar Rapids which will now be host to the same “containment protocol” as the first town. We found out from a second government official our survivors encountered that the toxin was a biological weapon, code-named “TRIXIE” which was taken to be incinerated and destroyed. TRIXIE had other plans. Man created something it couldn’t handle and nature, or man’s technological creations to oversee themselves, took matters into its own hands to restore the balance. This isn’t a new idea to the sci-fi/horror landscape, but The Crazies presents the idea taking into account the fragile humanity of it all.
That fragile humanity, exemplified though some horrific gore and tense set-pieces is personified by Timothy Olyphant’s turn as Ogden Marsh’s sheriff, David. When I say that his performance is “unnecessarily” good, I mean that with the best of intentions. Modestly-budgeted sci-fi/horror isn’t the go-to for actors’ showpieces and they don’t need to be! Often times, a good horror synopsis gets people in the seats regardless of the thespian pedigree onscreen. On the page of The Crazies, the character of David isn’t anything we haven’t seen before either. He’s a smart, rugged, yet worried husband and father-to-be who just wants the best for those around him. What Olyphant does, and what makes the performance great, is almost entirely off the page and within his face and delivery.
Olyphant is a man’s man, with a wiry, trustworthy frame and a no bullshit attitude. He knows exactly what kind of movie he is in and instead of looking down at it, he respects it. When a mechanical handsaw comes whipping right next to his face and nether-regions, he believes it and you believe he’s scared of it. This might sound like strange praise to give an actor for doing their job, but the amount of emotion Olyphant puts into his eyes and his drawling delivery is invaluable to a character. His wry sense of comic timing (That car wash scene!) perfectly leavens the stress built up by director, Breck Eisner (who’s next film, Vin Diesel‘s The Last Witch Hunter, opens this weekend), and his delivery of some unintentionally corny lines to and about his wife come off as sincere and heartbreaking.
The Crazies is often overlooked as being a part of Hollywood’s remake culture of the 2000s. Yes, it is a remake. Yes, it was probably brought forth as an idea because it was existing IP created by a master like George A. Romero (who served as Executive Producer here). But there is more to this than the story of its inception. Breck Eisner took what may have been a cash grab and turned it into a very poignant portrait of humanity in its death throes. To add to the mix, the film is awesomely gruesome and features one of the best horror lead performances in recent memory. Now, go ahead and fancast Timothy Olyphant in everything. He would be absolutely perfect for it.