‘Crazies’ remake taps into fears of madness 

The sleepy town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa — the “friendliest place on earth,” as its roughly 1,600 residents are so fond of saying — is about to undergo an extreme makeover.

It begins, inauspiciously enough, with the town drunk, who wanders onto the baseball field in the middle of the big game, armed with a double-barreled shotgun and a thousand-yard stare. From there, things go downhill fast.

David (Timothy Olyphant, of HBO’s “Deadwood”) is the levelheaded sheriff responsible for cleaning up the carnage after madness grips the locals, turning even the gentlest into wild-eyed savages.

It’s a scenario familiar to fans of post-apocalyptic terror, who in recent years have seen humanity turn on itself, with predictably ghoulish results, in movies like “28 Days Later” and George A. Romero’s “Land of the Dead.”

Romero, who helped redefine modern horror with his “Living Dead” movies, directed the original “Crazies” in 1973, and though Breck Eisner’s slick-looking remake seems less concerned with social satire than bloodcurdling chills, Romero’s unsettling paranoia endures.

The psychosis sweeping Ogden Marsh is no supernatural coincidence.

Biochemical bacteria, engineered by the government as the latest weapon in America’s rapidly growing arsenal, has infiltrated the town’s water supply.

The Army’s response is swift and merciless: Contain the outbreak by slaughtering the locals, even those who show no signs of infection.

David and his pregnant wife (Radha Mitchell, of “Surrogates”) are among the few lucky enough to keep their heads, literally and otherwise, as the military mows down their friends and neighbors.

Can they escape Ogden Marsh in one piece? Possibly, but since they face armies of killers on two fronts, survival seems a long shot.

Credit the likable Olyphant for infusing their struggle with the intensity it deserves. Compelled to protect the townspeople from the same government operatives who unwittingly transformed their quiet community into a mass grave, he’s the calming force at the eye of the movie’s storm, determined to preserve some small measure of sanity even as the very concept becomes laughable.

Does that make “The Crazies” a great or even necessary remake? No, but it’s a good one, effectively tapping into our fears of mass madness and viral outbreak. In a time of the perceived, omnipresent threat of terrorism, Romero’s paranoia still resonates.

The Crazies

Three stars

Starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker
Written by Scott Kosar, Ray Wright
Directed by Breck Eisner
Rated R
Running time 1 hour 41 minutes

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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