“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…” rumbles Johnny Cash at the start of Breck Eisner’s George A Romero reboot.
It’s a good omen – Cash also croakstarted Zack Snyder’s fine Dawn Of The Dead remake and while 1973’s The Crazies is a lesser work, it’s still ripe for reimagining.
Tense, if overstuffed, this is really three films awkwardly but enjoyably combined. Part one introduces sheriff Timothy Olyphant and his pregnant GP wife Radha Mitchell, as the infected townsfolk of Ogden Marsh go bat-shit around them. Part two is all-out war as the army tries to contain the problem. And part three deals with the messy, uncertain aftermath.
Though we learn very little about them – Olyphant does butch sheriff-y things, Mitchell does sensible doctor-y things, and that’s it – the film’s not short of memorable set-pieces to test their mettle. Strapped to a hospital gurney by the militia, Mitchell takes on a pitchfork-wielding killer in a ward of cackling Crazies.
Meanwhile, Olyphant explores the eerily deserted town centre (the sort of scenario usually only briefly glimpsed, while everyone hides out somewhere that’s cheaper to film) before venturing, unwisely, into the morgue.
“Cerebral hemorrhaging? It must be some kind of virus,” concludes Mitchell with an admirably straight face. What works so well here is not the spurious science, but the evocation of a world where the price of life has dropped – instantly – to zero, where sick people are barcoded and contained rather than helped, and where those who are sent to save the day are just as dangerous as those who no longer know any better.
He’s no Romero – or Snyder for that matter – but Eisner more than makes the grade with this exciting update. Seems the Man In Black isn’t the only one whose cover versions are every bit as interesting as the original.
Switching from fright film to Holocaust metaphor without ever relinquishing its popcorn-flick credentials, this is a vivid portrait of small-town apocalypse that earns its place in the annals of horror remake excellence.