They’ve got “The Crazies,” and you should too

Trade brain-eating for government conspiracies and we’ve got a gore-fest we can get behind.

Non-infected residents of Ogden Marsh survey the damage.
PHOTO COURTESY OVERTURE STUDIOS.

Non-infected residents of Ogden Marsh survey the damage. PHOTO COURTESY OVERTURE STUDIOS.

Kara Nesvig

âÄúThe CraziesâÄù STARRING: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson DIRECTED BY: Breck Eisner RATED: R PLAYING AT: Area theaters “The Crazies” had me so unnerved about silent, empty spaces that I had to peek into the movie theater bathroom and inspect the stalls for signs of zombies. That’s a sign that a gore-fest is as much a gem as a horror flick can be. The town of Odgen Marsh, Iowa, is a slice of wholesome Main Street Americana. Since there are only 1200 residents, everyone knows everybody, and local sheriff David Dutton (the dreamy Timothy Olyphant) keeps its gravel roads and small businesses in line. On opening day of baseball season, the local drunk wanders onto the field with a strange look in his eye and a shotgun in hand, leaving Dutton no choice but to blow his brains out. He’s got the crazies, and soon enough, the whole town’s infected. It turns out a plane loaded with a government-sanctified biological weapon crashed in the river that supplies the town’s drinking water, and it’s making friendly farmers and housewives commit gory, horrifying homicides. Something’s in the water, literally. Dutton, his pregnant doctor wife (Radha Mitchell) and his deputy (Joe Anderson) are the only residents who seem immune. Once the government intervenes, sending in masked troops who quarantine the infected, they attempt to escape on their own. Of course, they’re thwarted by legions of their neighbors, who seem intent upon slicing them up with a bone saw (the medical examiner’s weapon of choice) or stabbing through their hands with a knife or two. “The Crazies” could have been just another cliché gross-out buffet, but it succeeds because of its slick, careful pacing and heightened sound. When the infected principal drags a bloody pitchfork across the school floor, its slow drag is agonizing. The drip, drip, drip of blood is torturous. Director Breck EisnerâÄôs use of close-ups and herky-jerky jump cuts intensifies a scene in a car wash into a direct poke at the fear gland. This is what M. Night Shyamalan should have done with âÄúThe Happening.âÄù Another strength of “The Crazies” is its impeccable set design. As a former resident of a similarly small town, I can say that Ogden Marsh is pitch-perfect. The radio drones quietly in the back of the sheriff’s office, the buildings and cars that occupy Main Street are perfectly chosen (pickups and Suburbans versus dinky hybrid cars) and they even thought to place a dartboard in Dutton’s shed. Maybe its leads are a bit too thin and pretty to be 100% Midwestern, but it works. Olyphant is the perfect anchor for a film such as this; he’s levelheaded as Sheriff Dutton, but unlike certain heroes (cough cough, Bruce Willis), he does not emerge entirely unscathed. Joe Anderson, who we last saw in the Beatles musical “Across the Universe,” satisfyingly affects the hotshot personality of Deputy Russell Clark. The rest of the cast isn’t important, since they all turn into hemorrhaging, glassy-eyed zombies. (In lieu of brain-eating, they’re more content to shatter skulls or stitch up your eyes.) “The Crazies” is scary on many levels, from its scenes of guts and gore to its underlying message of government secrecy. It wants us to think that something on par with the Ogden Marsh contamination could easily happen tomorrow, and perhaps it could. So hereâÄôs my advice: If a plane crashes in the Mississippi, get the hell out of Dodge – unless youâÄôre cool with your roommate carving you up in the night.