“It’s like being on PCP or meth!” the director Breck Eisner explains. “Ex-girlfriend crazy, most of ‘em!” says Timothy Olyphant. “It’s all dependent on whether your mommy and daddy were nice to you!” his co-star Radha Mitchell decides.
They’re talking about the insanity-inducing, homicide-provoking effects of a military-grade bio-weapon that accidentally infects the water supply of a small Iowa town in the remake of George Romero’s 1973 horror flick “The Crazies.” While they may have different descriptions of what it’s like to become a diseased, blood-thirsty killer, during my visit to the set they are all in agreement about one thing: they’re not zombies!
“The most challenging thing for us was how do we make these Crazies not look like zombies, yet have a signature look that is dynamic and aggressive and memorable,” Eisner (“Sahara”) tells me before filming gets underway at a high school in central Georgia’s Peach County.
Eisner and visual effects master Robert Hall studied Ebola, tetanus and Stevens-Johnson syndrome victims, consulted with the Centers for Disease Control, then added a healthy dose of horror movie poetic license to achieve a look that is at once realistic and terrifying and totally disgusting. I can attest to all of this first-hand, as I spend the three hours after my chat with Eisner in a makeup chair becoming a Crazy myself for a walk-on role in the movie (the full tale of my makeup ordeal and acting glory will have to wait for another day, as photos of the Crazies are still being kept under lock and key until shortly before the September 25th release date).
As darkness falls, the temperature dips into the bone-chilling range, and I finish off filming my scene, the stars begin stopping by one-by-one to fill me in on a production that is still very much under wraps (turn back now if you want to avoid any and all spoilers).
“We’re keeping the conceit of the story that a bunch of people go nuts in a town,” Mitchell says. “And we’re keeping the idea that can you trust or not trust your government to protect you when things go wrong.” But with a bigger budget and better technology, the new “Crazies” is a far cry from the campy, low-budget original.
“I saw what looks like a trailer for ‘The Crazies’ online,” Olyphant tells me with a laugh, “and if that’s any indication of what the movie is, I really don’t need to see the rest of it.”
The night’s action takes place at the point in the film where the military takes over the infected town and institutes a martial law quarantine in which residents are rounded up, examined for signs of the disease and split into various bio-containment zones. A massive collection of extras are gathered on a playing field, getting set to stage a breakout from their government captors. Sheriff David Dutton (Olyphant) is separated from his pregnant wife Judy (Mitchell), who is suspected of having the virus. Inside the high school, soldiers in hazmat suits and gas masks keep watch over the infected. Later David and his deputy Russell (Joe Anderson) are going to bust her out of detention and, along with a local high school girl (Danielle Panabaker), will attempt to escape from an increasingly destruction-oriented military occupation.
Because the infection is getting rapidly out of control. A man has burned his entire family alive. The high school principal has attacked his students. And, according to Anderson, the bio-weapon, a Cold War-era creation nicknamed Trixie on its way to be destroyed before a military plane crashes in town, at some point goes from waterborne to airborne. Imagine “Outbreak” meets “28 Days Later” meets a Hollywood disaster flick.
“The infection is terminal,” explains Eisner, “on a 48- to 72-hour time frame depending on your immune system. You burn hot, you burn fast, and then you burn out completely.”
But before that point, of course, you create some serious blood-soaked havoc. Panabaker, who starred in this year’s “Friday the 13th” reboot, says the terror originates from the fast-paced, anything-might-happen nature of the film.
“With Jason you know what you’re running from,” she says. “You’re running from a big guy who’s out to kill you. With a disease like the Crazies, you don’t really know what’s coming. There’s the huge fear of the unknown.”
What do think about another remake of a Romero film? Which of the upcoming horror flicks--"The Crazies," "Drag Me to Hell," "The Wolf Man" or others--gets you most excited?