George A. Romero’s 1973 film The Crazies is one of his least recognized works. Most people don’t remember it and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has seen it praising it. Until recently it was almost impossible to find a copy to rent or buy on DVD as well. So why would anyone want to remake it, let alone Breck Eisner — the son of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner?
“I had a strong memory of the concept and of a few primary scenes [of the original] — the woman sweeping the grass, the daughter and the father relationship as they ‘get’ together, and the guy at the end being lifted into the helicopter naked. More than anything the thing that was in my mind was the concept of your friends and family and people you know and love best turning on you. That was the terrifying and terrific idea that sat in my mind over the years,” he says.
The Crazies deals with a small town that has their water supply contaminated after a plane carrying a special vaccine crashes nearby. The townspeople are infected and become increasingly violent and murderous leading to the military being called in to quarantine the area. Filming a movie this big on a limited budget posed many challenges.
“When Romero made his he had $220,000 which is insanely low,” Breck states. “We had a significantly higher budget but in terms of making movies today it’s a low-budget movie. We didn’t have time for things to go wrong. When that car explodes…that took three hours to rig and that was a devastatingly long period of time in the budget. We were always adapting and changing and evolving on set. We never really had time to do everything we wanted to do, and had to figure out ways to get it done. It’s a road movie — a lot of sets, a lot of places, and a lot of set pieces. That stuff takes time and time was our biggest enemy.”
Breck admits he’s impressed when someone tells him they’ve seen the original and believes the small number of fans it has will enjoy his approach. He says even Romero approves.
“I feel confident that people who do know it and do like it will respond [to] and enjoy the new version. I spoke with [Romero] after he saw the movie and he was quite pleased,” he says.
He also hopes his is remembered for years to come as a lot of time and effort went into it.
“It seems that there’s so many things that get lost and forgotten. I just hope it’s a movie that strikes a chord in the audience and sits for a while.”
Although Breck doesn’t want to build his career on remakes, he is taking on the iconic Flash Gordon character next but is adamant it’s not a retelling of previous adaptations.
“It definitely is not a remake of any version that’s been done before. It has no connection to the ’80s version and is not camp in any way. It’s also not connected to the serials. It goes back to the Alex Raymond [the creator of Flash Gordon] period of the comics as the source material and imagining it as if those comics were drawn today and not in the ’30s and ’40s. It’s adventure, it’s sci-fi, it’s aggressive, it’s intense, it’s a strong character piece but it’s definitely an action-adventure film and not tongue-in-cheek,” he says.
As for the reaction he wants to get out of his telling of The Crazies he hopes that people get the message he’s trying to tell but also enjoy the film.
“It’s not a heavy message but it is a message movie. I think any good genre movie is allegorical and does have a message in it and has a reason to be made. The post-9/11, post-George Bush-Iraq War world that we live in is one that the movie comments on and I hope people see that in it. But I really hope people enjoy the ride of the movie and the message comes from the enjoyment of the experience.”
The Crazies is in theatres February 26.