We talked infectious diseases with The Crazies director Breck Eisner. And learned the great pains he took to make sure George Romero's film was updated correctly. Rule number one: These people aren't zombies, they're alive — and full of rage!
Why did you want to remake George Romero's Crazies?
I was originally approached by [producers] Michael Aguilar and Dean Georgaris, and they had optioned the rights to this movie directly from Romero himself, and they had the first draft by Scott Kosar. The fact that Romero himself had sold the rights, I thought was a major positive factor. I had seen The Crazies as a kid, like 20 some odd years ago, on VHS tape or maybe a Betamax tape. It stuck with me. This concept of the people you love most, and trust most, suddenly turning on you and becoming your worst enemy, it seemed like a very guttural, or gut-wrenching final human fear. It's a fear like when you first start school, and your friends could turn on you for no reason whatsoever. It just seemed like an idea that had relevance today. Yet it was a movie that a lot o people had forgotten about.
Were you nervous taking on a project that was previously Romero's?
For sure, yes. The thing that was most nerve-wracking throughout the whole process was after we were completely finished. I set up a screening for Romero in Toronto and he watched it, and I had to pick up the phone the next day and say, "So what did you think?" That was by far the most nerve-wracking part of the whole experience. Luckily for me, and for him, he really liked it. And had some really positive things to say... I can't remember exactly what he said, but he thought it was a really strong movie, well-directed, obviously different from what he had done. But he was glad to see it because it had been a long time since he made the movie. And he said he thought it was really going to find his audience. Which was interesting for me to hear, that Romero still wanted to have his audience watch this movie.
For people that haven't seen the film, I think a lot of people are going to want to know how it's different from the film, could you explain what you changed for readers who haven't seen the first film?
The original was told in a different point of view. Half of the movie was told from the military's point of view — maybe more than half, actually. And the other half was told from the infected townsfolk's point of view, and the townsfolk trying to escape the infection. When I first approached our new script it still had both points of view. But I really wanted to limit the scale, and tell it just from the point of view of our heroes. By doing the it really focused more on our characters. There was more time to get to know a little bit more about these people. But it was also a way to make the movie more unsettling, more horrific, more frightening, by the fact that the heroes and the audience wasn't really sure what was happening. Everything and everybody was in the dark and they have to figure it out as it goes. The town is literally turned on its side, and the characters don't even know why, they have to figure it out over the course of the movie.
Were there any little elements of nods that you kept in the film from the original?
There's a lot, the basic core concept itself is right from the movie. But there are also a lot of little things in the movie, and I tend not to speak about them, because people discover it as they watch it. But this one is in the trailer: Lynn Lowry was one of the leads in the original. I tracked her down, called her up, and got her in the movie for a cameo. There are also a couple of other winks and nods to the movie, for people who really know the original. Not just people who know of it, but people who are well versed in the film and will recognize a handful of very specific homages in it. But obviously there are many scenes that are directly from the original itself.
This remake is infinitely scarier than the original, what did you do to try and up the anti, what decisions had to be made?
It is scarier, definitely scarier. You have to pick what you're going to do to get to the audience, but the movie has a message, which is inherent in the DNA of Romero's earlier film. It's a message movie. Romero had the benefit, and also kind of a detriment, of a very small budget and total independence. He made a film that was in very strong condemnation of the military in the post-Vieatnam world. I wanted to make sure we kept that message in the film. And it's definitely there. But at the same time, to get as broad of an audience as possible I wanted to update the film, make it scarier, make it more of a thrill ride, give it more action. In doing that we hopefully will reach a broader audience, and the message will reach a broader audience, versus a having a stronger message that reaches a smaller audience.
Plus, I have to say the make-up and FX look great. How did you walk that line of not making a zombie movie, because this is not a zombie movie, but people always think Zombies=Romero.
It's a line that was clearly established by Romero: it's not a zombie movie. And that's the great thing about this movie, it's a Romero movie but not a zombie movie. Any time you think Romero, the default setting is zombies, so [we] had that hill to climb. We really went out of our way to make sure the aesthetic looks of the infected and the performances were not tantamount to being a zombie. Zombies, in theory, have a collective agenda, which is to eat brains or to infect someone else. But they lose their previous persona and are reborn in the undead. In The Crazies the character themselves don't lose their initial agenda. The characters have deep-seated elements to their psyche and their persona, that "trixie," this disease [the name of the disease], unleashes in this rage state. So everybody acts differently when they are under the influence of this disease, in the rage state.
Also in turns of the look itself, when people first turn, you don't actually even see it aesthetically. There's no sign of it initially. But as they get sicker and sicker, the manifestations of the disease take over. Things start to change. Instead of doing decaying skin in grey color, we have red flush skin, inflamed arteries. We imagined that the heart was beating at three times the rate, so the people were all amped up. We tried to make sure that the look of them different.
They are not dead. The number one rule we went with was that these people were alive. They are more alive than you or me. They are going to burn bright and hot, but they are going to burn out fast. And that's the course of this disease. Like the Replicants in Blade Runner, that came to my mind.
The Crazies is in theaters tomorrow.