The Crazies are coming. They're fast, ugly, violent and would like nothing more than to bash your head in. These aren't the flesh-eating zombies of 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead, but rather a disease-ridden human shell possessing all the worst internal instincts of human nature.
Dark Horizons was part of a select group of press recently invited to the Georgia set of The Crazies, a remake of the 1973 original by George Romero. In this re-imagining, Breck Eisner (Sahara) directs from a script by Ray Wright (Pulse) and Scott Kosar (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - 2003). A chemical weapon has invaded the water supply of the small rural Iowa town of Ogden Marsh and it is turning infected into raving lunatics. While the original offered a heavy dose of military perspective, the remake presents the military as more of an ominous presence tasked with correcting the problem and also covering it up along the way.
Timothy Olyphant stars as Sheriff David Dutton; Radha Mitchell is his pregnant wife, Dr. Judy Dutton; Joe Anderson is Deputy Russell Clank and Danielle Panabaker is the hospital receptionist, Becca.
On this unseasonably cold night in the central Georgia town of Fort Valley, members of press are huddled into a classroom inside Peach Valley High School to discuss the production with cast and crew as we await one of the biggest scenes of the shoot.
"In this scene we're lining up, basically heading to the concentration camp and we don't know what's going to happen to us," says Radha Mitchell. "I don't think the government officials know exactly how they are going to deal with us either. They are measuring everyone's temperature to see who's got an elevated temperature. And the people that appear to be sick are being pushed in one direction and the other people are being pushed in the other direction.”
"[My character] has an elevated temperature because she's pregnant, but of course they don't believe that or they don't care. So she's going in one direction and he's going in the other and its hopefully going to be quite dramatic.”
The central Georgia locale has provided the perfect double for the large, open Iowa settings of the story. It also doesn't hurt that the state is offering a generous 30 percent tax brake to film productions. "I really wanted the wide open plains," says Eisner. "What worked nicely here is we could have that same scope. I wanted this idea that our heroes are not trapped in small boxes, but open spaces that go on for miles and miles and miles. There's literally nowhere to hide.”
The focus is survival as our four heroes try to avoid both the military and the infected. "Once this movie takes off, it really goes," says Anderson. "It's difficult maintaining. There's a lot of stuff technically - explosions of the cars, action in the foreground, helicopters flying in in the background.”
Eisner and co. hope to present a fast-paced, horrific scenario that doesn't seem so far fetched. They aren't pulling punches and they are going to earn every inch of the planned R-rating. "I think the power of the story is its quite conceivable," admits Mitchell. "This is the kind of thing that would get buried if it was possible to do that. If there's a bunch of people that may or may not be infected, I can't imagine them being invited into society.”
To design the Crazies, Eisner and makeup designer Rob Hall went to great lengths to differentiate the look from classic zombies. "The challenge for us was making them look interesting and iconic but not like zombies," says Eisner. "We didn't want them to be so far over the top that you don't believe that it could be a sickness that made this happen.”
To do this, Eisner and Hall referenced actual diseases such as Tetanus, Ebola and Rabies.
"They are really horrific looking," says Olyphant. "They are strained looking. Their bodies are kind of arched and their veins are popping out and their blood vessels are popping. Their eyes are kind of blood [shot].”
"They're almost like they're the opposite of dead," adds Hall. "There's too much life in them so they're like bursting at the seams. Their faces are red and there are blood blisters and veins and they're very vascular."
"There are five stages of The Crazies," Eisner explains. "The first is before anything happens, the fifth is when you're dead. The second stage is a performance-based craziness which is somebody you know acting differently but not looking differently at all. The next two stages are various levels of physical differences.”
Tonight's scene is the biggest yet for the production. Hundreds of extras are being herded into the schoolyard of Peach State High School in yellow school buses. Once they arrive, military dressed in green biohazard outfits scream orders as they separate the infected into a fenced internment camp. Helicopters brush by overhead, flying almost too low for comfort. Fake rain is sprayed over the scene adding a nice, albeit cold, ambience to the frightening scenario unfolding before our eyes.
The scene will take place in the earlier portion of the movie before the four leads band together to escape the military and fend off the Crazies. "I love that it start moving right away," says Panabaker. "There are no secrets. There's something wrong in this town."
Eisner hopes to expand upon the themes of Romero's original on a larger scale. "He had $275 grand to make the entire movie. We're obviously spending more money than that. It's not a big-budget movie, but we have bigger assets so that we can represent the government with the scale and force that it needs to be in a movie like this. It's this oppressive and realistic force.”
But the director was careful not to turn The Crazies into a military action chase movie. "When I came on the movie, I wanted to get rid of the point of view of the military," says Eisner. "Any time you [have that], it goes away from horror and it goes to action, Bourne Identity kind of action. To me it was much more interesting being in the point-of-view of our townsfolk and with this oppressive, nameless, faceless force of the military and the bio-containment suits wandering around.”
"[I wanted to] put them through the terror [along with] the other infected Crazies that are roaming the town. It's horrific and graphic, but I wanted a real quality to it. We're not shying away from blood.”
The Crazies opens February 16th, 2010.