Opening on February 26 is The Crazies, Overture Films’ remake of the 1973 George Romero film of the same name. Starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, and Danielle Panabaker, it centers on a small town whose residents become infected by a virus that causes them to go…well, you know. Recently, I got the opportunity to do a phone interview with the film’s director, Breck Eisner. Hit the jump to get his thoughts on remaking Romero, his philosophy on constructing an effective horror movie, an update on his upcoming Flash Gordon reboot, and more.
Collider: To start off, tell me a little bit about The Crazies and what kind of horrifying things we can expect.
Breck Eisner: The Crazies is a remake or reimagining of George Romero’s version of the movie from ’72 or ’73. If I were to put it in a category, I would definitely say it’s a horror-thriller. It’s an intense, dynamic, aggressive journey. These characters, these four characters, try to escape a town that’s been ravaged by this disease and by an oppressive military force, but also by these other infected townsfolk who are acting out their rage as they succumb to this virus.
You mentioned that this is a remake of a cult classic Romero film; can you talk a little bit about the pressures and the challenges of remaking the work of such an iconic horror director?
Eisner: Anytime you talk the world of a remake, you’ve go to make sure you know why you’re doing it. And you’ve gotta make those reasons determine if you’re going to do it. And obviously when you talk about a guy like George Romero, who’s an iconic master in the genre, you’ve got to make sure you have a plan of what you wanna do. I was originally approached to do the film by Dean Georgaris and Michael Aguilar, who had optioned the property rights directly from Romero. And he sold them the rights and signed on as an executive producer, which gave me a lot of confidence, knowing that it wasn’t bought from a studio that had acquired the rights, but was bought from Romero himself, seemingly then giving the stamp of approval to the idea of doing another version of it.
But then for me, if you’re going to remake a movie, it’s got to have relevance today, as it did when it was originally made. Romero’s Crazies was made in ’73 under the shadow of the ending of the Vietnam War and when we started developing our Crazies, it was after 9/11, under the shadow of the George Bush presidency and the invasion of Iraq, and it seemed like a very similar time in the country and a time that was right for having this movie, which is a terror-horror ride, but one that has some commentary on the use of the military and the use of biological weaponry. So, that social message within the fabric of a genre, exciting movie is something that I think is intrinsic to Romero’s early work and one which I wanted to retain in doing this version.
One interesting comment you made about this film is that it’s not a zombie movie. And I found that really interesting because it seems like the zombie and the infected person tend to be referred to interchangeably. And I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the difference between them; does the infected person inspire a different kind of fear?
Eisner: Yeah, it’s a much different thing. Obviously, when you think of The Crazies and you hear that it was a Romero movie, you look at some of the performances and some of the footage and you assume “well, it’s Romero; it must be zombies.” But The Crazies is clearly not zombies and I didn’t want them to be zombies. So we went out of our way to make sure that the design and the look of them, although having some kind of visual representation to it, was not one that seemed too much like a zombie. People are not turning grey; they’re not decaying, but more important than that, is the way that the disease is manifested in the actions of the infected people. With zombies, they are dead, they’ve come back to life, and they all have a singular goal. Whether it’s to eat brains or infect the people who aren’t infected, all zombies typically have the same goal; they act as one. In The Crazies, people who get infected end up unlocking this inner rage and the inner demons in people, and sometimes this causes them to act out against their family or act out against students who they’ve been dealing with for life. Or sometimes it might cause someone just to ride a bike or sing a weird song, but most of the times in the film, it turns them into a rage state. But their individuality and their purpose and their reasons for existence are still there; it’s just they’re mutated.
I know that one thing that was very important to you with this film was capturing that small-town feel. Can you tell me how you went about doing that and why was it so important that this be an authentic small town?
Eisner: Yeah. To me, the small town design of the movie was crucial, one that I embraced from the very beginning of the movie. Because oftentimes horror films exist in worlds that are already kind of horrific, whether it’s an urban environment or a dark, scary underground environment, or just a world that is already set up to be horrific. I wanted The Crazies to be one that exists in a world that [sic], although not perfect, was one that was at peace, and one which was containable and one which can have an identity in the movie that can be summed up quickly and simply and cohesively. And in order to achieve this, we set about scouting for places all over the country, and Canada, in fact, and finally ended up in Iowa for the exteriors and outside of Atlanta, Georgia, for the interiors. What we got in Iowa were these vast, open plains where we could have the one town with a population of 1200 that sits literally in the middle of 30 miles of field surrounding it so that when the containment takes place, the government has the ability to contain this whole place and to really turn it into their battlefield. [sic-so that] The audience is able to be introduced to this town; the town is pretty much a character in the film at the beginning and then as the military comes in and the disease takes over and the violence grips this small town, you see the whole world is literally turned on its side and you get to watch the decline and decay and destruction of this small, kind-of-perfect American town.
This is kind of a standard question in the post-Avatar era: Did you ever consider filming this in 3D or maybe converting to 3D in post?
Eisner: No. Obviously, I loved Avatar and I’ve always been a fan of CG and cutting-edge technology. In ’95, I did my thesis film at USC; it was a CG-live-action combined film, very early in those days.
But I think those tools should be used on a per-film basis. So a movie like Avatar obviously is right for three dimensions, for heavy CG and digital shooting. But for the film The Crazies, I wanted to have a more traditional filmic quality, the nice tight grain of a Kodak film and the saturation of the colors and the 2-dimensional filmic world. Horror movies that I’m a big fan of from the ’60s to ’70s to ’80s like Exorcist, Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, or John Carpenter’s The Thing were kind of ones that I referenced a little bit in making this movie.
So, building on that a little bit, have you always been drawn to the horror genre? It seems like you’ve got a bunch of things on the go in that area.
Eisner: I mean, yes, I’ve always been drawn to horror, but I just love film. And the film that I love best is genre movies, whether action, sci-fi, or horror. Pure genre movies are the ones that I am most drawn to and have always been drawn to. And I’m drawn to horror movies that have good story, good character and good character journeys and concepts; I’m not necessarily a fan of movies like Friday the 13th or the reboot of Halloween, although I appreciate the sort of quality that goes into them. The kind of movies that I draw inspiration from, that I most connect to, are those ones I was talking about earlier, ones that set up a world that establish the characters, establish the environment that they live in, establish the relationships first, and then you get to watch this descent into madness as their world collapses around the characters. It feels to me like in order to keep horror fresh and to keep the audience vested in the movie, you have to get invested in the characters, invested in the world that you’re creating. You can’t just try and come up with bigger and better and more graphic kills. There are people out there who can do that better than I can. I play to what I feel my strengths are and what my loves are in film and that’s character journey and concept and story.
I have to ask you about your upcoming projects, particularly Flash Gordon. Can you tell us anything about where that’s at?
Eisner: Flash Gordon is a project I’ve been pursuing for years. It’s a true passion of mine. Sci-fi is a real passion of mine. And I finally got it set up at Sony and we hired the two writers, [Matt] Sazama and [Burk] Sharpless. I’ve been breaking story with them since I finished post on The Crazies, for the last two months or so. We finished that process; we’re now putting pen to paper, or keys to keyboard, and writing the script. We should have that in a month or two. And I think we have an awesome story. It’s not in any way connected to the camp of the ’80′s and it’s not connected to the serials of the ’50′s. It’s very much looking back to the original Alex Raymond strips; it’s imagining that Alex Raymond were to draw the strips today instead of in the ’30′s and ’40s and what would they be? It’ll be action and adventure; it’ll be aggressive and dynamic and intense with a really strong lead character who goes on an interesting personal journey over the course of the movie.
Have you thought about casting at all yet?
Eisner: I’ve definitely thought about casting, but there’s been no discussion yet about the casting with the studio. It’s still a long process to go in getting them to like the script and to want to commit a lot of money to making a movie. It’s going to be a long process before it sees the screen, but hopefully, we’re on the way.
And is this going to be in 3D?
Eisner: Yes, this will definitely be a 3D movie. Like I said, when it’s the right kind of movie, you want to use the right kind of technology, so we intend to shoot it for 3D.