The Crazies | BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell hug it out in The Crazies
Credit: Saeed Adyani

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years from furious horror-movie buffs posting on message boards, it’s that you can’t call just any film about dead-eyed, flesh-hungry humanoid predators a zombie movie. 28 Days Later? Forgive me, but when I saw it, I thought it was a zombie movie. I mean, it wasn’t a romantic comedy. It wasn’t a Scandinavian bank-heist thriller. The ghoulish men and women who were infected by the ”rage” virus and immediately came after the uninfected did, to my untrained eye, look a lot like the lurching-corpse predators I remember from Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and the 1979 Italian classic Zombi 2. But no: the monsters — am I allowed to call them that? — in 28 Days Later weren’t, technically speaking, the living dead. They didn’t die before they became monstrous; they simply…transitioned.

In that light, I’m a little unsure of whether to say that the walking catatonic angry humanoids in The Crazies are zombies. I guess I’d say that they aren’t, though they’re certainly zombie-esque: blank-faced, possessed, and out for blood. Like the mysterious attackers in George A. Romero’s original 1973 version of The Crazies, they’re the result of exposure to toxic chemicals. The biggest difference between the two movies — and we’re cued to it early on — is that the creation of the…uh, zombie-type creatures in Romero’s film was due to an accidental calamity. In the remake (excuse me, reinvention), there are enigmatic controlling forces at work.

Here’s what I can say for sure about the humanoid attackers in the new version of The Crazies: They’re not very interesting. As in, I don’t care how this premise has been dressed up, we’ve seen it a jillion times before. As always, there’s a ”political” message: Attempting to escape, our heroes, a married small-town sheriff and physician (Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell), run smack into a makeshift military compound where everyone wears gas masks and white bio-hazard suits, and lo and behold, the cure is worse than the disease, the fascist government crackdown is more threatening than the whatever-they-are-since-they’re-not-zombies, and so on and so forth.

The director, Breck Eisner, is a veteran of TV commercials, and visually he certainly understands what he’s doing. He knows just how to unsettle you with a vicious, gouging knife fight, or an ingeniously timed shot of our heroes’ car getting blown to smithereens by a military helicopter, or Olyphant and Mitchell sneaking around an abandoned diner in the apocalyptic finale, trying to avoid those last zombie stragglers. I know, I know: They’re not zombies. By the time this movie is over, though, you may feel like one yourself. C