Timothy Olyphant leads a group of survivors through a more nightmarish-than-usual Iowa in "The Crazies".

Timothy Olyphant leads a group of survivors through a more nightmarish-than-usual Iowa in "The Crazies".

Even during the grayest days of winter, you can still picture it in your head: children playing under a flawless blue sky, a picnic spread out on a checkered blanket, and Old Glory fluttering lazily on the breeze. While we’re at it, go ahead and throw in that whole mental list of things that go along with this. It’s O.K., I already know you’re thinking about it.

Hot dogs.
Apple pie.

Got all that in your head now? It’s really pretty easy. These images are a part of our collective memory; they are the touchstones of the American Dream. Often, they evoke a sense of happiness, of innocence, of security. It’s our cultural “happy place.”

It’s the place we want to go to get away from it all.
It’s Ogden Marsh, Anywhere, U.S.A.
And it’s not heaven. It’s Iowa.

One of our first views of the town is at a baseball game – you can almost smell the popcorn in the air. It’s all very idyllic… at least until a man walks onto the field with a shotgun. Then, we realize that perhaps there’s something wrong in Ogden Marsh. “The Crazies” is the latest in the remake torrent that, in recent months, has slowed to a trickle. Directed by Breck Eisner (“Sahara”), retells George Romero’s 1973 genre classic about what happens in a small town when a military biological weapon accidentally falls into their water supply. Eisner tells a tightly-wound and mildly unsettling “what-if” story and, thanks to a smartly written script by genre veterans, Scott Kosar and Ray Wright, we are dropped into the personal horror of a small group of survivors.

In this group we have the town’s sheriff (played by noted Bill Paxton imitator, Timothy Olyphant), his deputy (Joe Anderson), the sheriff’s wife and town doctor (Rahda Mitchell) and the doctor’s young assistant (Danielle Panabaker). Fans of the original will notice Kosar and Wright take a vastly different tack that focuses less on the morality of the military’s actions and more on the plight of the survivors. Fortunately for us, they write the characters that we like and, more importantly, are like us. There are no supermen ass-kickers and there are no shrinking violets. Olyphant – much less Paxton-esque than he was in “The Perfect Getaway” – hits all the right notes as the brave yet practical Sheriff David Dutton. Mitchell, who is turning into a regular genre staple, handles her character like a champ – more on this later. I can’t remember seeing Joe Anderson in anything; obviously his turn in “The Ruins” apparently just didn’t leave a mark on me. However, as Russell Clank, he is the perfect companion to Olyphant’s Dutton. Panabaker rounds out the very solid foursome and, thankfully, doesn’t have a single scream in her dialogue. For that matter, neither does Mitchell. It’s something that amazes me still that, even in the new millennium, women are still written as victims or vixens, but rarely as humans. It was nice to see both characters written rather intelligently and not just as two-dimensional sex-objects.

The movie itself is visually fun, but like the character, it strikes a happy medium. Only rarely does Eisner really make a mistake with his shots and that is with one particular effect that I felt he used to get a jolt one time too many. Otherwise, he takes us on a journey from one perfect Spring day to a charred aftermath filled with images of broken America.

“The Crazies” is a nice suspenseful ride through the American psyche starting in our collective hopes and leading down to our little-spoken-of fears. For a horror movie, there’s plenty of tension and thrills but not a lot in the way of gore (and personally I’m a little disappointed that the original’s signature “knitting needle” kill wasn’t included).

This movie isn’t for everyone, though, as demonstrated by our beloved editor, His Eminence, the right honorable Devin Pike, who said he would have rather regurgitated a live adult yak than watch “The Crazies.” It’s true. I heard him say it. I have witnesses. Mark Walters was there.

And the Queen of Melanesia.