The Crazies isn't like any other standard horror remake, it's actually not just good, but very good. In fact, it may very well be better than the original. Director Breck Eisner has expanded upon George A. Romero's original film and has turned in a worth while remake. This is an extremely well crafted, fun, and competent horror film. While I unfortunately hadn't seen the film before talking to Mr. Eisner, the interview actually ended up going really well. The Crazies is now in theaters.
DVD Talk: Most films like this nowadays mostly tend to take place in big cities, but by having the setting being a small town the stakes and the risk is higher. You're left out in the open and you have less places to hide, was that an aspect you wanted to play off of?
Breck Eisner: That's exactly right. That's actually one of the first concepts of the movie and I'm glad that's coming through in the advertisements. I wanted this idea like a North by Northwest kind of world where our characters are being pursued by the military and the infected crazy people and then they find themselves on a highway where they look in every direction and there's nowhere to hide. They just have to keep moving. There's no forrest, there's no buildings, there's no nothing. It creates a really interesting paradigm where it's just vast open spaces and epic landscapes. There's this reality where there's nowhere to go. You're completely in the open. I think it's a different take on horror and I was pretty excited to play with that.
DVD Talk: You also seem to play heavily into paranoia similar to the way The Thing did. Where you don't know who to trust or who's infected, would you say that's an apt comparison?
Breck Eisner: Yeah, that's exactly the analogy I've been talking about. When I was a kid I saw The Thing when I guess I was thirteen... It's Absolutely one of my favorites, best horror movie experience ever. I remember watching The Thing, John Carpenter's The Thing and not the original, which I like but Carpenter's is the one. That idea of paranoia where the people you're stuck with are the people you trust and have known for a long time, but then they suddenly start to change and you don't know who to trust. That deep seeded psyche plays out in such a great way in that movie. When I was approached about remaking The Crazies and I thought more about the concept it locked into that same primal human fear. It was the reason why I made this movie.
DVD Talk: Will you have that scene where the people who aren't infected start to lose it a little bit?
Breck Eisner: Yeah... Oh, for the people who aren't even turned? (laughs) Yeah, sure. We definitely play with that idea where there's times where you're not sure if one of your heros has turned by the way they're acting. Also, with creating the disease we made this five step process. Stage one, where everyone is fine. Stage five, where it's a bleed out type of death. Stage two, that's the first stage of the manifesting of the infection where it's just a performance based thing and it just deals with how odd someone is acting. There's no physical manifestation. The first moment where people start to act like that you can't see it, but you can sense it. From there, the physicality gets more intense as the symptoms of the disease begin to takeover.
DVD Talk: It's interesting though how it seems like you've kept them grounded a bit even when they're infected. They still are intact with their personas, but it's the extremist version.
Breck Eisner: Yeah, exactly. That's what separates them from zombies and that's why... It is still a Romero re-imagining so people would assume zombies, but they weren't in the original and they're not in this. They don't have a cohesive singular goal to eat brains and infect everyone else, but they do maintain a fragment of their persona and even more than that. It unlocks this inner rage that's connected to some deep seeded anger that's from the psyche of the individuals.
DVD Talk: The best remakes tend be the ones hat expand upon what the original couldn't do or didn't deliver on...
Breck Eisner: Yeah... You know, making a movie is at least a year and, in many cases, a multiyear process and this was. If you're being approached or are considering doing a remake you gotta make sure that it's something you want to do and that there's a reason to do it. For me, personally, I don't want to remake a movie that I think had everything going for it and was something more appropriate for its time. The Crazies was a movie that I really enjoyed, but was one that definitely suffered from the limitations of its budget on all categories. Although our movie is clearly not a big movie by hollywood standards, we had a much bigger budget than what Romero had. That bigger budget allowed us to have a higher level of actors, more scale, more scope, more shooting time, and more horror. It unlocked a lot of abilities and potential.
DVD Talk: The original script dealt a bit more with the military side, did you want to cut down on that to add more of a horror mystery and simple force feel?
Breck Eisner: The original movie and the original script, when I was first approached, had more of that point-of-view. But I wanted to get rid of the military aspects so I could focus on the individuals. It was to have more time to discover the people, understand their relationships, and get to know them. It was to make it more mysterious which, I think, makes it an even scarier experience for our heros. They're really in the dark, they don't know what's happening, and it's more realistic of what would really happen if one of use went through this experience.
DVD Talk: What seems odd to me, considering this is a horror movie, is that the two main characters seem to have a stable marriage. That's not something we see too often.
Breck Eisner: (laughs) They usually have it be: they just got divorced and now they gotta come together. They're typically these archetypes and they're not real people. In the movie, it's a relationship where the husband and wife are about to have their first child. It's this really interesting time in a person's life where you go from two to three and everything changes. I can tell you that from experience and it's an experience that most people have gone through. It's fantastic, but it's also a challenging experience. At the same time, it's also not a perfect relationship. They love each-other and they're committed to each-other, but there are some conflicts that exist in their relationship. It doesn't destroy the relationship and it's not a game changer, but it rounds it out and makes it more realistic. I don't know about you, but everyone I know who's had a long term relationship it's not all just perfect. It's more dynamic.
DVD Talk: It's sort of become this very standard relationship formula for horror movies and those type of contrived relationships can sometimes ruin a movie.
Breck Eisner: It drives me crazy and I definitely wanted to avoid that. I mean, it's just archetypes. In horror movies it's typically... The good ones aren't, but most of them just have archetypes for characters. With Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell we worked very hard to make sure there was a real rounded sense to their relationship. It's interesting and complex, for sure. We didn't have a ton of time to devote to it, we had to set it up quickly, and you have to be smart with how you establish it. You gotta get into a movie fairly quickly for today's audiences, but if you do it well it can work.
DVD Talk: Did you have to cut anything out because of that? The way you said that, getting into a movie quickly for today's audiences...
Breck Eisner: It's funny, there's only one scene that'll be on the DVD... There's truly only one deleted scene and it's a significant one so it'll be interesting for the DVD. It was too tight of a budget and a schedule to shoot stuff we weren't going to keep. There was a lot to shoot and not a whole lot of time to do it. So, we were very careful to really go through the script over and over again to make sure what we shot would be there. We reordered a few things in the beginning, but mostly the movie that was shot and written is the movie that was cut.
DVD Talk: Could you talk a little about your collaboration with Andrew Menzies? He's done a lot of great work.
Breck Eisner: Yeah, I gave Andrew his first designing job. I did a pilot for FOX called Beyond, but it did not make it to air. It was too expensive. But Andrew had been an art director and I just thought he had drawn some great stuff and he was really smart. He went to a school in London and had an architecture degree... So I gave him the job. A lot of times on a movie they wont let you hire a first time designer, but on a pilot I had that ability. He did an awesome job on that. After he did Beyond he went off with James Mangold and did 3:10 to Yuma. After that, I picked him up for The Crazies and he's since gone off... I think he's actually done Mangold's next movie. But the cool thing about The Crazies was that, we had a very tight budget for production design and we had to use all existing locations. We couldn't afford to build anything other than one small room with two walls for a knife fight. We spent a ton of time running around with Andrew scouting places and then Andrew would manipulate and redesign locations to make it work. In fact, the sheriff station was actually a bank that had to be open during banker hours when we shot it. He completely transformed it and he did an amazing job on this movie with such a budget.
Thankfully, the opportunity arose to speak to Mr. Eisner once again a few weeks after the previous interview. Here we get a bit more into the spoiler side of things by covering a handful of great sequences, some wonderful horror movie kills and about the overall tone and simplicity of the film. Once again, if you're a horror fan and even if you're not you should find The Crazies very enjoyable. And this is the last warning: there are plenty of spoilers discussed in this interview and this part is more so for those of you have seen the film.
DVD Talk: To start off, it's sort of rare commodity for a horror movie to get good reviews. How flattering has the critical reaction been?
Breck Eisner: (laughs) I was psyched. I gotta say, you have the sites like Rotten Tomatoes where you can see what everyone is saying and being able to track that... The percentage of reviews were high and people who like these kinds of movies seem to really like the movie. I was pretty happy for sure.
DVD Talk: One aspect that I was particularly surprised by was how funny the film is.
Breck Eisner: Yeah, on a movie like this if you play it too straight... I wanted the movie to have a nonstop tension, anxiety and to really push it hard. For me, the way I felt that I could achieve that was to have some humor within the movie to give you a little bit of a breather instead of having to take a long beat-down.
DVD Talk: Can you talk about trying to find the right moments to interject that type of dark humor? It sometimes works greatly in horror films and sometimes it doesn't.
Breck Eisner: It's a hard balance and it's a really hard thing to find. For me, it was really about going with my gut and what was the right time to do it. You gotta make sure to balance it with what's happening to the characters, what their state of mind is and what state of mind the audience is in so to make sure if there's room to put humor in and not to degrade the emotional journey at the time. Also, a bit of humor can enrich something very serious like the death of Becca with the rest of the movie and it prevents the rest of movie from being about the mourning and the death of that character. You obviously want to feel some weight and significance to it, but you also have to let the audience know that we have to keep going.
DVD Talk: Becca's death received a pretty big reaction from the crowd I saw it with; can you talk about staging that death?
Breck Eisner: (laughs) Typically the crowds I've seen it with the stabbing hand scene gets the biggest reaction and Becca's [death] is close to second. That was definitely the most challenging part...
DVD Talk: Because you got all these actors, squibs, and etc.
Breck Eisner: Also the water, makeup, stunts, squibs, gunfire and broken glass. I mean continuity was a real challenge. We didn't have a whole lot of time to shoot it so we had to really be concise. In fact, there were several additional beats that we didn't shoot. Going in though we knew the beats we had to shoot like when they duck in there to hide, the machine turns on, they're attacked, Becca gets killed, and the car blowing up. We knew we had to get those beats done and as much as we could get in the middle which would be more toppings on our desert, if you will.
DVD Talk: I found an interview with you where someone brought up how The Final Destination had a car wash scene. Having seen that film, I can confidently say your car wash scene blows that one away.
Breck Eisner: (laughs) Thanks. When we were shooting in Georgia... We first designed the set piece and the idea of how they got there came second. I was talking to Ray the writer and I said, "have you ever seen a good horror set piece in a car wash?" Always as a kid in LA, for some reason, they wouldn't let you stay inside your car during the wash. You got to see your friends on the east coast go in their parent's car through the car wash so I always imagined what it would be like. I said to Ray, "Lets do a horror scene in a car wash!" We couldn't come up with another movie that had done it. Right before we started shooting one of crew members had been on Final Destination and he was like, "yeah I think we shot a horror scene in a car wash," and I was just like, "come on!"
DVD Talk: It's such a simple and yet genius idea too. When you're in a car wash you're basically trapped and isolated.
Breck Eisner: Totally trapped. Obviously in reality when you look at the mechanics of a car wash it's not quite as cut and dry as we made it out to be. If you push on your break the car stops moving. These were all things we discovered in trying to figure out how to do it. We couldn't build a car wash; we had to find a real one. We had to find a way to make the impossible seem plausible.
DVD Talk: Going back to Becca's death and the hand stabbing scene, a lot of horror directors always say it's fun when it comes to thinking about staging those scenes but they're ironically the most boring to shoot...
Breck Eisner: The knife to the neck was actually not in the script and that was not what was supposed to happen. There was a much bigger fight that I think ended with Judy shooting and David had the knife in his hand the whole time and couldn't get it off. They had rehearsed it and coordinated the fight. When we got there we really only had one day to shoot the whole scene, but we actually ending up shooting for about two days. I saw what had been staged and realized there was no way we were going to be able to get that done in our time frame. So we went back to the trailer and spitballed for about fifteen minutes and came up with that ending. We talked to Rob Hall who had designed these necks that go on for the final stage of the craziness and I asked him if he could hide blood under the neck. He said, "give me a couple of hours," so we shot some other stuff and then we did that scene which we came up with on the spot.
DVD Talk: It was a little surprising by just how simplistic and grounded the story is. You expect to see a scene with them fighting off a horde of crazies or a big shootout, but there never was and it never became outlandish in that sense.
Breck Eisner: Thank you, I appreciate that. I really wanted to keep that true to the movie that they're not zombies and they're not going to act in that way. The studio, not the eventual releasing studio, but one of the studios when we were developing it wanted a big horde of zombies to attack at the truck stop. They wanted to scale it up and have everybody run to the truck stop and attack, but there was no reason that they would do that. That's where we came up with the idea of the hunters and the idea was sort of a compromise where I'll scale it up a bit, but they still had to have an agenda that held true to the story. That's where the hunters came in.
DVD Talk: Now there's obviously a very big moment towards the end, the most effects driven scene, and I was wondering if you could talk about still keeping it grounded in that way while also having this really big moment?
Breck Eisner: Yeah, definitely. Again, they wanted to end with scale in the movie and I think that I wanted to also, but we wanted to do it in a way that felt somewhat realistic but also kept the agenda of the military going. The idea was that the military, even though we don't quite seeing what they're doing, they keep changing their agenda where it's first to quarantine but once they get loose they have to go to def-con five. That obviously wasn't their intent, but when things got terrible they had to go to extreme measures. That's what the idea of that was: to scale up the military's response and that's why we went with the big finale.
DVD Talk: As we talked about before there's a slight commentary on the government and the military, but on the other hand, it's sort of a double-edged sword. In some respect, you see the military's reaction as very competent with how quickly they try to lock this down and quarantine. But, how extreme they go about makes you a bit nervous.
Breck Eisner: Obviously with Romero's original it's a cautionary tale and I think this response is a lot more extreme than what the military would actually do, I certainly hope so (laughs). Being a remake of a Romero movie and an early Romero movie that DNA is in his films of having a social commentary. In his film you're following the president, the generals and the big scale stuff. I wanted to make sure the film had that over-scaled military response. Whether it's realistic or not isn't exactly the point.
DVD Talk: It's great how you paint it that way though, just as a simple force. There's no typical cut away to the pentagon hearing them talking about the situation.
Breck Eisner: Oh, for sure. There's no scene where the airplane comes, it's just a visual background and countdown. You don't see any of the lead up to it and it just happens.
DVD Talk: That's carried through the film though like when Judy and David find that soldier he can't explain what's going on and he doesn't know what's going on, why would he?
Breck Eisner: Yeah, that was one of the things... I definitely didn't want to put the audience ahead of the characters. If you give the military a voice outside of your characters then you're just waiting for your heroes to catch up. Even to the point where they get to that intelligence officer and get information from him, which is way late in the movie, we wanted to give a minimal amount of info and then have Russell interrupt the scene in aggressive way so we don't even let the audience get the information they think they're about to get. For me, I was attempting to turn the movie away from expectations every time I could. With a scene like that or the car wash...
DVD Talk: Play with expectations.
Breck Eisner: Certainly play with expectations and let the audience guess what's going to happen and then play it in a slightly different way. I'm a big believer in not letting your audience get ahead of your characters. I also really like letting audiences figure things out for themselves and not spoon-feeding them.
DVD Talk: There are a handful of shots that really stood out to me that were just really well done. One in particular is where Judy is being pulled away on the gurney and you have this very unsettling POV shot.
Breck Eisner: Judy's POV? When she's looking up and the guy is looking down at her... Originally, when I first story boarded that shot I was going to do the whole thing from her point-of-view and not cover her at all. The only time you'd get a glimpse of her is when the guy looks down at her and you get that digitally created reflection. That was not shot on camera and was composited. It was going to be told completely from her point-of-view until they end when the gas mask goes on her. I covered it in one pass with three cameras on three sides and the thing looking at her face. It turns out the scene was a little more powerful when it was intercut with her. Even though you never really get a sense of the cut structure, instead of being a detached point-of-view it just felt a little out of style in the movie at that point. That shot though was one of the earliest shots I designed because I knew wanted a shot where it started with the white streaking of the lights and then she saw all the craziness around her. Basically we had her stunt double on the gurney and we had the camera operator on the dolly who held the dolly over the stunt devil and pushed the dolly and then the dolly would push the gurney down the hallway.
DVD Talk: Can you talk about your collaboration with Rob Hall? He did a great job with the effects and the look of the crazes.
Breck Eisner: Rob is great. The thing with Rob was that we needed to do something unique and not make them zombies...
DVD Talk: Which you seem very adamant about.
Breck Eisner: Yeah, I do not want them to be zombies. There's enough zombie movies out there. I love zombie movies, don't get me wrong, but there's enough out there.
DVD Talk It's a little baffling though that some people are still labeling them as zombies.
Breck Eisner: Yeah, I don't get it. I don't think people really know zombie movies that well and what zombies are. They're not all dead, they don't have a single agenda, and they don't move around like zombies. The conceptual idea was to give them a physical manifestation. That was a big difference from the original where they didn't do that, they just went crazy and their appearances were the same. The studio initially wanted... Initially, I was against the idea of a physical manifestation and I thought it would be better if it would just be performance based. Then the more we developed the movie the more I thought that it would help the identity of the movie. It would help the actors, seem more extreme and scarier. With Rob we came up with five different stages with three visual stages. The thing was to try to connect the look of the guys to sickness and disease instead of just death. We spent a long time working on it.
DVD Talk: You also set up the manifestation steps in a very subtle manor with that husband in the beginning and how you see him progress in the jail cell.
Breck Eisner: (laughs) That was the whole purpose of that guy; the whole reason why he's in the movie is to show the different stages. That guy thought he was going to be working for two or three days, but he ended up working like three weeks or something. He was psyched about that.
DVD Talk: The first time we talked you mentioned how one substantial scene was cut, but I didn't really have time to do a follow-up. Radha Mitchell has mentioned that it was a much darker ending; what's the alternate ending?
Breck Eisner: Originally... [It was] one of the first things I wanted in the movie and I shot it, but I also shot an alternate ending because I had a strong sense that it would never actually make it into the movie. I wanted this idea that the movie was about the audience rooting for the hero and the hero's survival. David Dutton deserves to survive and at the end of the movie the audience has gotten what they wanted which was the survival of the hero, but it turns out in the last scene... It takes place after the final scene you see in the movie where they go into Cedar Rapids and they go into a diner where he orders bottled water. They're drinking it and then David freaks out once he sees on the news they're covering up what happened and Judy is asking him, "What are you doing?" He keeps saying he's okay and then his nose starts to bleed. They both realize at the same time that he has been infected and then you cut to credits after that. That was the originally designed... It's about as dark as you can get. The idea was playing with expectations and manipulating the audience with what they wanted and rooted for. It could be the end of the world, the country, or the state because he would have brought the virus out.
DVD Talk: Would you consider doing a Director's Cut with that ending?
Breck Eisner: Potentially, but I haven't decided yet. This is a movie... They didn't force me to cut it or force me to make other cuts; this is the movie I wanted to make. It's the cut I wanted. It feels a bit disingenuous doing a Director's Cut since I consider this the Director's Cut. It's the length I wanted, the pace I wanted and other than that scene, there's no other real scenes that got cut. I'm not sure, but I don't think I will.
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