To coincide with the DVD and Blu-ray release of horror remake, The Crazies, we spoke to director Breck Eisner about the making of the movie, and how his next projects, Flash Gordon and Escape From New York, are coming along…
The Crazies is unusual for a remake in that it scales down the scope of George Romero’s original, and sets the action in a small town. What was your thinking behind this?
You know, one of the things I wanted to do with the movie was really to take out the military’s point of view. The audience got it – they didn’t need all that additional exposition to understand what the concept was. Back in ‘73, when Romero created the original movie, the concept of the infection spread through the water needed to be set up, which is a testament to his ground-breaking idea.
But in today’s world, where we’ve had 28 Days Later and all the Romero movies, I thought The Crazies would be better served by spending more time with the heroes.
What first attracted you to The Crazies? Romero is famous for making politically-charged movies. Was your reason for remaking it political too?
It certainly was, yes. It was a combination of both political and conceptual, and conceptually I loved the idea of people that you know and like going crazy, and that someone you loved might become your greatest enemy was an idea that appeared in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.
What I love about Romero’s work is that in the DNA of it there’s a political message, and The Crazies was definitely meant as a cautionary tale, and I thought that to do this movie justice it would have to be both entertaining and thrilling and horrific, but also be a cautionary tale. The political message in my version of The Crazies is perhaps a little more subtle than it was in Romero’s.
And why did you decide to set the film in middle America?
There were a couple of reasons. One was personal – I find that part of the country really interesting to explore, and it hasn’t been overrun by the Walmarts and MacDonald’s of the world. The true fabric of reality is still left there. I also love the idea that, visually, there are these vast North By Northwest plains with desert for thirty miles in every direction.
Critics are often quite harsh about remakes. Were you pleased with the reaction for The Crazies, which was so positive?
Yeah, it was. I was really pleased. Obviously, when you get into a remake, particularly a horror remake, you’re wading into a dangerous place. And so I was waiting anxiously to see what the reaction would be from the audience and the critics, and it got a really positive response. It was really satisfying.
I mean, we weren’t just trading on a name and trying to make money from a built-in audience. So we made sure we had a good script and good actors, and told a compelling story.
I thought what made The Crazies work was that it built up so well from a very restrained beginning to an explosive ending. Do you think a lot of genre movies have lost that ability to build, and are too gory too soon?
Yeah, I think there’s a tendency – and I think this comes from the way American movies are tested – where the audience tells you what they did like and didn’t like. Audiences these days are just used to films that start at a hundred miles an hour and continue like that for their entire length. The thing with that is that it becomes tiring very quickly, and an audience that expects that high amp of energy from beginning to end will often change the channel, if the film’s on TV or a click away on the computer, because they’re not trapped in front of it.
One of the great benefits we still have in the movies is that there are no commercials, and typically people aren’t on their cell phones, they’re just watching the movie, and you have the opportunity to slowly build tension, and to have the audience trapped there and stay with you.
I thought Joe Anderson was an interesting choice for the character of Russell, as a British actor, because in many ways he had the most work to do…
It’s funny, and I told Joe when I cast him in the movie, that he had the best role. “You might not have the lead, but you have the most to do”. Joe was just the best actor, regardless of nationality. We auditioned a hundred different people for that role, and Joe was by far the best candidate. The fact that he was English didn’t really factor, since he could do a great American accent.
In fact, Joe even had a moment when he went and did a ride-along with a local police force in the south to see what it would be like to be a small-town sheriff – which showed true dedication since he did that on his own.
But the thing about the movie is that Joe Anderson is English, Radha Mitchell is Australian, our director of photography Maxime Alexandre is Italian, and our production designer Andrew Menzies is Scottish, so it was a very international crew for an American movie.
Without giving anything away for those who haven’t seen it, the ending of The Crazies hints at a sequel. Is that likely to happen, or was it just a convenient note to end the film on?
It was designed specifically to be the best way to end the movie. We’ve not had any discussions about a sequel, and it was never in our thoughts that there would be one. Maybe one day down the road it’ll come up, but the ending definitely wasn’t designed for that purpose.
With regard to your next projects, is The Brood still on the cards, and where does that fit in with Flash Gordon and Escape From New York? What sort of order are they likely to come in?
The Brood I’m not doing – the film was offered to me and I turned it down. It wasn’t one I felt I could do justice to in today’s world. Flash Gordon is an adaptation of the original comic books from the 30s, and we’re just starting the second draft of the script. There’s probably going to be another six more months of script work on that.
Of the two projects, Escape From New York is the one in a more advanced state.
Is Timothy Olyphant definitely in the picture to play the character of Snake Plissken or is that still being decided?
That’s still completely being decided. We’ve got a select few actors in mind who could do it, but we want to get the script done first.
What do you think of the somewhat mixed internet reaction to Timothy Olyphant’s name being attached to the role?
The reaction was more positive than negative, for sure. People like Timothy, he’s a good actor. He’s a real talented guy. He might not be the biggest star out there, but I’m sure he will be.
Breck Eisner, thank you very much.
The Crazies is out on DVD and Blu-ray from 19 July.