Getting the opportunity to talk to a director who created a film you absolutely love is a frustrating double-edged sword. You’re thrilled to have the opportunity to chat, but there isn’t nearly enough time to squeeze in every question. This is the fortunate/unfortunate case with Breck Eisner.
He’s the man behind the remake of George A. Romero’s The Crazies. After a slew of poorly made and blood drenched reboots, it’s fantastic to experience something so refreshingly original that still manages to pay homage to the source material. Even if you’ve watched Romero’s 1973 original, Eisner’s film is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. When an experimental biological weapon called Trixie accidently infiltrates Ogden Marsh’s water supply, it’s only a matter of time before the townsfolk go crazy. The film follows four survivors as they try to escape their hometown now overrun with violent versions of friends and loved ones while eluding the army who’s prepared to exterminate anyone with the potential to let the virus loose.
Check out what Eisner told me about creating some of the most memorable moments, utilizing the appropriate amount of gore and even a little update on his next project, Flash Gordon.
SY: The opening sequence makes a huge impact. The music, the shot selection, the editing, the title, everything is perfect. How’d you go about arranging that?
That is the one part of the movie that I played with a lot because some of the scenes – the fire sequence was built out of pieces of the movie from when they’re walking down the street. The movie actually didn’t initially begin with that fire. It actually began with a shot of the Dutton’s cruiser. There’s a big wide panning shot where the cruiser goes down a street and there’s sprinklers in the foreground watering the fields and in order to use the piece of music we wanted to use I felt it was a little more subversive if we had the two days before card and saw some of the town before so we built that sequence out of outtakes. And then the montage of the town, a lot of it was staged obviously. Anything with the car driving was staged and some of it was shot in Georgia, but mostly we shot in Iowa and then some of it was real people. The woman driving a mini tractor with curlers in her hair, that was real. We just saw that and turned on the camera. So a lot of it felt real because it was real and obviously once we get to the ballgame that was all staged.
SY: In one of the early scenes, Tim walks out into the empty streets and sees a black SUV that immediately speeds away. What’s the significance of that?
In another movie there would be a scene where Tim runs out for it and gets up to it and bangs on the window, tries to get into it and stops it and for me it was wanting to show the mismatch of this one lone sheriff and the power of the government. That he was being watched and the car could easily just speed and get away from him and there was nothing he could do and to set up this uneven conflict between the two with our sheriff clearly being in a disadvantage. And I wanted to set up that character – that truck in a way is a character in the movie. It’s one of the few identifiable pieces that represent the military. You see the truck in that scene, it’s the same truck that speeds by out the window when Russell and David are hiding in the police station after the containment, when they’re getting the weapons and then it’s the same vehicle that’s flipped when Russell throws out the tire strip. It’s the same vehicle.
SY: Compared to the majority of horror films, you barely show any gore. In fact, in most of the kill scenes you cut away before seeing the actual death. Did you always plan to go that route with this?
I think it depends on which death it was. There are definitely times when I felt I wanted to see the death whether it was the mortician when he gets the blade to the neck or the wife of Rory Hamill when she gets the knife to the neck. You know, moments that you see it. But then there are the times when it felt like I didn’t really want to see the death. For example, the mother and son in the closet or when that father of that character dies in the jail cell. It’s not so much an overall decision, as it is more of a scene-by-scene decision. For me, the gore, I wanted to support the movie. I didn’t want the movie to be just about the kills or the scope of gore and then [everybody] goes home and the people wouldn’t just be talking about the deaths and the interesting gore. They’d be talking about the story and the themes and the characters and within that conversation would be the discussion of the fun set pieces and the interesting deaths and the car wash and the knife and the bone saw. So it’s just a go-with-a gut-thing and I like a certain amount of gore, but for me, if you go too far it kind of breaks the story apart.
SY: Much of the film relies on the relationship between your four leads. Was the chemistry instant?
When you shoot a movie on location and especially a location like Perry, Georgia or Lenox, Iowa, which are both very small towns and kind of in the middle of nowhere, everybody bonds because there’s nothing else to do. It’s not like everyone’s going home at night. There really aren’t even restaurants to go to. You all kind of go to the same place and do the same thing. It helps bond, not just the cast, but the crew to the cast and it just makes making a movie that much more pleasant. You know, everybody has their conflicts in the course of making movies. There are times when people just get heated, but for the majority of making this movie, they got along well and it was a good group of people to have together and it helped to make the movie.
SY: You can tell. Of course the leads can act, but there’s only so far that can take you.
Yeah, exactly. [Laughs] There are some actors that can pretend like they like each other, they’re that good actors. But it’s a lot easier if they actually like each other.
SY: Those are your main characters, but some of the minor roles, the crazies in particular, make quite an impact. Do you have a favorite crazy?
That’s a good question. Do I have a favorite crazy? I have favorite crazy moments. I certainly like the principal. I like when he’s sitting on the bench just completely out of it and I like the hunters a lot. Those guys were hilarious together. It’s funny when you put a pack of crazies together they end up being pretty fun to watch. But I don’t know if I have a favorite crazy. I certainly have a favorite crazy from the original. In the original movie there’s this woman, she has a broom and she’s [sweeping] the grass. I always thought that was a funny. That was my favorite crazy in the original.
SY: I’ve got a similar instance I loved in your movie, the old lady who’s walking around asking if Peter called.
Oh of course! Did Peter call? We discussed this; it’s so funny. We wrote that in that script and we’re like, ‘Okay, that’ll change one day because it’s so random. It’s out of left field. We’ve got to come up with something more clever.’ And then nothing better came up and the day was there and we’re like, ‘You know what? It’s so random and so out of left field, let’s just do it!’ It’s like, ‘What the @#$% is she talking about?’ ‘I don’t know, she’s crazy!’ ‘Okay, perfect. Do it!’
SY: So what’s coming up next? Are you doing The Brood and Creature From the Black Lagoon?
No, Flash Gordon is the thing I’m most deeply embedded in now. We finished up breaking story and the writers are writing now and it’ll go to the studio in a month or two.
By Perri Nemiroff