Posted in Film, Writing

How to Effectively Use Small Town Settings for Your Horror Stories

092018

Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!

Review — The Crazies (2010)

Most of George Romero’s older films have been remade into lackluster disappointments. His legendary Night of the Living Dead was remade into a 1990 version that was, similar to Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, almost identical to its predecessor. Unfortunately it lacked the suspense and charm of the original.

Romero’s second Dead film Dawn of the Dead is one of the great horror masterpieces of all time, and no remake could ever really do it justice. Zach Snyder’s energetic remake came close to working-with its opening twenty minutes particularly effective — but it still failed under the weight of the original.

And then there’s that third Dead movie Day of the Dead, which isn’t looked as fondly upon as Romero’s first two, but still has a cult following. Even that film was remade into a direct-to-DVD movie with Mena Suvari and Nick Cannon in 2008.

It’s so common that it’s almost a rule for the remake to be lackluster. Such is not the case with the 2010 remake The Crazies, directed by Breck Eisner (Sahara), and based on the 1973 feature by Romero. The budget has increased, and the star wattage is more worthy of a paparazzi-infected red carpet premiere. But The Crazies improves on its predecessor by upping the ante on sheer terror. This is a terrific chiller that hums along at a fast pace that never lets up during its lean running time.

The film follows David Dutton, a sheriff of a small town who shoots dead the town drunk who pulls a gun on him at a little league game. As the hours pass, more and more of the city population start turning into homicidal maniacs, causing Dutton and his wife Judy to fight for survival.

The best scene takes place in a containment facility, where one of the infected townspeople starts mutilating individuals tied against small beds with a pitchfork. On the commentary, director Eisner says that it’s the one scene in the entire movie he would have liked to have more time to shoot. No worries though — it’s a tremendous horror scene I haven’t soon forgotten.

The cast makes the film truly stand out. Timothy Olyphant is Hollywood’s great hidden secret, an actor who can turn any average character into someone worth watching. He is a force of nature here, so powerful yet vulnerable in the lead role. Radha Mitchell is another hidden secret— clearly this film’s casting director John Papsidera knows his stuff (he does — he cast The Dark Knight). She plays a strong female character who has no difficulty in putting up a fight.

The Crazies is no masterpiece of horror, but it’s far more entertaining and scary than ninety percent of the other mainstream genre films these days. Eisner shows a great eye for this kind of film and should continue to work in darker fare. Olyphant should just be in as many movies as possible — the guy is fantastic. Romero’s version of this story will always be considered a solid effort in his hit-and-miss resume, but this remake is even better, and well worth checking out.

Watching Like a Writer

The Crazies makes me think about writing a story set in a small town setting where everything seems to be ideal and perfect, when suddenly something out of the blue turns the place into a terrifying bloodbath. It’s not a new concept by any means — Romero used it in many of his films, and so does Stephen King — but it’s one that almost always works extremely well, as long as the characters are well-defined from the beginning and you have a few select characters to root for. The Mist does this really well, too. So does The Birds. Ultimately it comes down to the characters and the setting, and if both are working, there’s no telling how terrifying the story can become.

Exercise!

Pick a small town anywhere in the United States that you would love to tell a creepy little horror story. What would the town be? Why?

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