"Horror" has come to mean something very specific to Hollywood, and perhaps more than any other genre, is withering from a lack of creativity. The horror film should unnerve, disorient, and startle—qualities that evaporate when imitated. The formulaic scare tactics of "The Crazies" and its contemporaries are so well established that their effect on audiences now is negligible. It's compounded by the remake phenomenon, and though you can put a fresh coat of paint on a forty-year-old film, can you really expect it to frighten anybody?
I suspect fans of the genre aren't even showing up to be scared anymore. How can they be? They know the rules. What passes for great horror today is really 'horrortainment:' competent atmosphere and innovative gore slapped on an obvious template. And such has been the reaction to "The Crazies," which has a relatively high 72% Rotten Tomatoes metascore, based on 130 reviews. The consensus is that the film is "uncommonly intelligent," without reference to the embarrassingly low mean intellect of 21st century horror.
And "The Crazies" does have competent atmosphere, though it's merely that. Following a promising start, the film still suffers from the stilted predictability that plagues the genre at its worst, and it shouldn't be praised for performing above a very low average, especially when nothing interesting happens after the first twenty minutes.
There's a gravity to act one, before the meddlesome government steps in and fucks up the film, with attention paid to the fact that the Crazies are our (suddenly creatively homicidal) friends and neighbors. There's your movie: what does it mean to be brutally attacked by the people you love? Why don't we leave it at that and do away with this trite big brother/quarantine shtick? All it nets us is regurgitated social commentary, a half-hearted compound escape sequence, and a film that's approximately 30% walking.
And the walking dissolves into more walking, which is intermittently punctuated with exactly the sort of scenes you would expect in a post-apocalyptic zombie flick. Where do we go? Is one of our party members infected? Why don't you wait in this dimly-lit diner alone while I go do something important?
An occasional effective jump scare, menacing visual, and suspenseful moment aren't enough to make up for a wholly second-rate script. It all goes back to that first sentence. "The Crazies" is not scary. And it's not scary just because it doesn't surprise us, but also because it exists in a world without consequence. Early in the film, a son and his mother stow away in a coat closet to hide from her infected husband. When dad finds them, he doesn't yank them out—He locks them in and sets the house on fire.
Okay, you got me—Now what? We cut out of the scene and never see any of the characters again. What? If you really want to horrify me, stick me in that closet with the burning family. Let me feel the smoke inhalation and smell the singed flesh.
Like comedy and laughter, if a horror film finds a way to frighten this jaded moviegoer, I'm more than willing to overlook its flaws elsewhere. But the last thing I should ever feel is comfortable—No, scratch that. The last thing I should ever feel is bored, and "The Crazies" is a boring film. It's objectively a step above "Legion" or "The Wolfman," but I suppose that's what passes for praise in the current horror climate.