The year was 1973, and hippies were in full swing. The Vietnam War was consuming the airwaves, and generally speaking, people weren’t happy. Director George Romero was busy riding high on the success of his little movie called Night of the Living Dead when he released The Crazies. The film was about a small town infected with a deadly, fast-spreading virus and the chaos that ensued.

Like so many films of late, the Hollywood powers that be decided to give Romero’s film a proper re-imagining. The film, which retains the original title, opens this week.

The Crazies is set in a small, Midwestern town as strange things start to happen. The ordinarily nice and friendly people of Ogden Marsh start to act … a bit, well, crazy.

A mysterious toxin is discovered to be infecting the town’s water supply and anyone that comes across it, turning them into violent, senseless animals. Sheriff Dutten (Timothy Olyphant), his wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) along with medical assistant Becca (Danielle Panabaker) and a deputy, Russell (Joe Anderson), must find a way out of the town as they struggle to survive the plague that is tearing their town apart.

Director Breck Eisner, whose previous films include Sahara and the upcoming remake of Flash Gordon, breaks into the genre with ease. He directs the excellent cast of Olyphant, Mitchell, Anderson and the charming Panabaker.

Panabaker, who led the cast of last year’s remake of Friday the 13th, says that her involvement in both provides an interesting parallel to just how different the films are.

“With Jason in Friday the 13th you know what you’re running from – a big guy who’s out to kill you. With a disease like this, you don’t really know what’s coming.”

A disease-based villain is something that she notes is disturbingly plausible.

“It’s extremely contemporary to think that our food or water could be contaminated,” she says. “I recently saw a documentary called Food Inc. that absolutely changed the way that I eat food. You really find out how many chemicals go into all food. There’s simply no way of knowing what’s going on out there. That’s what makes this movie so scary.”

This aspect of the film provides an extra layer of substance to an otherwise relatively straightforward horror flick. It is always refreshing to see a genre film possess both brain and balls when it comes to its execution.

The film’s small town fictional setting of Ogden Marsh provides an ominous and claustrophobic backdrop for the disturbing events to unfold. The film was actually shot on location in two small towns, one in Georgia and one in Iowa.

“Both locations were pretty remote,” says Panabaker. “In Iowa, the town we shot in had a population of 1,200 so when we shot there we must have increased the economy by tenfold. I’d never really experienced the small town before.”

Yet Panabaker liked working in a small town just fine.

“There is something great about being on location and being able to focus solely on the work,” she shares. “I missed my family and friends back home, but there is a certain advantage to being able to focus solely on the work at hand.”

When it comes to horror films, it’s all about location, location, location, and fortunately, The Crazies does just fine here. Atmosphere is an important and often overlooked element of any suspense-oriented horror film, and the film possesses atmosphere in spades.

While parallels will undoubtedly be drawn, it is important to note that this is not a zombie film. This could be seen as a negative to some people, but it provides a far more terrifying antagonist than one may initially suspect. The “crazy” people of Ogden Marsh look and act just like Joe Bob and Sally Smith next door.

This sense of paranoia is one of elemental importance in The Crazies. Echoing films like John Carpenter’s The Thing, you aren’t quite sure who has the sickness and who doesn’t.

While the disease itself is indeed the most notable villain in the film, the lines become blurred once chaos breaks out in the town. Unlike most horror films, there is any number of so-called bad guys in The Crazies. This reinforces the sense of confusion and chaos that the characters must deal with to stay alive. It also provides more than a handful of surprising plot twists as the group struggles to survive.

Furthermore, like Romero’s original film, there is ample social commentary in the story that is likely to get people scratching their heads more than they might think. Unlike Friday the 13th, the action and bloodshed hits home a bit more intimately. With all of the paranoia and skepticism concerning some of the government’s more controversial moves, we can all agree that the suspect motives behind the chaos in The Crazies can be at least modestly time appropriate.

Furthermore, while the bulk of the craziness (pun intended) of the swine flu epidemic has subsided, it has allowed us to realize that anything is possible when it comes to mass hysteria. While the disease in The Crazies may not be real, we can never be quite sure what kind of chemicals might be floating around in that airplane or in that burger bun.

However, The Crazies is first and foremost a horror film, and while the added social commentary is much appreciated, it’s the scares that count. Eisner and company bust out all the stops and take no prisoners.

Panabaker puts it best, stating, “There are definitely some gruesome, gory deaths, but there are also some really scary, intense moments and some awesome action sequences.”

In the realm of the horror film, you can’t really ask for more.