A night to remember for “The Crazies”
BY ROBERT W. WELKOS
The invitation came from the “Pierce County Gazette” and read:
“I received your message and am relieved to hear you will be meeting me at 4401 Sunset Boulevard on Wednesday, February 24th, to witness THE CRAZIES.”
For security reasons, people receiving the invitation were told to arrive between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., to bring their photo ID, and “security is tight and only authorized vehicles will be allowed to enter the quarantine zone.”
The invitation also came with a warning: “Please keep this information confidential. Only your names have been submitted for processing. No personal cameras are permitted and will be confiscated.”
It was signed: “Samuel O. Simpson, Staff Writer.”
What people attending the screening found was a scene that won’t soon be forgotten.
Paul Degarabedian, the box office analyst at Hollywood.com, said the first thing he noticed that made him nervous was pulling into the parking lot at KCET television studios in Los Feliz and noticing guys in military uniforms. In the minutes that followed he realized that everything that would happen to him that night would be scripted “from actors playing roles from the film, to the sounds of choppers flying overhead and sirens whaling and red lights flashing” all to promote Overture Films’ new horror film, “The Crazies.”
When it comes to promotion, Degarabedian said, it was one of the most fun “and crazy” screenings and after-parties he has ever attended.
The first sign that something was odd, he recalled, was driving into the parking area at KCET and seeing men in military uniforms.
“The guy shined a flashlight in my eyes and on my (invitation),” Degarabedian said. He was very abrupt. Then he asked me, “Have you had any water to drink today?” I didn’t know this, but I gave the right answer. I said, “No, sir, I didn’t drink any water.?”
In the film, directed by Breck Eisner, a toxin in the water begins to turn the residents of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, into violent psychopaths and it’s the job of Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) to make sense of the situation while he, his wife (Radha Mitchell) and two other unaffected townspeople band together in a fight for survive. The military quarantines the whole town.
After parking his car, Degarabedian said, he and others invited to the screening were told to get wristbands and then were herded onto buses with blacked-out widows. A soldier was yelling at them: “Move along! Get on the bus!”
“They don’t take us to the theater,” he continued. “Instead, we have to get out and walk through the neighborhood with a military escort.” All the time, the soldiers are barking “Move along! Move along!”
Before entering the theater, the moviegoers had to go through a gauntlet of military personnel. Red lights were flashing and the sounds of sirens and helicopters blared throughout the Los Feliz neighborhood..
“There were people dressed up as patients who were on gurneys,” he said. “They were screaming for help.”
At one point, the moviegoers were met by a doctor who checked their ears trying to take their temperatures.
Inside the Vista Theater, where the screening took place, the audience was given popcorn and soda, but before the movie started, actors in military garb paraded up and down the aisles with flashlights announcing that everyone had been cleared for quarantine.
Then the PA announced: “You have been cleared for quarantine.”
“Then a bunch of military guys ran down the aisle and dragged somebody kicking and screaming out of the theater,” Degarabedian said, noting it was obviously scripted.
“I love it!” he said.
Degarabedian said he has been going to Hollywood premieres and screenings for many years and rarely has he been treated to such an over-the-top promotion.
“The age of showmanship is kind of dead,” he said. “The last great screening I attended was ‘Harry Potter’ in New York last year.”
But “The Crazies” equaled or topped that experience.
The after-party was equally macabre.
Guests entered the party and the first thing they saw was a real woman hanging by her neck from a wooden beam.
Degarabedian said she was an actor in a harness, but still the sight of her was eerie.
Spread around the party were costumes from the film, including blood-soaked shirts.
“The experience was like you’re living inside the movie,” he said. “It was really cool.”
Degarabedian said Breck Eisner’s father, former Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, attended the after-party.
And the movie was an enjoyable as the scripted events, the box office analyst said.
“The movie was good, really solid,” he said.
“The Crazies” opens wide on Friday.
Below the official letter: