Adrian Hough and Maggie Grace in Columbia Pictures' The Fog - 2005
Doing a remake is always a chancy business. On the one hand, if you have a devoted fan base already in place, it could mean box-office city. On the other hand, if the fan base is too devoted, you could end up with an angry mob on your hands. Heedless of the danger, Hollywood has embarked full-steam on a series of 70’s horror remakes, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, and this week’s The Fog, which I grew up thinking was about ghost pirates, but is actually about ghost lepers. Hey, it’s close.
The Fog, which actually came out in 1980, was John Carpenter’s relatively low-budget follow-up to the hugely successful Halloween. He has said that, after doing a slasher pic, he wanted to go to a fairly classic ghost story next, staying in the fright genre, but varying things a little. The result is the nicely atmospheric, well-told tale of a small California town whose celebrated founders salvaged the money to build the village from the wreckage of the doomed ship Elizabeth Dane which sunk off-shore one moonless foggy night a century ago. As you might guess, there was more to the tale than met the eye, and the passengers and crew of the Dane are coming to join the centennial celebration, and bringing their fog with them. Jamie Lee Curtis plays a hitchhiker who gets caught up in the mayhem, lending her famous scream to the proceedings, and Hal Holbrook plays a guilt-ridden priest who has discovered the town’s true past. The movie is actually better than you might expect, and holds up pretty well after twenty-five years. The ending gets a little haphazard, and several important plot points get left by the wayside, but overall, it’s pretty enjoyable.
Flash forward to 2005, and we have what is, on the surface, a pretty faithful retelling of the story. The town of Antonio Bay goes from California to Oregon and is moved offshore to an island, and the characters are slightly varied, but basically the facts are the same. On the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the town, a mysterious fog envelopes the island and all hell breaks loose. Unfortunately, where the movie falls are in those elements so enamored of by today’s teen audience. More sex, more gore, less sense. TV’s Superman, Tom Welling, is Nick Castle, owner of the charter boat Seagrass. Nick, who is apparently quite the ladies man, picks up a cute hitchhiker one night, who, much to his surprise, turns out to be his long lost girlfriend coming home after nearly a year in New York. Elizabeth, the Jamie Lee character in the first movie, is given more of a character here, though much of her role involves running around in her underwear. Nevertheless, she and Nick uncover the vital clues to the mystery, starting with the discovery of the Seagrass floating derelict following a night of drinking and debauchery (two things guaranteed to get you killed in 70’s horror flicks) by the first mate and friends. The friends are dead and the first mate is in shock, and that’s only the beginning.
The Fog, 2005, certainly has an advantage over it’s predecessor in the realm of special effects. The fog is very cool looking, and scenes of the ghost ship and it’s crew are very scary indeed. The effect is ruined somewhat by close-ups of decaying corpses, but you can’t have everything, I guess. The problem is that too much possibility for visuals can clutter up what should be a nice simple story. Also, in updating things for the 21st century we’ve dropped many of the “rules” that govern the ghosts in the first film, making some of the goings on even more senseless. Technology for the characters is better, too; laptops and miniDV camcorders were unknown to the people of 1980, but the movie fails to remain consistent, asserting that the fog disrupts electrical devices, but apparently leaves these alone. The writers flesh out the backstory somewhat, and even provide welcome flashbacks, but they go too far, as usual, and venture into the realm of the nonsensical. I’d explain further, but to do so would be to give away the secret, not that it’s mindblowing or anything. The true failing of the film, however, is the ridiculous and tacked on ending. In the original film, the ghosts, getting what they came for, leave as they came, in a puff of smoke. In the current version, it’s much the same, but what they came for will have you scratching your head and murmuring “whaaaat?” It’s a noble effort, but by the end, it’s not just the residents of Antonio Bay who are in a fog. Grade: C (1980 version: B-)
The Fog is rated PG-13 for gore and sexual situations, though no nudity.
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