One of the creepiest scenes ever in a horror film is the prologue to John Carpenter's 1980 chiller The Fog. The late, great John Houseman tells a group of little kids the story of a ship that, a hundred years ago, was lured by the bright glow of a lighthouse, only to find out it was all a sham after crashing into the rocks and meeting a watery grave. That was a simple, yet effective set-up to a pretty good second act for John Carpenter, who hit paydirt with Halloween.
The Fog is the latest victim of the terrifying Remake Curse, in which genre flicks loved by horror fans are updated whether the original filmmakers agree or not. I admit that the idea of remaking this film made me apprehensive, considering how much I enjoyed the original film and worship Carpenter. Still, I tried to purge myself of my pre-viewing bias by remembering that The Fog wasn't a perfect movie after all. Maybe an upgrade 25 years later would do the trick. Wrong! A new crew of filmmakers takes this 80s horror gem and transforms it into an abominable shadow of its former self.
The story behind The Fog remains relatively the same. The town of Antonio Bay is making plans to celebrate its anniversary (which one, though, is a question the movie tries to dodge and ends up answering rather confusingly), paying tribute to the four men who turned a dusty patch of land into a prosperous burg. But there's something sinister behind the town's conception, a wrong that a mysterious, supernatural force is determined to right. Lately, a giant fog bank has been edging its way toward town, and as the anniversary night approaches, ghosts emerge from the fog to exact their revenge upon the townspeople. A handful of folks, including Nick (Tom Welling), his girlfriend Elizabeth (Maggie Grace), and late-night DJ Stevie Wayne (Selma Blair), are caught up in the chaos and decide to band together to survive the night and uncover why Antonio Bay is feeling the wrath of the ghostly fog.
When one thinks of fog, the word "dense" might come to mind; when I think of this remake of The Fog, the same word seems appropriate. The movie takes so many missteps, yet director Rupert Wainwright (Stigmata) so closely follows the original film, it's a wonder a little of Carpenter's greatness didn't rub off . But what this one lacks is the original's ghost story charm, a sense of simplicity that allowed Carpenter to weave a low-key but very dark and effective horror tale. Carpenter's The Fog had a sense of heart and commitment. Wainwright's version feels like a strike-while-the-iron's-hot attempt to cash in on the new horror boom. There's so much dead air, so many moments where the filmmakers could've done something cool and creepy with the story, yet all that's left is an absence of energy, a cinematic black hole that expands until the entire film sucks out all the fear it could have generated.
No scene had me on the edge of my seat, no character made me care about his or her predictable fate, and the movie fails to bring a single original or intriguing element to to the remake table. All Wainwright does is regurgitate parts of the Carpenter film while giving it a modern-day finish. In the end, The Fog boils down to about 100 minutes of characters running around, screaming out for one another, and either getting killed by or running from the fog. And, believe me, there's a LOT of fog -- but there's nothing gloomy or frightening about it.
With its ineffective characters and fearful atmosphere that peters out before the ten-minute mark -- plus a general laziness permeating the entire picture -- Wainwright's The Fog emerges as an uninvolving and thrill-free time-waster.
MY RATING: * (out of ****)
(Released by Columbia Pictures/Revolution Studios and rated "PG-13" for volence, disturbing images and brief sexuality.)