In 1980, writer/director John Carpenter scared the bejeezus out of everyone with his zombie ghost story The Fog – where a coastal town is terrorised by a strange mist and the loping masses of long-dead, cursed sailors. Its simplicity was a large part of its charm – it had no pretences to be anything other than a zombie horror B-movie, yet, by the standards of the time, its pacing and atmosphere were perfectly accomplished. It quickly became a cult favourite and, partly on the back of Carpenter’s success with his slasher horror Halloween two years earlier, also received an impressive critical and commercial response.
A quarter of a century on, the original film is still much-loved by its fans, but has not aged well. Coming as it did just after George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had started to revolutionise film special effects with Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the special effects on display were already a bit shaky even by 1980s standards – by those of 2005/6, many are laughably bad. Largely because of this, the reactions of some of the actors likewise seem a tad unfeasible – who would, after all, get terrified by a mysterious fog that is obviously little more than a bit of dry ice from a smoke machine just off-camera?
As such Carpenter can easily be forgiven for thinking that a remake could be a good idea, especially considering that he hasn’t made a genuinely good movie since Big Trouble in Little China – 20 years ago. Whether it was because of the poor box office showing of his last outing, 2001’s Ghosts of Mars, or the ridicule heaped on it by the critics is hard to say, but despite The Fog being entirely his baby, Carpenter this time opted not to direct, and even allowed his original screenplay to be heavily re-written.
Rather oddly, however, the re-writes have turned this into yet another of those mindless teen horror films which keep seeming to crop up on a regular basis despite already having been thoroughly ridiculed in the likes of the Scream films and Scary Movie. Considering the fact that Carpenter helped invent the genre back in the 1970s, one might assume that he would be aware of how many of these things there have been in recent years, and so – perhaps – try to do something a bit different.
As it stands, although the special effects are much better, the film itself is nowhere near as good as the original. With a cast populated almost exclusively with pretty young things plucked from the small screen – including Smallville’s Tom Welling and Lost’s Maggie Grace with Selma Blair as the only person approaching a big name – there’s a lot of running about and screaming, but very little in the way of acting on display.
It’s always a shame when favourite old films are remade and ruined. The original version of The Fog was by no means perfect, yet it still had a certain charm combined with a few genuinely creepy moments. This take on the same story, despite having the blessing of John Carpenter himself, makes a hash of the original decent concept, producing a film of little interest to anyone. It is also yet another prime example of how the mighty have fallen. Twenty-five years ago, Carpenter was regarded as one of the best and most original horror filmmakers in the business; today he has had to resort to clichés and genre stereotypes. As lovely as it would be to see him get back to form, on the evidence of this movie, his talent has been irretrievably lost. Go and rent the original instead.