Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #675
Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 14, 2005
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $46,201,432
Running Time: 103 minutes
Director: Rupert Wainwright
Producers: John Carpenter, David Foster, Debra Hill
Screenplay: Cooper Layne
Based on characters created by John Carpenter & Debra Hill
Special Effects: Bob Comer
Visual Effects: Jeannine Dupuy
Cinematography: Nathan Hope, Ian Seabrook (underwater)
Score: Graeme Revell
Editing: Dennis Virkler
Studio: Revolution Studios
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Stars: Tom Welling, Maggie Grace, Selma Blair, Rade Šerbedžija, DeRay Davis, Sonja Bennett, Kenneth Welsh, Adrian Hough, Sara Botsford, Kathy Williams, Cole Heppell, Mary Black, Jonathon Young, R. Nelson Brown
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 John Carpenter “The Fog”
 The Booda Velvets “Salome’s Wish”
 Graeme Revell “Prologue/God’s Country”
John Carpenter’s The Fog is one of the great modern-day ghost stories in my opinion and a prime example of all the stars aligning at once. With Carpenter and producer Debra Hill on writing duties, Dean Cundey’s sublime cinematography, Rob Bottin’s superb make-up effects, a cast that boasted the likes of Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, her mother Janet Leigh, Charles Cyphers, Hal Holbrook and Tom “motherfucking” Atkins, and of course, another pulsating electronic score from the great man himself, he was onto a winner right from the get-go. However, despite modest theatrical success, it astonishingly only received a lukewarm response from critics. Mercifully, it has long since been regarded as a classic, quite rightly so, as it had atmosphere to spare and still holds up remarkably well to this very day.
When Carpenter and Hill expressed an interest in working on a remake, I was understandably rather excited, not that it felt necessary given how well the original had aged. English filmmaker Rupert Wainwright was hired to direct, and considering he had been responsible for the well above par Stigmata a few years earlier, this seemed like a shrewd decision. Alas, things didn’t work out quite how they were planned, despite the film doubling up at the box office. Critics tore right into it, Carpenter’s faithful fans were somewhat less than amused, and The Fog was generally regarded as a turkey. I’m not ordinarily one to be put off by negative hype, but considering I held the original in such lofty esteem, I decided to give Wainwright’s reboot a decidedly wide berth, at least until the dust had settled. Over a decade later, I have finally had the ominous pleasure, and here my fellow Grueheads, are my frightfully tardy findings.
Okay so first I think we really ought to address the gorilla in the mist. Two words – Stevie Wayne. Barbeau’s sultry tones provided the commentary to my adolescence, and over thirty years later, I still struggle to recall a voice quite so effortlessly seductive. Selma Blair is on lighthouse duties here, and while she’s undoubtedly a sight for sore eyes, it just ain’t the same. When I started appraising films, I made a solemn vow to judge remakes on their own merits, and not fall into the trap of making unfair comparisons to the works from which they derive. However, that’s a darn sight easier said than done when so much of what made the predecessor stand out has been neutered and our radio host is just the tip of this particular fog bank. Thus before we go a solitary step further into the dense mist of disappointment, I figure it best to get a few other niggling concerns off my chest.
While the cast cannot be blamed for giving anything other than their all (particularly Grace), Cooper Layne’s insultingly by-the-numbers screenplay provides them precious little space to manoeuvre. As a result, there’s a clear disconnect with the audience and it’s hard to muster any great enthusiasm over a single one of their fates. Meanwhile, the titular pea-soup itself is woefully ineffective, and where previously it felt oppressive and constantly encroaching, here it just ambles in willy-nilly and with nothing like the same sense of foreboding. Then we have Blake and his salty sea dogs; so mysterious and fearful before, they are now rendered largely ineffective and supplied far too much unnecessary back story to boast anything like the same prowling prowess. Granted, the fog effects themselves are impressive, but with a budget of $18 million at their disposal, this is no less than could be expected.
One of the things that made Carpenter’s original so terrifying was the manner in which Blake’s victims met their demise. There was no great requisite for grue, and instead, they were set upon swiftly and dragged into the gloom for further punishment, leaving grisly sound effects to supply their own visual. Here the emphasis is on bigger and better, and Wainwright seemingly forgot that less is so much more in such circumstances. Don’t even get me started on the teen-friendly contemporary soundtrack, which is a far cry from the master’s synthesized compositions and extracts almost all of the tension from proceedings. Or the maddening audio spikes every time danger approaches. By the way, anyone else notice the magically reappearing windscreen? Actually, continuity errors are just plain fun. As you have no doubt realized by now, I have my fair share of gripes. However, with all that unpleasantness now out-of-the-way, how does The Fog fare up as a movie in its own right? Average at very best I’m afraid.
Nick Castle (Tom Welling) is our able seaman, and along with his token black guy ship mate Spooner (DeRay Davis), any blame for what is about to play out in San Antonio Bay should be placed directly on his deck. After unwittingly disturbing a booty of antiques belonging to the long since sunken clipper ship, the Elizabeth Dane, the fog wastes no time rolling in to gain revenge for the crew’s harsh treatment way back in 1871. It just so happens that Nick’s former girlfriend, Elizabeth (Maggie Grace) has returned from a six-month walkabout and her rearrival coincides with a number of decidedly dubious goings on. It also places Nick in an awkward position with local radio host, Stevie (Blair), who he has recent history with although the pair’s unspoken connection is never actually elaborated on as the plot begins to thicken.
Wainwright plays things close to the original in one regard, setting up his pawns in much the same manner as his predecessor. However, he also takes a number of liberties with the source fiction, particularly with regards to how the mist manifests and torments the townspeople, never more so than during the inevitable last knockings showdown on sacred ground. To be fair, Wainwright does get one thing bang on the money and the eerie sight of Blake’s vessel ghosting past in the dead of night is suitably sinistrous. Sadly, when we’re brought in close for the all-important group hug, said ghouls resemble extras from Pirates of The Caribbean and lack any of the urgency or genuine creepiness of their cinematic ancestors.
While both Carpenter and Hill felt that their tale was due a retelling, Hill tragically succumbed to cancer before shooting began and Carpenter’s involvement consisted of little more than showing his face on set from time to time just to raise morale. It shows as the single most heinous crime The Fog commits is that it squanders any atmosphere it builds early on and attempts to pass off sub-standard CGI and transparent phantoms as creativity. Did they even know their core audience? As I mentioned at the offset, I’m not one to draw unfair comparisons with regards to remakes, but even I struggle to rationalize when the studio make such a botch of translating what is a reasonably simple premise.
I’ve heard some decidedly spiteful remarks made about The Fog and refuse to be too damning, as taken out of context from the original, it’s really not that terrible. That said, it is dreadfully uninspiring, and a ghost story so effortlessly unnerving deserved a whole lot better than par for the course. Like Rick Rosenthal’s equally culpable Halloween Resurrection, it surrenders the very essence of what made the original such a timeless classic and proves categorically that money can’t buy you love. Pardon the pun, but that makes it a mist opportunity in my ledger.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 5/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Blake and his entourage find plenty of fresh and inventive ways in which to claim “blood for blood!” but ironically there’s not a tremendous deal of deep red coulis flowing in San Antonio Bay to blind side us from the banality. Numerous females are thrown and sucked through windows by an imperceptible force, bodies are charred, knives flung, glass shards sever bloodlessly, an old man is blown across the town square, another dragged into the surf during a one-way tug-o-war, and there’s even time for a spot of death by dirty dishwater. All this extortionate endeavor and the simple sound of a dozen hooks sinking into their quarry off-screen would have been more than sufficient to raise those goosebumps. As for skin, how does a distressingly tame PG-13 shower montage grab you?
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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