‘The Fog’ (1980/2005)

John Carpenter’s ‘ The Fog ‘ (1980) was, of course, one of seminal horror pictures of the 80′s. ‘The Fog’ was Carpenter’s third feature film to be followed by ‘Escape from New York’ in 1981 and his remake of ‘The Thing’ in 1982. Shot for $1 million 1980 dollars (300% the value of 2008 dollars) it would have made $63,000,000 if released today.

As is the case with many of these latter-day remakes, the movie is populated by television actors cut loose from their day-jobs:The 2005 remake features Tom Welling (“Smallville”) and Maggie Grace (“Lost”), wasting Selma Blair (‘Hellboy’) in the de-emphasized role of Stevie Wayne, the lighthouse owner and disc jockey. This remake ‘updates’ the story with references to ‘Girls Gone Wild’ and other PG-13 mall-scares like Darkness Falls . Like ‘Alien (1979) the original ‘Fog’ was a decidedly R-rated with a strong female lead, aimed at an adult audience.

The original was a work of passion, as Carpenter famously re-shot a third of the original film after principle photography had wrapped, adding the John Houseman prologue to decisively frame the picture as a ghost-story. The remake was greenlit on an incomplete, 18 page draft.

Both movies take place in a picturesque seaside community — Antonio Bay, California in the original, Antonio Island, Oregon in the emake — a town founded 100 years ago, about to celebrate its centennial with parades, ticker-tape parades and a statue dedicated to its founders. But as with much of the American frontier, the community of Antonio Bay was initiated with a blood-debt that most of its current residents are unaware of.

Selma Blair’s Stevie Wayne is under-written, compared to Adrienne Barbeau’s original movie. In Carpenter’s film there is a ‘ Rear Window ‘ dynamic operating between Barbeau’s character and several other characters that falls flat in the remake. Whether it’s the weakness of Blair’s acting chops or Welling’s incipient stardom, the emphasis of this remake has shifted from the Barbeau character to Welling’s Nick Castle, who was little more than a supporting role in the original.

Carpenter also manages pacing better than Wainwright:The difference between the two movies occurs precisely in the gap between hearing and seeing. The remake places an emphasis on visual spectacles — fires, explosions and glass attaacks — whereas Carpenter allows characters to report violent things that have occued offscreen , creating tension without having to stage gory events until absolutely necessary.

Besides the generational shift, the remake misses the gravitas brought to the original by the participation of the mother-daughter team of and Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis. Leigh is known, of course, for her iconic roles– not only as Marion Crane in Hitchcock’s ‘ Psycho ‘ (1960) but also Susie Vargas in Orson Welles’ ‘ Touch of Evil ‘ (1958) . By 1980, Jamie Lee had become a star as the result of Carpenter’s ‘ Halloween ‘ (1978), but actors like John Houseman and Hal Holbrook brought a remarkable pedigree to the work of the still-young filmmaker. The remake has no strong veteran players to anchor the story.

Gone is the feminist subtext, and Rob Bottin’s superior make-up and practical effects, replaced by CGI. But Graeme Revelle score is an effective, interesting addition underserved by Cooper Layne’s finished script.

Like many of the J-horror remakes, this movie seems to want to place an emphasis on electronic gadgetry to ornament the story — camcorders, televisions and cell-phones which naturally go on the fritz as a result of proximate ghosts, but the gadgetry is a nod rather than a plot-device.

‘The Fog’ (1980): Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
‘The Fog’ (2005): Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

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