Directed by: Rupert Wainwright
Written by: Cooper Layne
Starring: Tom Welling, Maggie Grace, Selma Blair, and DeRay Davis

“In loving memory of Debra Hill.”

Nothing in the remake of The Fog chilled me as much as these words that appear during the closing credits. The late Debra Hill was a producer who worked with the giants of horror, producing a superb adaptation of The Dead Zone for director David Cronenberg, as well as John Carpenter’s HalloweenEscape From New York, and yes, the original 1980 version of The Fog. And, after such a distinguished career, to have this huge pile of excrement dedicated to her memory made my stomach turn.

Some would argue that remakes, by their very nature, are always bad. I’m not one of them. I loved Chuck Russell’s take on The Blob. Cronenberg’s The Fly was a true masterpiece of drama and horror. John Carpenter’s update of The Thing is still one of my top ten horror films of all time. And, as much as it pains me to admit it, the upgrade of Dawn of the Dead was a great bit of gory fun. So why did these remakes work when so many others have failed? First of all, they treated their source material with respect. Second, they did not try to tell the exact same story. They took the idea of the original work and went in new and different directions.

So where does the retelling of The Fog go wrong? Well…lets begin with the story. Carpenter’s original tale worked, by and large, because of its simplicity. It is the centennial celebration in the California coastal town of Antonio Bay, and all hell has broken loose. The town founders sank a ship of lepers in a thick fog exactly one hundred years ago by lighting a bonfire on the beach. Blake, the leader of the leper colony, mistook the fire for a lighthouse beacon. His ship, the Elizabeth Dane, then crashed on the rocks and sank. The founders—these 6 conspirators—recovered Blake’s gold and used it to build the town. Now, a hundred years later, the ghosts of these murdered souls return for revenge and they will not stop until they have claimed 6 lives.

In writing this remake, however, Cooper Layne has decided that we need much more information about the ghosts and what happened to them. He moves Antonio Bay to an island town off the coast of Oregon. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. However, it seems that just lighting a bonfire on shore is no longer considered enough of a crime. Layne has the conspirators actually taking a rowboat out to meet Blake’s ship. Once there, they rob each of the lepers at gunpoint and set fire to the Elizabeth Dane, burning everyone alive. What’s worse, there’s no fog during these events, which—in Carpenter’s tale—is the whole reason the ghosts come back in a fog now! And because it is 2005, there can’t be anything as neat and clean as a one hundred year anniversary to resurrect the spirits. Instead, we get the unveiling of a statue to the four founding fathers of Antonio Bay. Also, the ghosts are now out to kill just the descendants of the original conspirators, all of whom happen to still be living on the island. Then, for good measure, Layne throws in a ridiculous twist at the end that makes you wonder just what the ghosts were after all along.

Carpenter’s original movie used fog machines to create the atmosphere. His ghosts were actors dressed like rotting mummies. They were kept in the shadows and used swords and meat hooks to claim their prey. Perhaps this is the reason someone wanted to do a remake. Surely, with the advances in special effects made over the last 25 years, the filmmakers can now make these ghosts look far more frightening than the original! Wrong. The Computer Generated fog looks like the rejected test of a video game element. And the CG spirits are see-through knock-offs of the skeletal pirates from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. In fact, Disney appears to have been a major influence here. The climax of the film takes place in a cemetery and, with all of the transparent ghosts standing around; it’s like visiting the Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion. By keeping his spirits as shadowy, mysterious figures, Carpenter made them scary. By bringing them into the light as badly rendered special effects, Rupert Wainwright has turned them into jokes.

These problems would be bad enough by themselves, but the film does not stop there. In Carpenter’s film, when odd things started happening, his characters talked about it the next day and compared notes with other characters. Here, you could cut the ghost scenes out of the picture entirely, because Wainwright’s characters act as if they never happened at all. And Maggie Grace shows us that it is a bad idea to walk on a wet board over seawater while carrying a video camera—a camera that, by the way, has the only evidence that can clear her friend of murder.

I could spend all day discussing why this remake is a waste of celluloid (like the hilarious shower scene that plays like Cinemax porn edited by soccer moms), but here’s the bottom line: John Carpenter’s The Fog is a movie that all horror fans should rent or buy and add to their collection. Rupert Wainwright’s The Fog, on the other hand, takes its title far too literally: it is murky and you can’t see anything in it worth recommending. One hundred years from now, the descendants of these filmmakers had better beware: the ghost of Debra Hill might want some payback.

1 out of 5 stars.