When comparing remakes to originals the remake is typically at an inherent disadvantage. We want the original to be better. And why wouldn’t we? It certainly deserves credit for creating an entire cinematic experience that didn’t even exist before, frequently the result of a single artist’s passion project. Additionally, so many of the original films ended up being incredibly significant works that had a major impact on the genre as a whole. Not only is the remake merely a copy of the original but it can feel like a usurper trying to cynically mine our nostalgia to make a quick buck.
Keeping all that in mind, I believe every remake deserves a fair shot because if done right it is also an opportunity to upgrade the experience with higher production values and patch up some of the shortcomings that the original production couldn’t avoid having. Of course this only works if the spirit of the original remains intact and today we’ll see if that’s the case for The Fog or if it ended up just being another soulless cash grab.
The original John Carpenter film tells the story of a small seaside town that is plagued by the supernatural creatures accompanying a mysterious fog that rolls in on the 100th anniversary of the town’s founding. Once the shit hits the fan it’s up to a small group of survivors to try and stop them or at the very least, survive the invasion. This includes the radio station owner, Stevie (Adrienne Barbeau), Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis), a hitchhiking drifter just trying to pass through town, and Nick (Tom Atkins) a local who picks her up.
While the remake does follow the same basic story there are some notable changes to key parts of the plot. For one, the catalyst for the attack involves a small fishing boat catching its anchor on some buried items lost in a shipwreck rather than the 100th anniversary of the town’s founding. Probably a wise choice since clipper ships were a lot more common in 1880 than they were in 1905. Nick (Tom Welling) still picks Elizabeth (Maggie Grace) up hitchhiking, but in this case she is his ex who has unexpectedly returned to town. While these were pretty minor changes, the ending of the remake is where the biggest diversion is seen but more on that later.
Of course these weren’t the only changes made and the remake tries hard to jazz things up a bit by shoehorning in exactly the kinds of antics you would expect from a Hollywood production. For instance, the first victims are still aboard a small fishing boat named ‘The Seabreeze’ but the grizzled fishermen have been replaced by a couple of bros and some scantily clad girls who just want to party, man. In fact, all of the surprisingly beautiful residents of this small town look (and act) like they just walked off the set of a CW show. Speaking of the CW, it’s utterly impossible to take pretty-boy Tom Welling seriously as a small town local, even if we set aside his incredibly stiff acting.
This was the first time I had seen the remake and despite the obvious shortcomings, I was actually pleasantly surprised throughout most of it. I was expecting a lot of shitty CGI fog faces replacing Carpenter’s effectively menacing silhouetted figures from the original but instead the film focused more on unseen horror and some very well done practical effects work. Well, at least the first half did because once it starts ramping up towards the climax, say goodbye to cool melting skeletons and stunt work and say hello to god awful cartoon ghosts. This all culminates in an ending that tries to throw a clever twist on the original but instead makes for an eye rolling scene that isn’t at all supported by the story that preceded it.
To be fair, the original did leave some big shoes to fill as improving on one of John Carpenter’s minor masterpieces is a tall order to begin with. But classics are classics for a reason and even though the remake tries to build fear through music cues and tense scenes every few minutes it never captures that organic sense of dread that the original was able to produce. It is also missing Carpenter’s excellent film score from the 1980 version and is instead crammed with derivative pop/rock from the early 2000s.
One of the scenes that best highlights the difference between the versions is the one where Elizabeth and Nick get their truck stuck in the mud after rescuing Stevie’s son. It’s a genuinely tense scene in the original as the creatures close in on the truck brandishing weapons until Elizabeth is able to finally gain traction and speed away. Contrast this with the remake where the same scene plays out in a far more anemic fashion only to end with Nick shoving Elizabeth out of the way so he can mansplain driving to her and save the day.
Despite all its flaws, the remake is actually better than I expected and does manage to be a light, entertaining film in its own right that at least starts out on the right foot. However, if you want any chance of unseating a Carpenter classic, you need to bring a hell of a lot more to the table than CGI jump scares and a half-assed attempt at a twist ending.