The Fog (2005)

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Horror and drinking. Let’s talk about a horror that demands drinking. I have suffered a great personal lost in the couple of weeks. My iTunes folder and library were completely blasted from my hard drive. Being nearly 40 and lazy, technology like this frustrates me to no end. There were over 29,000 songs, neatly cataloged and ready to access at a moment’s notice. It was like a diary and a collection rolled into one. And now, now it’s gone.
Before you start tweeting me “helpful” hints and ideas on how to recover them, save it. I know. Everyone has been real “great.” My favorite? “Did you back it up?!” Someone is about to get a kitchen knife shoved through their left nostril into their pea-sized brain. No, Holmes, I did not back it up. It takes an amount of time and degree of OCD focus to ritualistically manage backing up that much data that I do not possess. But, praise Crom, Apple did back them up for me. Sort of.
You see, when Apple charges you to use the iCloud to access your own music for streaming, ala Pandora, it allows you to freely access any track that was purchased from their store. Then your purchased space is used to store non-iTunes tracks (ripped from CDs or what have you) and everyone gets to say “what an age we live in!” The problem is after a crash those non-Apple tracks are in limbo. I cannot restore them. I can see them on my iPhone, I can stream them to my iPhone, and I can even download them to my iPhone, but there is no way to get them back onto my hard drive.
This means key albums that I actually love enough to have tracked down physical copies of vinyl or CD and ripped them to my computer are gone. It’s one thing to have to download track by track anything you want to add back to your computer at the snail-slow speed of my internet connection down in my writing dungeon, but to not have exactly what you want to hear is torture that even the Marquis de Sade wouldn’t enjoy.
Chief among these losses was my copy of Megadeth’s Rust in Peace. Not a rare LP by any means. As a matter of fact, I could probably buy it again through Apple or find it in a Walmart bargain trough. I could, IF I WANTED THE REMAKE! Dave Mustane, in a grab for cash and a surge of egotism re-mastered the entire Megadeth catalog, drastically changing the sound of many tracks. As a Frank Zappa fan, I am quite used to this sort of shenanigan. But where Frank made new art from old, Dave murdered songs like “Five Magics” which are tattooed forever upon the walls of my heart. Not content to fade Marty Friedman’s guitar chops into the background while pushing his own axe work to eleven, Dave decided to re-record some vocals, even changing lyrics to the song in question. It is quite frankly the worst thing ever done by a human in the history of mankind.
Remakes are a volatile endeavor. There is an enormous uphill battle to sell the public that the remade product is even needed, let alone make a product that won’t disappoint. If the source material was legendary, then what will the new version add to it? If the source material was terrible then what can be fixed well enough to make the audience forget and forgive the past? Honestly, reworking someone else’s film just to get your name and look on it is masturbation.

The Fog
So I tried to catch Rupert Wainwright masturbating when I decided to watch his remake of The Fog. The original The Fog was an odd duck in the annals of horror cinema. John Carpenter directed the original at the very end of the 1979 also bizarrely cashed in to “produce” this remake. It was a weird mix of old school British horror movies and Americana New England area ghost stories. However, the original takes place in California in a small coastal town. The premise was a fog descends on this town one fateful night, which is of supernatural origin (made up of the ghosts of vengeful sailors). It was tense and sublime, but light on action. I’m trying to be nice; it wasn’t very good and added nothing new to horror.
The Fog was made with a small budget, and was Carpenter’s first crack at a major picture after his indie success with Halloween. Once completed, he did what all great directors should be doing; he looked at the final cut with proper respect to his own artistic vision, the viewers’ enjoyment, and the marketability for those who needed to sell the film. This was very mature and very prescient, as he rushed to add scenes, re-cut the film, and released a movie that overall worked well enough. It is largely forgettable, I think this is mostly due to the plot itself just being B grade and lacking any real outrageous set pieces.
With an open mind, the remade movie starts: it opens with a jump scare and Fall Out Boy. We are not going to be friends, The Fog Remake. Before we even meet all the main characters, we find that Hollywood since 1979 redefined a “teen horror movie” as meaning “offensively dumb.” Instead of unpredictable supernatural vengeance we learn that the ghosts of the wronged sailors are loosed because a college-age kid with a body to die for accidently disturbed artifacts with his anchor. Not a pandora’s box, not a coffin, no urn… but a hairbrush and a pocket watch.
This is the major disconnect these types of movies have from “real” horror. This is supposed to be storytelling in a genre. Ghost stories, especially nautical stories, have a cadence and a tradition. Once you explain too much, and start creating conditions and motives outside of that toolkit, you’ve mangled the art. Then you have a bad story on your hands, and resort to bimbos (of both sexes) and jump scares to sell your film. If the rules are respected, you get a free pass to suck a little; thus the rich tradition and fans of the many slasher movies regardless of poetry on screen. It’s what makes some horror palatable and some offensive. In the first version the town was about to celebrate its centennial… a celebration of significance and not uncommon in ghost stories for ghosts to start shot on red letter anniversaries. In the new film, it’s the eve of the town’s 134th anniversary. What?!
The movie descends immediately into all sorts of “let’s make it hip for the kids”/”let’s steal from what worked for other films” decisions that expose any movie as a fraud. They set the film in Oregon, which is hipper than California these days. The character of the female light house keeper/DJ, a symbol for the purity and rugged individualism of the seaside community in the first film, becomes a trampy alternative girl fighting the man by playing all the non-corporate tunes (like Fall Out Boy and Petey Pablo) on her pirate radio station. They might as well just have had her podcasting or hosting raves. Actually, she’s just your usual sexy bitchy brunette. Which I like, minus the pointless misdirected generational pandering. Oh, and she later implausibly survives a combined head-on collision, rollover crash, plunge from a cliff, and a terrifying submerged car situation… with the added peril of ghostly grabbing hands. Bull. Shit.

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Then there’s the rest of the cast of characters, all of whom you’d like to see die. The whole thing descends into a “sexy native returns home to play Scooby Doo and save the day” scenario. Throughout the movie she is stumbling into clues and unraveling the mystery in a conveniently linear manner. As I mentioned, jump scares complete with lack of atmosphere are the main dish… coupled with CGI and some truly bad Raimi rip off camera work. Also, the whole thing oozes vacant, TV style teen sex appeal. It’s like a CW show.
SOAPBOX WARNING! How do ghosts get to have every power? There needs to be some rules (see also my Grudge review). With the skill set they have in this film, they could have just got their revenge already. They murder, manipulate gravity, control condensation, grant visions of the past, start fires, control the internet, reanimate corpses, cause hyper-accelerated decay of a living person, tag graveyards like early 80’s b-boys, and manifest audio/visual. Yet, they wait for the eve of a random anniversary to stage a dense fog and night of terror. SIGH.
The first movie was about the sins of our fathers threatening to undermine our progress, and how our success as a community has been built upon misdeeds and secrets. There was even a layer of asking “the church is corrupt, but also steered our development, so how much will we tolerate its secrets and when will it need to atone for its own sins.” Not in this one. We get a drunk youngish priest who comes off as “I’m spiritual but not religious, dude” type of guy. He even sports a pre-hipster beard. Like in most movies, the holy man is privy to all sorts of knowledge he shouldn’t have; he’s the town shaman. In the original he protected the town secret from its shame. In this one, he’s being confronted with it.
We also get treated to a Neanderthal libidinous fisherman of a leading man. He is the one who accidently snagged the haunted debris on the ocean floor. All of his character development is centered on his cheating ways, and after 40 minutes it’s all wasted points. It has nothing to do with anything. As a matter of fact, they set up that the fact that the sailor is banging both leading ladies, who don’t even meet until the film’s “climax” leaving no time for an enjoyable seethe-athon or cat fight. It isn’t motivation or set-up, it is just filler, like every character in the movie. The whole character development reminds me of a TV series that had grand plans then got prematurely canceled, but given the go ahead to film an actual end. Everything races to a confusing traffic jam of an ending and we never really care why. Anything we are told about our cast is either pointless or ugly.
The movie struggles to make an impact of any sort. Even the breathtaking scene where the ghost clipper appears was mishandled; instead of the local fisherman out doing their thing (keeping their traditions and lives rolling) being the first to see the ship, it was “the jive talking black kid,” on a stolen boat, with twin whores and an imbecile buddy. Which leads to a one-two punch of jump scares involving a freezer that made me audibly tell Netflix to eff the eff off.
You’d think this helps you side with the ghosts; in the lengthy, awkwardly placed revelation flashback 85 minutes in we see why the ghosts were so ticked (they were a betrayed leper colony looking to start a new life) but the way it’s filmed makes their massacre almost humorous. It doesn’t come off at all like the produce boat/puppy scene from Apocalypse Now. Instead it comes off like the wedding day “rescue” scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Motivation is a wreck. The ghosts seem to want the blondie to figure out why they are pissed, expose the truth, and have the town fathers shamed on their anniversary. If this is the case, why do they bother to kill random citizens? The first murder spree was like a scene from one of the Final Destination flicks. Are they punishing all on the boat for disturbing their slumber? Are they punishing hedonistic lifestyle? If so, why do the spirits have such a hard-on to make a concerted effort to guide our brave sexpot to unveil the truth?
As I mentioned, if they are so damn powerful all the time why is the nightly fog needed? Why do they surgically disable all electricity to send the town into darkness if they can just animate corpses and set fires and rot living humans into oblivion? Why kill the Jeopardy-addicted grandmother? Do ghosts get off on psychological torture? Why do they bother to take corporeal forms when all of the tricks they use when “whole” are the same they’ve been doing the whole time?! There are no rules AND NONE OF IT MAKES SENSE! Almost as little sense as the exploding dropped lantern scene.
The ending, good god… it tried so hard at a twist that it broke its own spine. Absolutely nothing informed the final scene until it happens. Embarrassing. But not as embarrassing as the last image pre-credit roll… it assumes you’ve never seen the Shining, or that the scene itself is actually significant to the film and not just the tacked on after the last 4 minutes of resolution. Remember the MST3K episode where they kept referring to scenes from some awful movie as “is this movie one or movie two?” The ending is definitely from a second unrelated movie. If you watched the first 40 minutes, then caught the last 10 minutes on a different channel on a different night, you’d have no idea it was the same movie.
This is where remakes go wrong. They assume that an older movie cannot be enjoyed in its context, and that it needs updated. Instead of exploring some facet of the original piece of creative art that was left alone, they twist and turn entire scenes for the sake of making it contemporary, and destroy the soul of the original. The only thing worse than this is shot-for-shot remakes (Psycho anyone?), and anything Rob Zombie does.
The original The Fog was a decent movie that wasn’t really good enough to change the world on its own merit, even after its 11th hour edit. It may have not been the best choice for a property to dilute any further. I get that these things are made on the cheap and that all a certain audience wants to see is “the new 90 minute horror movie,” but the shame should be no less for green-lighting it. The art and craft of storytelling is ignored for something that only rewards those who cash the checks for producing it. The remake adds nothing to the greater horror catalog, not even as popcorn entertainment. It fails because it is self serving and hollow. Remakes are masturbation.

(Carl Smith) @cbcamarillo

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