Horror Remakes and a Tale of Two Fogs
But in the years since I saw the remake, I did see (and subsequently fell in love with) John Carpenter's original. Furthermore, John Carpenter has gone from a director whose films I knew and thought I appreciated to a filmmaker that I now consider to be a modern master. Yes, his filmography has missteps, I know. Still, you add up his hits and you'll see that his track record speaks for itself. Anyway, this isn't about John Carpenter, this is about the remake of The Fog and the undying trend by Hollywood of remaking movies, almost always badly.
I consider Carpenter's original The Fog to be one of his three best movies...or at least in my top three favorites. As it stands right now as I write this, 1978's Halloween sits at the top of the list as the movie that birthed the slasher genre that I love so much (it's my favorite sub-genre of horror). Behind that I would probably put The Fog and then 1982's The Thing. See, I think The Thing is a much better, scarier horror movie than The Fog is, but The Fog has this seaside gothic thing going on that I could just watch forever. I could live in Antonio Bay (minus the vengeful spirits) and be perfectly happy until the end of my days. Sweet ocean breeze, beautiful scenery, and a killer indie radio station on the edge of town; what more could you want? I think The Fog has atmosphere and style to spare, and it's a tight little movie with almost nothing wasted (though the same could be said about many Carpenter movies). The story is populated by a bunch of adults who are all in various stages of going nowhere, living out their boring little existences in this sleepy little fishing village. Carpenter contributes a memorable musical score, as he does with some of his best films, and uses special effects sparingly so that we're never taken too far outside of reality and don't have to suspend our disbelief too much.
Carpenter's The Fog is tight and gets things moving immediately with a killer campfire story. The remake gets things going with a song from Fall Out Boy. Any subtlety or faith in the audience from the original is replaced with the obvious, smothered in slow-motion visuals of people running around on fire. The director of the remake, Rupert Wainwright, was the guy behind Blank Check, Stigmata, and more than one video from M.C. Hammer, but he apparently killed his career with this movie, because he hasn't directed a feature film since. Maybe that's because everything he does here is...I guess the word I'm looking for would be gauche. This movie is completely hamfisted, overt, and riddled with cliches. We get a character with recurring nightmares of events that happened long before she was born. We get computers acting up and revealing secret messages before they go "bzzzzztttt!" and blow up. We even get multiple hands slapping windows and then slowly disappearing from view. They even steal the ending from The Shining, which is completely out of place here. This is a movie crafted together from the pieces of other, more successful movies.
And that brings me to my real point here. Hollywood has been remaking movies for as long as they've existed, but I believe that we live in a day and age where remakes have become a problem. Did anybody out there go to see the new version of Flatliners? No, me neither. Don't even get me started on the not-a-sequel-not-a-remake version of Ghostbusters and how smug the direction and tone is. My point is that it's nothing new, but it rarely brings around the desired result. I get that we need remakes. There are many movies that could benefit from a bigger budget, a tighter creative direction, or just another attempt at getting it right. But how often does that actually work?
Horror seems to be the genre that most abuses remakes. I suspect that this is because horror is the least-respected of all of movies, and it probably also owes to the fact that horror movies are often low-budget affairs with no pretense of being art (though we all know that's not always true). The Nightmare on Elm Street series was super popular, so let's remake that, but let's make it EDGY. Fail. Everyone loves Jason Voorhees and Friday the 13th, so let's remake that, and throw in all the different Jasons while we're at it. We can do sack-head Jason, we can do hockey mask Jason, and it'll be great! Fail. Think of all the horror remakes that we've gotten over the last 15 years or so: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, When A Stranger Calls, Prom Night, Dawn of the Dead, House of Wax, Fright Night, Carrie, Poltergeist, My Bloody Valentine, The Wolfman,April Fool's Day, The Town that Dreaded Sundown, and The Hills Have Eyes. I'm not going to point out the ones that do and don't work for me, but you can look at that list and decide for yourself. Some of these remakes are alright. Some are even good. One or two of them actually manages to do some things that the original movie didn't quite succeed in accomplishing. But I think we'd all agree that most of them fail.
The point of this is to say that there are actually no absolutes in our entertainment anymore, and what used to be dictated by good taste is no longer a given. I await news any day of a Jaws reboot or a remake of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly starring Dwayne Johnson, Jonah Hill, and Michael Pena. It will be a Happy Madison production. Disney has already decided to remake every classic cartoon that they ever had as a live-action movie, and I'm still not sure why. Because when kids reach the age of 12, they decide cartoons are stupid? I can think of no other reason they would do this other than that this movies make a ton of money. Because young people.
That's what it really comes down to, isn't it? They remake things hoping it will make lots and lots of money from the small audience that still buys movie tickets. Hollywood is nothing if not short-sighted. They remade A Nightmare on Elm Street because they thought that horror fans would come out to support it regardless of if it was any good or not. Same goes for the remake of Friday the 13th. Same goes for just about all of these. Hollywood is not rebooting and remaking movies because they see an opportunity to improve upon a story and craft something that will resonate with audiences now and forever. An exception to this might be 2017's It, made for very little money and with emphasis on character and creeps, though that movie isn't really a remake. Plus, I predict a backlash when the sequel replaces the kids with adults and audiences see how this story ends in 2019. As with most Stephen King, great setup, sour conclusion. My point is that Hollywood keeps remaking these things, apparently, only for a quick profit, not to create new art that's going to wow audiences for the next 30, 40, or 50 years.
I recently read a leaked memo that went out among Disney shareholders discussing the future of Star Wars as a license and intellectual property. The memo said that it was very important for there to be new Star Wars content on a regular basis to keep the brand awareness at an all time high. That meant shows on television and at least one theatrical movie every single year. It was important, the memo went on to say, that there be plenty of merchandise for people to buy and for Star Wars to be in the homes of consumers themselves so that people would continue to have a familiarity with Star Wars as a brand, thus building a sense of ownership and comfort with the entire franchise. Total Saturation was not only desired, but necessary. You know what this memo didn't mention a single time? That the content that was being created should be timeless and memorable. You don't make a billion dollars off of brand recognition. You make it off of great content that people want to watch over and over. Start with making the best movie that you can and sit back and watch how much people love it.
To bring this all full circle, all this is because I watched the 2005 remake of The Fog. It's not an awful movie. The problem is that it's uninspired, clearly made as pop entertainment without any soul or aspirations at being, you know...GOOD. Maybe that's okay for someone who spends 10,000 dollars to make an indie in his free time, but I'd argue that even that has more human fingerprints than this. No, this is made all the more offensive by the lack of fingerprints. To add insult to injury, the original movie on which this was based is exactly the opposite. John Carpenter's film is all about people and the consequences that come from the choices they've made. There is no CGI because CGI didn't exist. Even if it did, I suspect there would be next to none of it. The Fog remake is a reminder that Hollywood hasn't learned from their successes and failures, and that no genre has felt this lack of awareness more than horror. Because I LOVE horror, this really bums me out. I want to see things change. If, by chance, you're reading this and you've never seen the original, 1980 version of The Fog by John Carpenter, please do yourself a favor and check it out. And then you can listen to me podcast about it with Patrick Bromley.
The movie industry has a big problem, and something's gotta give. For several generations of movie fans and the new, young fans that are being created with shows like Stranger Things, let's all hope that Hollywood figures it out sooner, rather than later.