“The Fog” crept in on little cat feet, without benefit of press previews, but likely will move very quickly from megaplex screens to homevid haunts. At once slicker and blander than John Carpenter’s 1980 shocker of the same title, this low-voltage remake drifts rather aimlessly through scenes of mayhem sufficiently subdued to ensure a PG-13 rating. Unfortunately, interest lags between the grisly deaths, and, worse, none of the characters generates rooting interest.
Dutifully riffing on elements intro’ed in the original scenario by Carpenter and producer Debra Hill, helmer Rupert Wainwright (“Stigmata”) and scripter Cooper Layne (“The Core”) paint by the numbers while fashioning a melodrama that is equal parts ghost story and slasher pic.
Action is set in the small Oregon community of Antonio Island, where civic leaders led by mayor Tom Malone (Kenneth Welsh) and historian Kathy Williams (Sara Botsford) plan a celebratory unveiling of a statue honoring the town’s legendarily heroic founding fathers.
Trouble is, the truth is far nastier than the legend: The founders actually financed the growth of their community by seizing a schooner carrying wealthy lepers in search of safe haven. The ship was set ablaze, the lepers were horribly killed — and descendants of the founding fathers prospered. As “The Fog” begins, however, restless spirits are ready to return for the settling of scores.
Dark clouds periodically roll through Antonio Island, and across the waters surrounding the town, to cloak the appearance of ghostly avengers. (Wainwright offers only fleeting glimpses of wraith-like decaying corpses until pic’s climax.) Various townspeople are stabbed, incinerated and otherwise manhandled, though it’s never entirely clear just who is being served just desserts, and who is an innocent bystander.
Pic often appears to be adrift in spookiness for its own sake, unmoored by consistency or internal logic. It runs nearly 10 minutes longer than Carpenter’s version — which doesn’t rank among director’s best work — and every extra second makes itself felt.
It’s typical of pic’s adherence to rigid genre conventions that the very first victims are brazen hotties who are shown drinking, dancing and wearing revealing attire prior to their deaths. Another unfortunate meets a gruesome end when she’s infected with quick-spreading leprosy while washing dishes. Latter scene doubtless will inspire jokes about a pic that hits audience with everything including the kitchen sink.
There’s conspicuously little chemistry between nominal leads Tom Welling (as a hunky charter boat captain pressed into service as a ghostbuster) and Maggie Grace (as a prodigal daughter who’s drawn back to Antonio Island by confusing visions of the long-ago murders).
Selma Blair fares slightly better while evidencing some spark as a lighthouse keeper who operates her own radio station. (Adrienne Barbeau memorably played the same role in 1980 original.) Other supporting players earn their paychecks without embarrassing or distinguishing themselves. Tech values are routine.
In addition to Barbeau, original pic also starred Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee Curtis and John Houseman. For the record, new edition is dedicated in closing credits to Debra Hill, who also produced 1980 pic, and died shortly before the remake started production.