Darke Reviews | The Fog (2005)

Oh Hollywood, how do you love to go back to the well. Either through contracts that give up rights (Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street), desperation from their owners, or perhaps some vain hope that it will be better than it was twenty or thirty years ago; you find ways to get the rights to do a remake. Heck, sometimes you rely on the public domain element of films and characters (Dracula). Yet, inexplicably, you are almost nigh incapable of doing these remakes well most notably in the horror genre. With few exceptions, these remakes and reimaginings are almost universally flops, critical failures, and fan failures. Only a handful, in my humble opinion, come close or exceed the original work.

So where does the 2005 remake of The Fog come in?

Lets take the writer, Cooper Layne. He has naught but the Core as his *only* other writing credit. Now while I enjoyed the Core and all its beautiful silliness, it failed. This film, also failed with a whopping 4% on Rotten Tomatoes in comparison to the 68% of the original. Where the first was nuanced and subtle, this one lacks well – any of it. The imply don’t show rules? Out the window. Plot? The first had a pretty concrete story that stood on its own, everything worked right and played right beginning to end.  The plot is mostly the same, but this one adds a ‘timeless’ romance to the narrative for…reasons.

Reasons

I am sure the director, writer, or producers said this exact phrase.

 

Seriously, it has no point. It serves nothing. I think the only reason its here is because Young Adult fiction and films targeted at the Millennial generation assume they are stupid and thats all they want or need in a film. There is rumor the film was greenlit with only 18 pages of script written. 18. That’s maybe 20% of a functional script. Way to go Revolution Studios!

I can’t blame the writer entirely, though I want to. The director also gets his cut as well, so this is me now targeting Rupert Wainwright.  To be perfectly fair, I don’t think Wainwright was prepared for this. He hadn’t figured out his style yet. He had Blank Check (a kids movie), Stigmata ..a rather intense religious supernatural drama, and now he was given a Teen Supernatural Horror? Honestly though, the shots weren’t all bad. Some scenes worked, but if you have a bad script there’s only so much you can do – like rewrite. I blame the director for making a decision to use horrific CG rather than practical.

Yes, all of the effects were god awful. The Fog itself was a total failure and CGI nightmare. I am *almost* certain I could have created better looking fog on my own computer with no training. I have seen SyFy movies of the week with better fog. The showing rather than implying caused such fail it was absolutely laughable. Things happened for no reason and just didn’t carry any weight when most of them did from an FX standpoint. You are spending too much time going “why” rather than “oh cool.” Even the Poster looks like a knock off from The Mummy six years earlier.

Sometimes acting can at least redeem a film, sadly this is not the case. Tom Welling gets the role of Nick Castle and is as wooden as piece of drift wood. I’d say it was a fluke, but I’ve seen enough elements of Smallville I know this is how he usually is. Maggie Grace (Taken, Lost) was just starting her career and does reasonably well, but doesn’t have the experience to deal with the garbage or bring out the best in those around her yet. She does well enough despite the silliness. Selma Blair (Hellboy, Legally Blonde) is no Adrienne Barbeau, of course she has as much garbage to deal with here and it doesn’t work and takes away from the tension. No one else is even worth mentioning. Even the usually fun to watch Rade Serbedzija is humorless and unimpressive – save one scene as he beats someone across the street.

TL;DR?

I actually own this. I was entertained by some aspects, but the reality is this is a bad film. It has a bad ending. It suffers from so many problems that its a shipwreck. The FX are probably the worst sin the movie has and make it near unredeemable. I put this in my collection of bad movies. It is *not* recommended unless you want to watch a bad film. It’s not even in the so bad its good category or so bad you can MST3K it and have fun. It’s just kinda…bad.

So in the realm of Hollywood remakes, this gives a lesson on what not to do in almost every situation it presents.

 

 

Darke Reviews | The Fog (1980)

I often talk about how atmosphere is one of the most important elements to a creative work, any creative work. Let me give a quite silly example: Picture the Mona Lisa in a circus tent. It no longer carries the weight as if it were in the Louvre. When I spoke of the movie Halloween recently, I talked about how the music was as important to the film as anything else. Give it a different soundtrack or even no soundtrack and much of the important mood setting atmosphere is gone. Also consider the atmosphere Halloween and fall give as a season.  Look at this image from Halloween 3: Season of the Witch. The image alone, with the shades of orange and deep shadows, the witch hat and dim street lights conjure and evoke emotion and images in your head. THIS is the very definition of atmosphere when it pertains to creative works. What does it make you feel when you see the set, the colours, or hear the sounds.

If you don't feel fall and October seeing this, you have no soul! (and I didn't steal it)

If you don’t feel fall and October seeing this, you have no soul! (and I didn’t steal it)

So in 1980 John Carpenter, and his partner, Debra Hill worked together again after the phenomenal success of Halloween to give us The Fog. Now, any of my coastal or moisture ridden geographical location readers know the meteorological event known as fog, is a driving nightmare.  Visibility goes to hell in a handbasket. Sound gets distorted. During the day it will burn off – usually – but in the morning and evenings it becomes interesting as light is distorted and shapes become soft and blurry. A night – well at night, fog becomes a living entity. It swallows things when they move just a little bit away from you. It becomes as if they didn’t exist at all in mere moments when you would expect to see it normally. Normally benign shapes become threatening and light passes through it in all sorts of ways. Look at this photo below, this was just as sunset was happening right before a Ghost Tour. The fog creates something here that wasn’t there…

Want to take a tour? (I did, was awesome, but the fog helped)

Even Stephen King has a story about a similar event in The Mist (one of the few stories to ever scare me). So back to the review, Fog itself invokes feelings and images alone. Add the context of a horror movie which spend so much time at night. Now add a Ghost Story to it. Interested? So were audiences, as this is what Cameron and Hill gave us. Take a small coastal California town and have it be invaded by spectral pirates within the fog (c’mon that sounds too cool), terrorizing its citizens. Shoot on a low budget of the time for $1 million, and spend as much time building atmosphere as you do building story and you have a successful film that lasts decades.

Of course, this also needs good actors as well. Carpenter cast his wife at the time Adrienne Barbeau, who mostly had done TV before, as the “voice” of the movie DJ Stevie Wayne who broadcasts from her lighthouse. Jamie Lee Curtis makes her second film appearance here as one of the film heroines Elizabeth. Carpenter even snagged her mother, the esteemed Janet Leigh, as a role in the film. Heavy Tom Atkins (Halloween 3, Serpico,  Creepshow) plays Nick Castle; the name of the actor who played The Shape in Halloween, our film hero.  Other greats include Hal Holbrook and John Houseman. While the film may have been quickly scripted, shot on a budget, and even been plagued by reshoots, every actor carries their scenes as if it were appropriately life and death.

From a purely technical perspective, the movie is remarkably strong. The use of fog (duh), silhouettes, and super bright white lights does a tremendous job. The fog itself is a living thing and something you become afraid of because you can’t see whats coming, but you know it will be bad. As they were working on a budget so many of the effects and scenes rely on the famous rule of implying without showing. You don’t have to see someone actually killed on screen. A single shape in the right place, a hook hand, and foot steps walking up behind an unsuspecting victim. You know what is about to happen, you find yourself going “No!” and hoping for the best, but know otherwise. This is where some of the best horror comes from – what you can’t see. When you can see something you can fight it. You might have a chance to win. While the effects do work and are strong, they are also dated. I almost want someone to go in and try to clean up or modernize some of the effects on the original film to bring them to more timelessness. I don’t mean to change them, but to clean them. Changing them …well I will talk about that tomorrow.

TL;DR?

The Fog is a beautifully crafted, atmospheric, horror film that is near timeless. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t even “great”. But if you find yourself in the need for a ghost story with real weight and even an outcome that most movies would be afraid of these days, please watch this. It’s a good film for a foggy night. Its a good film for a rainy night. It’s a good film for October.

I don’t know where The Fog would show on my Top 50 horror movies of all time, but it would be up there. It is absolutely worth a shot.

Darke Reviews | Halloween (1978)

So last night I had to buy the Halloween, no not the Rob Zombie one, the real one. The original one. These reviews are based on films that I own or have access to and I did not have this one. A sin in its own right for those that really enjoy horror. I do have the option through friends to do an old vs. new on this with Halloween vs. Halloween. I just can’t though. Much like how Doug Walker feels about the haunting. I feel about the Halloween series. The original wins. The Rob Zombie version sucks. I will probably reference this as I talk through the review of the original.

While Texas Chainsaw Massacre beats this by 4 years in release date, Halloween is probably the film most singularly responsible for the Teen Slasher style of horror that dominated the late 70’s and almost all of the 80s. This has everything to do with what the film does successfully that so many many others failed to understand (Zombie).

Let us start with discussing the screenplay that was written by Debra Hill and John Carpenter. Hill, who sadly most people aren’t aware of, was a frequent collaborator with Carpenter on much of his early works. She was a writer on this film, The Fog (excellent),  and Halloween 2. She was also a well known and popular female producer in Hollywood until her death in 2005. Carpenter himself, like Wes Craven, is one of the names most associated with Horror films to this day. It is nigh impossible to discuss the great horror films of all time without either of their names coming up.

Carpenter himself, was of course, also the director of the film. The man has an unusually strong grasp of atmosphere, sound, and darkness.  These elements, along with soundtracks usually designed by him, come through in so many of his other films. He was also the director of Dark Star , the indie film by the guys who wrote Alien. This would be his first wide release foray into horror.

I am going to point out something that is often overlooked, the movie has a budget to ratio of 144:1.  The film was made with a budget of $325,000 and made $47,000,000. By the numbers this makes it more successful than Clerks. It is also perfectly in line with the modern era of horror in which budgets are rather small with relatively successful box offices. Sadly, even the modern era still typically have budgets in the millions and only made 3 to 4 times the budget. Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch being key exceptions to those rules.

The story here involves as escaped mental patient returning to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois (Hill’s hometown is Haddonfield NJ); a stereotypical, near Rockwellian, midwestern town (it actually reminds me of my hometown a bit). His single minded focus is a young high school girl named Laurie Strode.  The patients doctor, Sam Loomis, rushes to Haddonfield to try to stop the patient from reaching his goal.

It is important to know, and this is what sets the movie apart from later reimagining garbage, is that Michael Myers as a character was never named as such. He simply was The Shape. He was a force of nature. He existed as a physical manifestation of evil. He didn’t need a backstory. He didn’t need a reason to be. He simply was. While later films in this particular arc would add  supernatural elements to his story and expand on it, the success here was none of it was needed. He scared people simply by BEING. This talks to Carpenters understanding of things as a director, the thing you cant see is more scary than the thing you can. What you don’t know scares you. Its why the ending of The Thing is so perfect and so iconic and why this film is the same. You never see The Shape fully until the end. You get glimpses. You get partials. Even the movie posters didn’t show a thing. This is brilliance and a brilliance we’ve lost as a film going society.

(ok technically you can put it together. He was called Michael as a child in the beginning and you are told its the Myers house shortly after during Strode’s introduction)

From an acting standpoint, so much rides on the shoulders of first time film actress, barely 20 at the release of the film, Jamie Lee Curtis. She was cast as much for her skill as her heritage, being the daughter of Pyscho’s famous shower scene victim Janet Leigh. Curtis would later be labeled the Scream Queen with future performances in The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train, and of course Halloween II. She as much as anyone starts the tradition of the lone virginal female protagonist overcoming the antagonist of the film after going through a crucible of sorts and find their inner strength and power. Their own rage, their own will to survive.

The weight of veteran actor Donald Pleasence as Loomis adds to the emotion. He consistently through the movie is in a near fervored insanity as he futily attempts to warn people of the threat Myers presents.

From another technical standpoint the film uses its music perfectly. If I were to make a list of iconic themes this would be on it. Without the music or with different music it would lose something.

 

TL;DR?

This is a classic. So many slasher films that follow after are but pale imitations of this. It is a must see film for any horror aficionado. I find that it even holds up watching today.

Because of all that was done right in this, all that works, I truly truly hate Rob Zombies version. For everything this does right, his does wrong.

If there is a Halloween film to watch. Watch the one that started it all.

Darke Reviews | John Carpenters Vampires (1998)

A few reviews back I said the summer of 92 was one of my favorite of any. The fall of 98 may hold that title for my favorite season of the year. I was gifted with two films I love for vastly different reasons. One tells the tale of a family of witches in a small town on some indeterminate coast. The other creates a genre unto itself, the Vampiric Spaghetti Western. A cowboy movie where the white (ish) hats are the hunters and the vampires are the outlaws. While not literally a western in the John Wayne, Eastwood or Leone it has all the vibes and beats of one, including musical queues. The movie of course is John Carpenters Vampires.

Arguably one of the great masters of modern horror, with 38 writing credits and 28 directing credits to his name John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, The Fog) decided to take on the Vampire genre since he had hit everything else over a 40 year career. He decided to direct whilst letting a writer by the name of Don Jakoby (possibly an Alias for someone else) adapt John Steakleys novel Vampire$. In typical studio fashion they interfered with production by cutting the budget by 2/3 just before filming, nice eh?

What ends up on screen however is one of the more pure, entertaining and utterly ridiculous vampire films of the past twenty years. James Woods plays Jack Crow, a vampire hunter on the churches payroll. It’s like Boondock Saints with fangs. That should give you an interesting visual. He and his partner Anthony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin – the one not on 30 rock or Serenity), are tracking down an ancient vampire looking for a relic that will enable him to walk in the sun.

The plot itself, which has nothing to do with the books, isn’t particularly inventive or creative. It does however have some dialogue choices and banter in it unlike anything I’ve heard in a mainstream film then or really since. Woods carries the movie like some sort of Vampire himself, with scenery as his diet. I think he was specifically told to ham it up and just find the top and go a few miles over it. It works. It shouldn’t but because it is Woods it does.

The bad guy has a total of 14 lines of dialogue in the movie. I counted. Its a breath of undead air for a villain to not truly monologue or just talk so much as to lose their menace. A scene with him versus a few hunters is beautifully one sided and executed to a Tarantino/Rodriguez like perfection.

Make up and gore were brought to you in this film by the masters of such work at KNB studios with Berger, Kurtzman and Nicotero being directly involved with the film. You may not know them like I do, but their work is some of the best practical effects in the industry.

There IS a sequel to this one which stars Jon Bon Jovi.

Ok now that you’ve stopped laughing; I have to say while not nearly as ridiculously over the top it is entertaining. JBJ himself is one of the best things in it and they maintain the bad guy of the piece having minimal dialogue (4 lines, just above SAG minimum).

TL;DR

I saw this one three times in the theatres that fall and at least a dozen times since. It is pure unadulterated vampiric fluff and I love them for it. Some movies are bad because they had no love, others are bad on a level that makes you love them. This is the second. It looks and feels like Segio Leone was ghost directing with Carpenter and quite honestly it’s better for it.

My vote, if you have a couple of hours to kill and are in the mood for a non scary vampire film, put this one in. You can pass on the second unless you are really bored.
Tomorrow’s review knows how to make flapjacks in the shape of a saguaro cactus.