By Drew Taylor | The Playlist April 2, 2013 at 12:01PM
"The Fog" (Rupert Wainwright, 2005)
The original "The Fog" isn't exactly the crown jewel in the John Carpenter oeuvre, but it is commendable and quite scary – it's sort of like a Robert Altman movie mixed with an Irwin Allen disaster thing; a small scale drama of intersecting, sometimes overlapping plotlines and malevolent spirits (back from the past to exact their revenge). Typical of Carpenter, the original film is shot beautifully and features a wonderful cast of characters that included Adrienne Barbeau -- who Carpenter was having an affair with at the time -- Jamie Lee Curtis, John Houseman, Janet Leigh and Hal Holbrook. For the remake, which Carpenter and his co-writer (and wife at the time of the original "Fog") Debra Hill produced, and the loose structure of "The Fog" remains – an odd, milky vapor overtakes the small coastal town of Antonia Bay and people start mysteriously dying – but everything else has been replaced, gutted, or substantially underplayed. A lame, PG-13 movie that toothlessly depicts the murders and minimizes any sexual activity, "The Fog" was a slog, through and through. The digital effects pale in comparison to the practical ones from 1980 and Wainwright, a limp horror director more notable for his appearance on "The Millionaire Matchmaker," can't manage to make any of the scares or gags connect in any kind of meaningful way. It doesn't help that the ghostly pirates were thoroughly outclassed by the "Pirates of the Caribbean" two years earlier. Shiver me timbers!
“The Haunting” (Jan De Bont, 1999)
For a while there it looked like Jan de Bont, the cinematographer-turned-director behind two of the nineties' most exhilarating thrill rides ("Speed" and "Twister") would be one of Hollywood's next great directors – he had an uncanny sense of pacing and spatial geography and his movies zipped along with moments of genuine awe and wonder. And then he closed out the decade with "The Haunting"… a movie so laboriously overwrought you can practically hear it sag under the weight of its opulent sets and revised-to-death screenplay. Ostensibly, it's a remake of the 1963 black-and-white haunted house romp "The Haunting," directed by Robert Wise and notable for the fact that the film's conclusion leaves the possibility open that everything that transpired beforehand was the work of psychological, and not paranormal, demons. There's no room for ambiguity in the new 'Haunting,' because it's so overstuffed with loud noises, blatantly provocative, and goosed-up with clumsy visual effects. What makes "The Haunting" even more lamentable is the fact that at one point it was supposed to be a more faithful adaptation of the source material ("The Haunting of Hill House" by "Lottery" author Shirley Jackson), to be written by Stephen King and directed by Steven Spielberg (the project fell apart over strained creative differences). The failure of "The Haunting" effectively killed de Bont's career, directing a single film (2003's "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life") since the critical and commercial drubbing "The Haunting" received. "Speed" still rules, though.
“The Wicker Man” (Neil LaBute, 2006)
Fuck. Where to begin? The original "Wicker Man," released in 1973 and directed by British weirdo Robin Hardy (the script was written by Anthony Shaffer of "Sleuth" fame), is largely considered the "Citizen Kane" of horror films, a movie that's so sophisticated, elegant, and smart that few could ever top it. Which makes sense that Neil LaBute, a man of seemingly limitless ego, would attempt to remake it (attempt being the key word). While the original was a sharply spiritual affair, with a Christian constable investigating a disappearance on a pagan island, something that rattles every belief in him, the remake is more nebulous and aloof. Again a policeman (this time played by wholly unhinged Nicolas Cage) goes to investigate a disappearance, and again it's on a pagan island, but the island is off the coast of Washington state (um spooky?) and instead of weird sex stuff and questionable, cult-y practices, Cage finds a bunch of women who are basically running an island-sized version of the feminist book shop from "Portlandia." LaBute's ugly misogyny has never been so loudly on display, and Cage's performance is the stuff of a thousand YouTube "best of" videos, which normally include bits of a sequence where he's trapped in a mask filled with bees, another where he's dressed up in a giant bear suit, one where he's yelling about a burnt doll and yet another where he punches a woman, for no apparent reason. Offensively dopey and dopily offensive, "The Wicker Man" is what happens when you don't leave well enough alone (although Hardy didn't either, he released a bizarre sequel in 2011).
Of course, any list like this is littered with corpses of the almost-good-enough, which includes Matt Reeves' excellent remake of "Let the Right One In," this one entitled “Let Me In” (2010), a movie that retrains the original's period setting but shifts the vampiric action from snowy Sweden to equally snowy New Mexico; “Night of the Living Dead" (1990) directed by Tom Savini, is an interesting remake that's almost essential (mostly for Savini's outrageous make-up effects and the fact that original director George Romero rewrote his original script without the help of John Russo); “Last House on the Left” (2009) a remake of Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham's shocking 1972 original, doesn't have quite the same visceral oomph but it does have an unexpectedly wicked sense of humor; “My Bloody Valentine 3D” (2009), a stereoscopic remake of the 1981 slasher classic, throws subtlety out the window (an entire sequence features a woman fighting with a lover, then running in terror, all while completely naked) but the most part it works; Gus Van Sant’s much-berated 1998 “Psycho” remake is an ambitious, lovably bizarre contraption that doesn't deserve half the heat it got; the Platinum Dunes' 2003 remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” goes for the earthy grittiness of the 1973 original but comes away slick, still, it's pretty intense; Stephen Sommers took a retro adventure take on the 1932 original, and the resulting “Mummy” (1999) was a total blast; Breck Eisner's “The Crazies” (2010) isn't quite as confrontationally political as Romero's 1973 original but it is more streamlined; Glen Morgan and James Wong were responsible for two of the more underrated remakes – the rat-tastic remake of “Willard” (2003) and a more breathlessly splattery take on “Black Christmas” (2006); and if you have to watch one Japanese horror remake that isn't "The Ring," it might as well be "The Grudge" (2004), produced by Raimi and Tapert and directed by the original's Takashi Shimizu.
In the "best buried in a deep, deep grave" contenders, we have the witless 2009 remake of "The Stepfather," this time swapping out the subversive political commentary for Amber Heard strutting around in a bunch of bikinis; "One Missed Call" (2008) and "Pulse" (2006), two of the more horrendous Japanese horror remakes ("Pulse" was originally supposed to be directed by Wes Craven, who still shares a screenplay credit); "The Hills Have Eyes 2" (2007) is ostensibly a sequel to the superb Alexandre Aja remake and a remake itself of the original film's sequel, although after the mutant rape sequence it all became a blur to us; "Prom Night" (2008) is a humorless remake that doubles as the longest 88 minute horror movie we've probably ever seen; "When A Stranger Calls" (2006) swaps out eerie simplicity for amped-up thrills, to decidedly unspectacular effect; "Carnival of Souls" (1998) tries to capture what was so magical and unsettling about the 1932 original and fails miserably; and a special shout-out goes to almost all of the remakes from Platinum Dunes (including "The Hitcher" and "Friday the 13th") and Dark Castle ("Thirteen Ghosts," "House on Haunted Hill") – you filled them with cute young people but not nearly enough scares.
"Evil Dead" opens on Friday. Might be a good idea to bring a plastic sheet, like you're going to a Gallagher show.