Horrible, Just Horrible – Zombie Night and The Fog (2005)

Zombie Night and The Fog are currently available on instant Netflix.

Zombie Night


Zombie Night (2013) – Not rated

As night falls in a small California town, the dead rise from their graves and go looking to feast on the flesh of the living. Two families band together to face a long night of terror, fighting to survive until sunrise.

How about we make a zombie movie? No, everyone has done that already. How about we make a zombie movie starring actors from the 70s and 80s? Brilliant! We’ll pay them a pittance and rake in the money. We won’t even have to pay a screenwriter, these things write themselves.

I cannot believe that three separate people worked on this screenplay and it is still just awful. The dialogue is wooden. The plotting is ridiculous. Yes folks, it’s another Asylum movie.

I gave this one a shot because of the cast. Anthony Michael Hall (Weird Science, The Breakfast Club) and Daryl Hannah (Splash, Blade Runner) are the leads. Asylum didn’t stop there though. Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) puts in an appearance as Joseph. Jennifer Taylor (Two and a Half Men) is Karin.

Sadly they round this off with Shirley Jones (The Partridge Family) as Nana. Shirley Jones is just awful here. It won’t take long for you to root for her character to be eaten. The character is incredibly annoying and this may be the worst performance of an actor playing a blind person that I have ever seen.

It takes a lot for an actor to make an Asylum movie even worse than usual. Kudos and avoid this movie like the zombie plague.

The Fog


The Fog (2005) – Rated PG-13

Selma Blair, Tom Welling and Maggie Grace star in this creepy thriller about an island town off the coast of Oregon that’s forced to contend with some unwelcome visitors from its past: the spirits of lepers and sailors aboard a ship that the hamlet’s forefathers had steered astray on purpose. Those aboard the doomed vessel all wound up lost in the fog forever. Now, they’re back from the mist, eager to exact revenge on the descendants of their murderers.

I’m not sure what caused me to revisit this remake after seeing the Robocop reboot in theaters. At least the Jose Padilha was using Robocop to try to say something about our current world of drones and surveillance, even if he did fail.

Rupert Wainwright, director of The Fog remake, has no feel for the source material at all. Neither does Cooper Layne who rewrote/updated the script. Wainwright has not directed a movie since and Layne has no further adapted screenplays.

John Carpenter’s The Fog has flaws. The first act is mostly a random assortment of odd happenings. It doesn’t gel at all well with the final two acts but the final two acts are superb. Almost every choice Layne and Wainwright make to distance himself from Carpenter’s original is a misstep.

The original starred Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, and Adrienne Barbeau. The remake replaces them with Maggie Grace, Tom Welling, and Selma Blair. In supporting roles, the original had John Houseman, Janet Leigh, and Hal Holbrook. In the remake, the supporting roles are toned down and much is turned over to the three young leads.

The most egregious mistake is the special effects. Being 1980, Carpenter was restricted to practical effects – fog machines, lighting, makeup effects. These combine brilliantly. Wainwright opts for really shoddy-looking CGI in spite of having eighteen times the budget Carpenter did. Carpenter had creatures risen from the dead. Wainwright had CGI ghosts.

Carpenter’s third act evolves into a brilliant siege film, something he excelled at, having started his career with Assault on Precinct 13. Wainwright’s third act just kind of lumbers along without any suspense. No spoilers here but Carpenter’s ending is superb, another thing he excels at (The Thing, Halloween). Wainwright/Layne’s will just have you shrugging your shoulders.

The remake of The Fog isn’t truly awful, it is just that there is nothing that it does better than the original. If it were original, it would be forgettable. Since it is a copy, why bother?


The Fog

The Fog is currently available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The Fog (1980) – Rated R

“While an old, weather-beaten fisherman tells a ghost story to fascinated children huddled by a campfire, a piece of driftwood in a child’s hands begins to glow, and an eerie fog envelops the seaside community of Antonio Bay. From its midst emerges demonic victims of a century-old shipwreck seeking revenge on the small town. Director John Carpenter’s follow-up to his breakout film, Halloween, stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh.”

“Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream.”

“There’s no fog bank out there.” – ” Hey there’s a fog bank out there.”

One of the things I love about John Carpenter is that he does not beat ideas to death. After Halloween, he could have made a sequel but instead made The Fog. In spite of also being horror and also starring Jamie Lee Curtis, The Fog is very different from Halloween. Both of those films are quite different from his next two films, Escape from New York and The Thing.

John Houseman puts in a special appearance long enough to tell a wonderful campfire ghost story to a group of children. Naturally that serves as a prologue relating the story of the Elizabeth Dane, a ship that sank a hundred years ago.

John Carpenter assembles a wonderful ensemble cast here. In addition to Jamie Lee Curtis, he also brings Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis over from Halloween. Cyphers, Sheriff Brackett in Halloween, plays Dan O’ Bannon, the weatherman. Loomis, Annie Brackett in Halloween, is Sandy here.

John Carpenter cast his wife Adrienne Barbeau as Stevie Wayne, the local disc jockey and lighthouse keeper. Hal Holbrook is absolutely wonderful as the tortured, alcoholic Father Malone. Tough Tom Atkins gets leading man status as Nick Castle playing opposite Jamie Lee Curtis’ hitchhiker Elizabeth Solley. Finally Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother, Janet Leigh (yes Psycho), plays town matriarch Kathy Williams.

The beginning of the film where all the cars start honking, jars fall off shelves, gas pumps start themselves, etc. seems a little pointless. The first two acts are uneven – the campfire story, the attack on the boat, the discovery of the journal in the church, the coin turning into a piece of wood are all great scenes but many other scenes are just filler to pad time until we get to the siege of the town.

Carpenter’s use of the 2.35:1 widescreen format is wonderful. He has a great eye for composition and both of those set his horror films apart from those of this era. The visuals of the fog, the undead sailors, and the ship are amazing. The siege of the town takes up the last third of the film and is where The Fog really shines. It is good enough to make you forget the early flaws and is quite memorable. I try my best not to spoil endings so I will just say that The Fog has one of the best endings of any horror movie.

While not nearly as iconic as Halloween, John Carpenter’s electronic music for The Fog, mostly heard during the third act, helps raise the tension. His music stings are good as well. The sound effects are chilling particularly those in the early attack on the boat.

People Watch: Look for writer/director John Carpenter in a cameo as Bennett. Darwin Joston, the star of Carpenter’s low-budget Assault on Precinct 13, has a cameo as Dr. Phibes. Carpenter loves joke character names.

Sequel-itis: The Fog was remade by Rupert Wainwright in 2005 using state of the art CGI. The film is filled with young actors such as Tom Welling and is not very good. With Carpenter’s The Fog having a perfect ending, it is surprising that the remake blows that too.

John Carpenter Thrills Me! – Horror Movie Month

Okay yesterday I covered two disappointing movies from John Carpenter so today I’m going to cover why I love him.

The Thing (1982) – Rated R

Scientists working in Antarctica are forced to abandon their research after a helicopter crashes near their camp, bringing a lone dog into their midst. But the plot thickens when the otherworldly canine changes form in the middle of the night. As it turns out, the dog is a shape-shifting alien that can attack animals — and unsuspecting humans. Kurt Russell stars in this creepy John Carpenter-directed remake of the 1950s classic.

John Carpenter’s The Thing was released in 1982 against Spielberg’s E.T. juggernaut. The Thing bombed at the box office but is now regarded (rightfully) as a modern classic.

Rob Bottin’s effects are simply amazing and may represent the height of physical effects. I’m not looking forward to what I imagine will be lazy CGI in The Thing prequel currently at theaters. Having said that, Bottin’s effects also detract a bit from the tense nature of the story.

Carpenter assembled an excellent ensemble cast with Kurt Russell being the only big name. All of the characters have individual personalities and it is actually a huge boon that the cast is all male. This allows there to be no romantic lead or love story getting in the way (although Ridley Scott was able to pull the same trick off with a mixed cast in Alien). None of the cast is glamorous – they all appear to be people on a station doing a job (hmm also done in Ridley Scott’s Alien).

I mentioned that some of Bottin’s work undercuts the tension. This is because The Thing is one of the best film examples of paranoia ever – the characters even go so far as to question whether they would know if they were an alien. The special effects are showy and heighten the weirdness of an alien encounter but detract from the marvelous atmosphere of paranoia.

My other favorite ‘thing’ is the ending. I won’t spoil it of course but in my mind the final scene of The Thing is one of the best movie endings ever.

The Fog (1980) – Rated R

While an old, weather-beaten fisherman tells a ghost story to fascinated children huddled by a campfire, a piece of driftwood in a child’s hands begins to glow, and an eerie fog envelops the seaside community of Antonio Bay. From its midst emerges demonic victims of a century-old shipwreck seeking revenge on the small town. Director John Carpenter’s follow-up to his breakout film, Halloween, stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh.

The Fog is certainly not the classic that Halloween or The Thing are but is an excellent film. The first half of the film is uneven but the last half, with the town besieged by the fog and the creatures therein is very atmospheric and quite thrilling.

The ensemble cast is great. John Houseman opens the film by telling a spooky story around a campfire. Hal Holbrook is fabulous as a tortured priest. Carpenter’s then wife Adrienne Barbeau plays the lead and Jamie Lee Curtis and her mom Janet Leigh are reunited in film. Carpenter regulars Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, and Nancy Loomis round out the cast and Carpenter himself has a cameo.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994) – Rated R

When popular horror writer Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) goes missing, his publisher hires investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) to find him. Trent tracks Cane to a small New England town, which is filled with nightmare scenes right out of the author’s books. Encountering one gruesome scene after another, Trent wonders if Cane’s fans have gone psychotic and begun imitating his writings, or his “novels” are really nonfiction. John Carpenter directs.

Okay clearly putting all of these together makes me realize that one of the things the wonderful Carpenter films share is atmosphere. In the Mouth of Madness has that in spades along with a nifty mobius strip of a story. I did find that the movie went on just a smidge too long – the final scene could easily have been cut.

This movie does not fit the standard Hollywood mold or even the standard horror mold. In the Mouth is not a Lovecraft adaptation but it captures the mood of H.P. better than any of the movie adaptations of his work. The slowly creeping madness is palpable here as is the gloom and desperation.