The Fog (1980)
The modern “ghost story” is pretty convoluted now. In these days of Paranormal-What-The-Hell-Ever on every television station and found footage flicks with ghosts cropping up about every six weeks, the classical rendition of a true haunted house or vengeful spirit is becoming passé. I’m not saying that they aren’t out there, but they’re definitely in the backseat for now. I’m always pleased when a filmmaker turns out a good supernatural tale that doesn’t rely on first-person shots or cheap speed effects to get me creeped out, and it’s for this same reason that I treasure the goodies of the past.
One of my favorite such goodies is 1980’s The Fog. Following the surprise commercial success of Halloween, John Carpenter and company came up with their own take on the classic “ghost story”; in this case, a century-old tale of vengeance from beyond the grave. This was his first feature film since he introduced us to our ol’ buddy Michael Myers, and he took the opportunity to refine in The Fog what he showed us in Halloween; you see a lot of the same directorial structure and storytelling formula in this tale as he polished his visual style and almost symphonic structuring into what we know now as his signature method of filmmaking.
We begin with an old salt telling a spooky tale to some kids on a beach around a late-night campfire, a story of a maritime tragedy one hundred years ago, right here, off the coast of their little town…and how the spirits of those that died may yet wait beneath the foam to claim the souls of the living. With the vocal inflection of the redoubtable John Houseman coupled with Carpenter’s minimalist style, contrasting stark blackness with the light of the faces around the fire, this set-up is effective indeed. We move to the little town of Antonio Bay, where we see everything pretty much go apeshit; gas station pumps and lifts operate on their own, car horns all over the city blare, even some earth tremors are noticed by a few. This seems to be written off; most townsfolk slept through it all. But Father Malone, the town priest (played unerringly by Hal Holbrook), finds an old journal as a result of one of those “tremors”; a journal written by his great-grandfather, detailing a heinous act he was a part of…one hundred years ago…
I won’t deprive those of you who might not have seen the film of the chance to find out the rest of the story for yourselves, and I won’t insult those of you that have seen it with a bullshit summary of such a unique tale. It’s pretty clear that mebbe that old sailor on the beach knows a little more about town history than some of the council members do. The story unfolds into an almost gothic tale of deception, murder, and unholy retribution; the writing is tight and effective, and the dread is palpable. Certain things may even make you question your own morality, if you’re paying attention…but saying any more would give too much away. =)
The cast of characters is diverse and interesting, and the actors that play them do so believably and enjoyably: the pretty hitchhiker and the local fisherman that picks her up (Jamie Leigh Curtis and Tom Atkins); the husky-voiced local DJ who plays jazzy tunes for the town and the fisherman at sea (Adrienne Barbeau); the community organizer trying to manage the centennial celebration for Antonio Bay (Marion Crane herself, Janet Leigh)…and several other little roles (the doctor, the harbor-master, etc.) that feel, I dunno, towny; they aren’t just background, they give the film life, make it feel like you may have visited this town; maybe it’s even the town you live in. Having characters that you give a damn about is getting to be a lost art in horror flicks these days, and it’s one of the finer points of this one.
The direction and cinematography is a tense ‘less-is-more’ approach, using Carpenter’s now-familiar techniques of making everything you see potentially sinister. The fog effects themselves are extremely impressive for a pre-CGI film; the roiling mist becomes a character in itself, to say nothing of what walks within it. As far as the red stuff goes, sorry gorehounds; Carpenter is known for typically keeping overt gore to a minimum, and this film is no exception (although there are exceptions; The Thing, anyone?). That said, there are some very sphincter-tensing kill scenes nonetheless; it’s the kind of stuff you have nightmares about, adding in the gore yourself.
This is one of those movies where, although relying heavily on atmosphere (which it does extremely well), still delivers the goods by having some bad guys with hooks and swords show up to keep you on your toes. It’s like taking an old Tales From The Crypt story (the E.C. Comic, not the TV show), polishing it up and raising the maturity level of it, then directing the hell out of it with a lot of talented people on both sides of the camera. For you Fellow Fans that like that spooky groove but still want some believable “Oh SHIT!” moments, this is a good flick to curl up with your popcorn and check out; it’s a classic in its own right. Start early, though; after all…
“…From midnight to one belongs to the dead.”
The Fog (2005)
I love bad horror movies. They can be a lot of fun. Even bad horror movies, most of the time, have more originality than some of the big budget studio stuff that is regurgitated out in cookie cutter speed. But I hate stupid films.
The Fog 2005 is one of the stupider remakes out there. I hope John Carpenter got a hefty check out of this and laughed all the way to the bank. Is it a coincidence that after The Fog director Rupert Wainwright has only directed a TV episode and two shorts, I think not. Granted, I enjoyed his Stigmata flick.
Any movie that starts out with a trendy (at the time) pop song during the opening credits you just have to cringe.
There are elements taken directly from John Carpenter’s classic and changed for the worse. Like using a hair brush instead of the wood plank as one of the trinkets found on the beach. The casting is horrible, the dialogue, plain cheese most of the time, and the best character in the original Stevie (played in the original by the amazing Adrienne Barbeau) was dwindled down to an almost non-existing character and really served no purpose in progressing the film. The character Spooner has to be one of the cheesiest characters written in film history. He escapes from jail and then suddenly appears at the end of the flick with no one out hunting for him.
There is not one redeeming quality in this stinker. It was one that I painfully re-watched just for this review, but wouldn’t have in a million years re-watched it for any kind of entertainment purpose.
– Chad Armstrong
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