The Fog is a hazy, unsettling classic horror.
Adrienne Barbeau again. I’m not doing this on purpose, I swear.
Yes, despite being a big John Carpenter fan (I’ve even seen Ghosts of Mars) I’ve never seen The Fog until now. I kept passing it up, I think unconsciously assuming that it was some Stephen King adaptation. But no — that’s The Mist, of course.
1980’s The Fog is about the small fishing town of Antonio Bay. At the stroke of midnight one night, a strange fog rolls in. Supernatural happens start occurring around town — mini-earthquakes, strange sightings and noises. Out on the water, an ancient ship appears with a crew of zombie fishermen (kind of like the Black Pearl). They attack and slaughter a fishing crew.
The town priest, Father Malone, finds his grandfather’s old diary after it’s dislodged from the church wall by a minor earthquake. We learn that in 1880, the founders of Antonio Bay sunk a leper ship called the Elizabeth Dane — the lepers wanted to found a leper colony nearby, and the founders weren’t having a bar of it.
The following morning, the fog has all cleared. Radio DJ Stevie Wayne (Barbeau! It turns out I was completely oblivious to the reference in Tales of Halloween. Which is a good thing — it means that it’s a plot device which still works even if you don’t know the reference) is given a broken bit of driftwood by her son. But it’s actually a broken piece of a ship, and it’s inscribed with “DANE”. It begins leaking water and acting strangely.
Meanwhile, hitchhiker Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis) and local fella Nick (Tom Atkins) discover the one of the dead fishermen and find some odd things. He drowned, but doesn’t appear to have been in water. His eyes were gouged out. Oh, and he re-animates when he’s on the autopsy table.
Ok, we all know what’s going on. The crew of the Elizabeth Dane has returned from their watery grave to seek revenge on the people of Antonio Bay, 100 years later. Night is starting to close in… and the fog is returning.
The Fog is my favourite kind of horror film — the kind where a whole bunch of weird shit happens near the beginning, and then the characters spend the next while trying to work out what’s going on. After the first roll of fog clears, we’re mostly seeing our various characters figuring things out. But each group only has a small piece of the puzzle. Nick and Elizabeth realise that there’s something weird going on with water. Father Malone has info on the history of the town. Barbeau has the name of the ship. We know what’s going on, and being along for the ride as the characters figure it out is what builds tension.
It’s clear that the film has a low budget. But that’s where the genius of an idea like The Fog comes in. The very premise means that the horrors are barely seen — they creep in the darkness and behind the glow of the fog. Which means that any corners cut in the makeup/costuming is totally hidden from view. Carpenter knew exactly what he had to play with, and didn’t overreach. Only a few shots — the one with Jaime Lee Curtis and Tom Atkins driving in the truck that looked like an SNL sketch comes to mind — betrays the film’s budgetary constraints.
Throughout the film, Carpenter’s trademark score drives everything forward, with that slow, creeping dread it brings. I’d love to see a cut of this movie with just a regular score over it. I reckon it would be half the movie it currently is.
The Fog is definitely lesser Carpenter. It doesn’t include any of his trademark social commentary, and is more of a straightforward horror movie. But it’s an entertaining one.