The Fog review by The Grim Ringler

In the horror genre there are certain names which evoke a certain something, a sense that ahhhh, heres something interesting, and placed high among these names is that of director John Carpenter. Carpenter, responsible for classics like Halloween, The Thing, and Escape From New York, has had, like most directors, a hit and miss career. Me, I tend to like most of his movies to one degree or another, and accept that the guy just isnt going to hit a home run every time out. And the fact is, the guy has made some very effective, very creepy movies. Amongst these films is a gem I have always loved but which has never gotten the love it has well deserved, The Fog. Essentially a ghost story, The Fog is as much a throwback to the old-fashioned horror films of the early days as it is a modern tale, relying more on story and tension (much of that created via the soundtrack) than special effects and monsters. And considering that this movie closely followed what became the template for the modern slasher film (Halloween), thats kind of surprising.

Set in a small coastal town on the California coast that is on the verge of celebrating the anniversary of the towns founding one hundred years earlier. Antonio Bay was a town built on the bones and from the money of men sent to their watery graves by the towns fathers. The town fathers had made a deal with a leper colony to allow them to settle nearby for a fee, but once the ship the colony was using to transport themselves, the Elizabeth Dane, set sail a strange fog settled over the area and the ship was lead into the rocks by a fire set by someone on the beach, the ensuing wreck killing all aboard the ship. And now, one hundred years after the Elizabeth Dane sank into the bay, a strange, luminous fog has settled over the area and in it are the vengeful spirits of the men that were lead to their deaths so long ago, wanting six victims to pay the debt of the six conspirators who made the pact to let the Dane crash onto the rocks.

Using a story, which is simple and timeless enough to be a real ghost story, The Fogs strength is in its minimalism. The ghosts arent ever fully shown until the end, and when we do see them they are but vague outlines and shadows. The ghosts here are scarier because they are filmed and created as ghosts, as specters, and are used that way. And there is a slow build to the entire affair; things begin slowly, with the story of the Dane told around a campfire, as if it were but a tall tale, all while the fog gathers around the town. The real star of the show is the music though, which is one of Carpenters best and most effective. Continuing to use a synth/piano score, the music serves to raise the tension, not to kill it, and as the movie progresses, it becomes as menacing as the ghosts themselves. The film resonates and has power because of its simplicity and its sense of being a filmed campfire tale. Much like Blair Witch Project it is what it unseen and unknown which gives this picture power. You can see a lot of influences here, from Westerns (a town being harassed by intruders or natives), to haunted house epics, (the town being the haunted house), and even old Hammer films, with the thick fog and isolated locations (think of Antonio Bay almost as a moor and you get the idea). This is Carpenters ode to old Hollywood and the pulp chillers of Lovecraft (there are a lot of HPL name drops here and it has a feel of one of his stories) and others from the pulp horror hey-day.

The biggest flaw in the film is that it is limited by its own genre. Being a ghost story, and a B ghost story at that, you arent going to find a lot of people ladling on praise. There are weird moments here though, to be fair. Such as the fact that Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis meet and have sex within about forty-five minutes, which is either very fast, sad work by the mister, or is a bit of a time flub on Carpenters part. And while I like him in the film, Hal Holbrook is ALL about over-acting here. Its as if this is a play and hes playing to the cheap seats. And, as with all horror films it seems, there are a lot of happy coincidences such as all the main characters descending on the church at the finale at the same time, and no other townsfolk doing likewise. Weird. The biggest knock I have on the film though is an odd sequence where a dead man, an early victim to the spirits, rises from the dead only to take three steps and fall to the floor, carving the number 3 as he lands (a reference to the number yet to kill. WHOOOOOOOO!). Its a strange sequence and it almost takes the movie too far into the realm of the surreal.

The DVD special features here are pretty boss, my fave being the outtakes, which show that the original intention was to show the ghosts but that they never looked quite as creepy as they had hoped. And its always fun (sure it is) to hear Carpenter complain about location shooting. Ha ha. The image on the disc is flawless and shows off the beautiful cinematography wonderfully.

I have always had a fondness for this film and have yet to get tired of seeing it. I mean, it is what it is a ghost story but Carpenter, at his peak form, really brings the town, the people, and the ghosts to life. This film creates a dread, and a tension, through the music, the pacing, and the strange fog itself, and continues to creep me out to this day. I actually showed it to a friend recently along with Jaws and she preferred Fog to the old shark, which stunned me. I wont say its as good as Speilbergs epic, but I will say its a solid, well crafted tale of vengeful ghosts and is a great late night snack.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
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