John Carpenter’s second major movie is an atmospheric old-fashioned ghost story dripping with dread
By 1980, John Carpenter had taken the horror genre by storm with his low budget, big box office smash Halloween. The film, receiving another reboot this year, was Carpenter’s second big movie, and there were a lot of people expecting a lot from the production.
Luckily there was a lot of buzz still surrounding Halloween, and The Fog was very heavily marketed (smoke machines were sent to cinemas to help the atmosphere), but the reviews were mixed.
There are accounts of problems in the production, including a short runtime that may account for the lengthy opening credits sequence, showing us around the town of Antonio Bay and some spooky happenings that occur, and a fireside story scene giving us the exposition we need to follow the plot.
It’s the 100th anniversary of the aforementioned town, and a celebration is being prepared. Meanwhile, a diary is revealed when a piece of masonry falls from the local church. The diary reveals details of a plot 100 years ago, to sink a clipper ship owned by a wealthy but very ill man called Blake and steal the gold on board, by six of the founding fathers of the town. The plot results in the deaths of all the men on board, who planned to start a leper colony near Antonio Bay; the gold is stolen and used to build the town.
As the anniversary draws near, the supernatural events increase.
Local DJ Stevie Wayne, played by Adrienne Barbeau, comes into possession of a piece of driftwood found on the beach by her son. She takes it to the lighthouse where she hosts her show, but the wood starts to ooze water, causing an electrical fault in a tape player, where she hears a mysterious voice and the words “six must die” appear on the wood before it combusts.
It’s the start of a series of bizarre events, all building to a tense and atmospheric conclusion that will leave the town panicked and forever scarred.
With Jamie Lee Curtis, mum Janet Leigh, John Houseman and Hal Holbrook all in roles, The Fog has lots going for it. The acting is all on the nose, and everyone is playing it straight. The fog effects are terrific, but it’s what the fog is hiding that is the real heart of the horror.
The mystery at the centre of the piece is original and unusual, and there is a final act that builds it’s suspense, squeezing every last drop of tension from the cast. Oddly enough, by the end of the film, you almost feel some sympathy with the evil inhabitants of the fog, a clever piece of writing you don’t see that often in this genre.
The Fog is a terrific horror film that delivers great style and atmosphere. Sadly Carpenter wasn’t happy with it and made numerous reshoots to compete with other films of the time. It cracks along at a good pace, and on my first viewing of it in a cinema back in the day, there was a jump scare in a church that had the audience scream out loud. It was a more innocent time, folks. There’s not a lot of gore, but it makes up for it in atmosphere. This Halloween, watch the original, forget the remake, and don’t answer a knock on the door before midnight.