Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter & Debra Hill
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Leigh & Hal Holbrook
Reviewed by: Brett H.
“But it is told by the fishermen, and their fathers and grandfathers, that when the fog returns to Antonio Bay, the men at the bottom of the sea out in the water by Spivey Point will rise up and search for the campfire that led them to their dark, icy death.”
I can remember August of 2002 like it was yesterday. I had finally begun really getting into collecting DVDs and quality titles were literally pouring onto the shelves. When John Carpenter’s The Fog debuted on DVD, it was accompanied by Return of the Living Dead and The Last House on the Left. To say that day was anything less than epic in the world of horror would be a bold-faced lie. I watched The Fog for the first time a couple days after release when it finally turned up on the MGM racks at Wally World, and I wasn’t exactly blown away, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. I ended up watching it again with friends and I still thought of it the same way. Then, the Hollywood repro phase began and I bought the remake of The Fog used for about $10. I wasn’t impressed then and I am not much more impressed now. What the remake did accomplish, however, was a newfound love affair with John Carpenter’s original minor classic.
The film begins as a group of children sit around a warm campfire while a fisherman checks his clock and observes that it’s 11:55 pm, April 20. There’s time for one more story, and certainly, he’s saved the best for last. He tells the children a wild tale of a ship that crashed just just five minutes shy from a entire century ago, on April 21, near the shores of Antonio Bay by Spivey Point. The ship hit a patch of wicked fog and they got lost, their only grasp at shore, a light in the distance. Unfortunately, the light was from a burning blaze at a camp much like the children are at right now. It smashed into the rocks and brought all its crew to an early, salt watery grave. The kids are all scared shitless and for good reason, but the interesting thing is that something really did take place an entire century ago on these waters. The tale has so much power, not even the old angler dared speak of it after the chiming of midnight bells.
Antonio Bay is celebrating their centennial with a bang, literally. In the wee hours of the morning, strange things began to occur all over town, seemingly coinciding with a heavy patch of fog approaching the town. Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) discovers an old journal of his grandfather’s that tells a story of leprosy and murder, a variation on the story told by the old fisherman around the campfire. Antionio Bay’s favorite DJ, Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) sits high atop a lighthouse and informs ships of weather conditions, and she has a great view when the mist returns the next night, crying even angrier screams for justice. It’s up to her, the Father, hitchhiker Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her new man Nick (Tom Atkins) to discover the truth that will set everyone free… if death doesn't come first.
The Fog was a rarity in the early eighties; a film that relied solely on dream-like mood and story to tell its horrifying tale. The most interesting part of the film as the viewer is being in the observers seat and just how strong the campfire story at the beginning really is. We’re there when the wacky fisherman tells his prophetic tale, we’re there when The Fog claims its first victims, we’re there when all secrets are revealed and the top-notch finale takes place. The film is set up so we only know as much as the characters, unlike the remake, which really makes all the difference. I’m going to borrow the tagline from an equally impressive film as The Fog, Screams of a Winter Night, for a moment. How do you think these stories get started? The tale that opens the film really makes you think about the stories you’ve heard and perhaps ones you’ve passed on. Fabrications of the mind… but there must be many of these chronicles that are founded in truth and euphemised in fiction.
John Carpenter uses mist and subtleties to create the horror in the film, there is no outrageous gore, only a pack of leper zombie ghosts that exist shrouded in vapor with hooks as weapons of destruction. To be fair, they stir up some other trouble, but it will be these images that will be engraved in the stone wall that is the mind when you’re finished watching the film. The Fog glows and moves slowly and hungrily as Carpenter makes amazing use of light and shadow with success in creating some of the more unique monsters the screen has ever seen. The film is sweet and to the point, these phantoms are out for revenge, but it also plays on the sins of the past and the questionable acts of our forefathers. The kind of stuff the history teachers at school are sure to inform you that “it was a different time” as though that makes a difference. Not to be outdone by the gripping fog and century old tale of debauchery, Carpenter does the music for the film and juxtaposes tinkling synth with crashing bass, which accentuates every scene to the fullest. In terms of atmosphere, The Fog is right near the top of the eighties ghost story chain.
A lot of people like to consider Suspiria the horror film that uses colors/nightmarish thoughts the best, and although the reds and blues of Argento’s film prove to be nice to look at, I’m much more fond of the glowing fog combined with traces of colored light in this Carpenter effort. The lights in Suspiria are just lights, but The Fog is eerie, cloudy, in constant movement and contains creatures concealed within the very mood of the film. What Carpenter essentially does is exhumes all the creepy qualities that dank crypts and hazy cemeteries that gothic horrors lovingly exploit and morphs them into a vengeful, physical force. The faces in the film are instantly recognizable, the cast has been in horror films from Psycho to Rituals to Maniac Cop; even John Carpenter has a cameo. Tom Atkins is great to watch as he seduces the half his age Jamie Lee Curtis into the sack with nothing more than a can of Bud and an old pick-up. The film also marks the first time in history Jamie Lee shared the screen with her mother, Janet Leigh in a theatrical film.
Carp's Fog would really make a nice companion piece to something like Creepshow, an anthology that really capitalizes on the comic book type ambience. In my mind, The Fog has a very similar feel and the ending is an example of this that seems to be torn straight off these pages. And, you haven’t seen creepy until you’ve witnessed a pack of leper ghouls waist high in smoke with red eyes glowing inside a church. Back in ’02, MGM released The Fog on DVD with a loaded special edition with a great, hiss-free 5.1 track and a nice anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer that harbors grain in a handful of sequences, but looks absolutely stunning in others. It’s a good thing, because Carpenter not only has a lot of Fog to show off, but manages to capture breathtaking shots of ocean scenery. The special edition includes an audio commentary with Carp and Debra Hill, an 1980 documentary in addition to a new one made for the DVD release, outtakes, an advertising gallery, storyboards and liner notes. The disc is an absolute must have for DVD collectors and the extras are worth watching because the film was re-shot from its original form and Carpenter dishes the dirt. The Fog is an exciting supernatural roller coaster and is as much fun as you’re ever going to have watching a ghost story. Buy it!
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