Director – John Carpenter
Cast – Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, Charles Cyphers, Ty Mitchell, George “Buck” Flower, Regina Waldon, John Houseman
Release Year – 1980
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Two years after his infamous genre-defining slasher film Halloween, as well as his excellent made-for-TV film Someone’s Watching Me!, John Carpenter returned to the horror genre with his faithful Halloween companion Debra Hill to bring us quite possibly his most atmospheric horror film to date…The Fog. Blending great storytelling and slow-developing yet perfectly paced direction, this is a film that proves the often testament that “less is more” when it comes to scares.
The Fog takes place in the small sea/fishing town of Antonio Bay, which is now celebrating its centennial anniversary. When the hour strikes midnight a glowing and eerie fog heads into the town, which not only causes the town’s machinery to malfunction, but results in grisly and mysterious deaths of the townsfolk. Soon enough, the town’s priest uncovers a journal kept by the town’s first priest, which not only uncovers a grisly secret buried deep in the town’s history…but details the horrific vengeful spirits that await them within the fog.
Right from the get-go we are thrown into the creepy and well told story that is The Fog thanks to the opening campfire story prologue told by John Houseman himself. Talk about setting the mood, Carpenter gives us nothing but mood and atmosphere throughout the entire film, and I LOVE it. The look and use of the “fog” was excellent, and it provided a very creepy and legitimate way of setting up great mood and tension without showing the viewer much, which I personally find highly enjoyable because it allows the viewer to freak themself out before Carpenter throws in the undead ghouls.
Story-wise this film really kept me glued throughout the film thanks to its interesting twists and turns. While the first movement of the film was worthwhile and helped set the tone for the final two segments, it was the town’s priest finding the hidden journal of the town’s original priest that really got the film going. We all know the ghouls are coming and killing the townsfolk, but it is not until we get the true reason behind the killings that this film really grabbed my interesting and left me with the utmost respect for John Carpenter and Debra Hill as storytellers. The rest of the storyline follows our different characters from several different paths of life who all eventually are forced to save each other when the fog eventually takes over the entire town. This was both good and bad character-wise, but I will get to that later.
As you should be able to tell by now…Carpenter’s direction is top-notch. It is his direction and storyline that kept this film’s pacing in the positive realm, especially when you consider just how slow this flick develops and what little we actually get to see until the ending sequence. It takes talent to pull off a film like this one, and Carpenter proves he has hit. :Pay attention to the helper at the beginning of the film who asks the priest for his payment, the helper is portrayed by none other than an unaccredited John Carpenter: Aside from his epic use of the “fog” itself we get some pretty sweet looking undead ghouls that lay in wait within the fog and deliver some very sweet kills to the unsuspecting and bewildered(when in contact with the fog) townsfolk. The ghouls reminded me a bit of the “Blind Dead” in Amando de Ossorio’s Tombs of the Blind Dead, which are the type of “undead” that I find to be the creepiest I have ever seen.
I really wanted to give this film an 8-rating, but some issues that I just could not forgive kept me from going that extra level. One is the character usage that I mentioned earlier. While his then-wife Adrienne Barbeau was billed and treated as the “lead” in this film, her usage as a character was under-developed in my opinion. Nearly all of her scenes(a realistic 90%) were filmed without any other person on screen with her, and those that she did have with other actors were OK but could and should have given more to the audience. The other “lead” in this film, Jamie Lee Curtis, never once appeared onscreen together with Adrienne Barbeau, which I found a bit dissatisfying. Jamie Lee’s character was a bit underdeveloped as well, and simply came off as a boring drifter bagging the always awesome yet also under-executed Tom Atkins. How you throw Tom Atkins into a horror film and leave me not caring about his character is beyond me, but it happens in this film. Aside from these character issues the story and dialogue can get a bit silly at times, but I was very forgiving of that given this film gave me so much in return with its excellent mood and atmosphere.
Overall, this is a great and truly atmospheric film given to us by one of horror’s greatest directors at the forefront of his prime. We hardly get atmospheric films like this anymore, so eat this one up when you get the chance.