johnlink ranks THE FOG (1980)

Usually, my October horror movie watching gears to newer stuff I haven’t seen. This year, while I still watched a whole ton of stuff which was new to me, I dug much further into the past. I went back to the 30s for THE VAMPIRE BAT, the 40s for the terrible APE MAN, the 50s for the Japanese film Ghost of Yotsuya, the 80s and 90s for the entire NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and the early 21st century for SIGNS. With one last night before Halloween, I tackled another classic I had never been exposed to: THE FOG.


I watched THE FOG (1980) on 10.30.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

His immediate follow up to HALLOWEEN, John Carpenter’s THE FOG goes more for atmosphere and less for terror. Considering the story is about leper ghosts emerging from a hazy fog, that is a smart movie. Many a 80s film was ruined by taking a fantasy premise and trying to be far too scary and not atmospheric enough. Carpenter mostly succeeds with THE FOG because he relies on his actors to be more scared than the audience, and he sets the mood with his signature contrasting lighting and color technique.

Carpenter cast his then-wife, Adrienne Barbeau, as Stevie Wayne. She’s the lone radio voice in a sleepy coastal California town. He also brings back his most previous muse, Jamie Lee Curtis, as a hitchhiker that happens upon this town on the wrong night. Curtis’ real-life mother, PSYCHO queen Janet Leigh, plays a representative of the town on its hundredth anniversary. This should be a joyous time, but the local Father (Hal Holbrook) discovers a diary from his great-grandfather which tells the story of the town being founded on murder and theft.

The victims of those crimes, on the towns centennial, are angry and want some victims. 6 victims, to be exact, to match the number of people who planned the original murder.

The story alternates between having a sort of science-talk thrust and a very fantastical group of creepy ghosts. Odd things happen with windows breaking, car alarms going off, and things falling off shelves. But it all comes across as slightly disjointed. The fog, which rolls in off the ocean, is what brings the ghosts. So what is brining these predictive events? It is not entirely clear. And it doesn’t really matter. Despite the disconnect, the film works because it doesn’t deviate from the formula it creates until the very end. And then it makes up for breaking its own established rules.

The acting is surprisingly good, though I was disappointed to see that Curtis’ love interest was played straight by Tom Atkins. He would give a standard bearing performance a few years later in NIGHT OF THE CREEPS as the dry, humorous hero. In THE FOG, however, he is the male lead. It is not a bad performance, but it is a bit of a stick-in-the-mud characterization. The women all shine. Leigh is quietly very good. Curtis brings a surprising presence to her lower-class role, and Barbeau talks us silkily through the first half, and loses her mind a bit (justifiably) in the second half. For an atmospheric horror movie, these actors are all bringing it.

This is a pretty good movie. It may be a step below Carpenter’s masterpieces of the time, HALLOWEEN and THE THING and (to a lesser extent) ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. Yet, like those films, his attention to framing and contrast and mood make this a movie which is better than it would be in the hands of a lesser director. This is a perfectly workable horror movie which is worth checking out if it has passed you by.



I give a bonus point for the music. Even though it is sometimes pure 80s synth sounds, the music selection mostly adds greatly to the moments it appears. And some of it even comes from Carpenter’s own band.


FINAL SCORE: 7 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on October 31, 2014.

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