January 8, 2017

The Fog (1980)

Just as the Californian town of Antonio Bay prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary a supernatural fog envelops the town, bringing with it the ghosts of those murdered a century ago by Antonio Bay's founders. The ghosts are out for revenge: their murderers are long dead, but it seems their descendants will do just as well.

The Fog is a 1980 horror film directed by John Carpenter from a script by Carpenter and producer Debra Hill. It was Carpenter's first film following the release of his successful and groundbreaking slasher movie Halloween. While The Fog is also a horror movie, it is made in a distinctly different style. It is a much more old-fashioned, gothic sort of film. While far from Carpenter at his best, it nonetheless has a modest sort of charm to it. At 89 minutes including credits it is a pretty breezy watch, and has enough scares and clever ideas to sustain its fairly short running time.

The film does a reasonable job of spreading the narrative across an ensemble cast. Hal Holbrook plays Father Malone, who discovers his ancestor's journal confessing to the murders. His performance is neither here nor there: not bad enough to really criticise but never actually enthused enough to be particularly interesting. Adrienne Barbeau is much more entertaining, playing local radio DJ Stevie Wayne. She does a good job of making the transition from skepticism over the supernatural invasion to the sheer terror of being menaced by homicidal ghosts - who may also kill her son (Ty Mitchell).

I have a little bit more difficulty accepting the characters of Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) and Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis). He is a town local with a hand in the local fisheries industry. She is a hitchhiker he picks up at the start of the movie. There's more than two decades difference between their ages, so when she immediately leaps into bed with him and remains his love interest throughout the film it does seem a little tiresome. There's no real chemistry between them: Curtis has enough screen presence to entertain regardless, but her role is severely underwritten. Atkins is stuck playing a stereotype and never manages to give it enough of a distinct wrinkle to make the part his own. Curtis' own mother Janet Leigh plays town mayor Kathy Williams, whose dogged insistence that the town's anniversary celebrations go ahead makes her a very similar character to Murray Hamilton's mayor in Jaws.

There are some great visual moments in the film. Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundey shoot the film in a Cinemascope ratio, giving everything a more epic and expansive feel. Small individual horror moments leap off the screen: a recovered piece of driftwood suddenly leaks seawater from the letters carved on its surface. A group of ghosts advance onto the roof of a lighthouse, strikingly shot from above. The ghost of sea captain Blake cuts a frightening figure with a mean-looking sword and glowing eyes.

None of this is sensational filmmaking, but it is solid genre entertainment. The Fog is a smart enough film to get in, throw a few scares at the audience, and get out again. Its ambitions may be small, but its execution is pretty good.

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