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The Fog 01

From the DVD case: The sleepy seaside village of Antonio Bay is about to learn the true meaning of the word “vengeance.” For this seemingly perfect town masks a guilty secret – a past steeped in greed and murder. Exactly 100 years ago, a ship was horribly wrecked under mysterious circumstances in a thick, eerie fog. Now, shrouded in darkness, the long-dead mariners have returned from their watery grave to exact a bloody revenge. (1980, color)

Mark says: John Carpenter’s The Fog is actually a charming little tale about ghosts, betrayal, community, and revenge. Sure, there’s a lot of bloodshed, too, but what makes the movie work for me is the familiar Carpenter theme of a group of people coming together to combat a supernatural force. In this way, it reminds me of some popular films of the 1950s like The Monolith Monsters and The Thing from Another World (which Carpenter would successfully remake as The Thing in 1982).

The Fog 02If I were to pick a character that holds the film together, I would choose Adrienne Barbeau (Creepshow, Swamp Thing) in the role of Stevie Wayne. Stevie is a single mom who owns and runs the local radio station, KAB 1340. Stevie is the town hottie, but she has very little onscreen interaction with the other characters. In fact, except for her son and a couple of ghosts at the film’s climax, Ms. Wayne does not interact directly with anyone (except over the phone).

The Fog 03What Barbeau brings to the story, besides her natural good looks, is a sort of maternal protectiveness. As Stevie Wayne broadcasts from her station atop the local lighthouse, she watches over the town like a cosmic mother hen. When it is discovered that death rolls in with the fog, Stevie, from her perch, warns the town of the fog’s direction and attempts to gather them together at the one spot as yet untouched by the brume, the town church. Stevie does not leave her post even when her own son’s life may be in jeopardy. As a side note, Adrienne Barbeau was married to Director John Carpenter during the shooting of the film.

If Stevie Wayne is the maternal aspect of the town, then Hal Holbrook (Creepshow) as Father Robert Malone is the paternal counterpart. It is Father Malone’s grandfather who helped established the settlement 100 years ago. We learn from his grandfather’s journal that Antonio Bay’s forefathers sabotaged a clipper ship full of lepers and stole their gold to found the community. These dead lepers are now menaces that terrorize the residents. Because there were originally six conspirators we learn that “6 must die” on this 100th anniversary of the township.

The Fog 04My complaint about Father Malone is that his character is almost as foggy as the film’s title. We get the idea that he is somewhat of a drunk and can not pay his help properly, but not much else. He does take on a lot of culpability for his grandfather’s actions and he is willing to sacrifice himself for the town’s good, but still, he is a shadowy character who seems like he should be more important. Christopher Lee was originally slated for the role and it would have been interesting to see Lee in the part.

The Fog 05Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, Prom Night) plays hitchhiker, Elizabeth Solley, who happens to be passing through during Antonio Bay’s centennial. I don’t want to suggest that Curtis’ character is “easy,” but I will note that she is picked up by Nick Castle (Tom Atkins, Creepshow) shortly after midnight and is in bed with him even before the witching hour is finished. Elizabeth and Nick have a strangely strong bond for people who have just met, and this aspect of the story seems a little weak. I should also note that the name of the doomed clipper ship was Elizabeth Dane. Perhaps Elizabeth appearing in town on the 100th anniversary suggests that cosmic events are in alignment.

Interestingly enough, Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother, Janet Leigh (Psycho, Night of the Lepus) plays the chairperson of the birthday celebration, Kathy Williams. Mrs. Williams is a nervous woman who can be somewhat grating. Of course this is understandable, not only is she the chairperson of the event, but her husband’s boat was found at sea empty except for the corpse of one sailor. That would be enough to make anyone edgy.

The Fog 06

What I have been referring to as “ghosts” throughout this review are more like ghost-zombie hybrids. They have more solidity than ghosts, but are not nearly as mindless as zombies. As we learn from grandfather Malone’s journal, “Midnight ‘til one belongs to the dead.” The ghost-zombies roll in with a mysterious glowing fog during this time to collect their vengeance. This happens to be the exact hour the original six conspirators planned their nefarious deed.

The Fog 07I can’t leave this review without mentioning John Houseman (Ghost Story) in the role of Mr. Machen. Houseman opens the film with an old-fashioned ghost story told around a campfire with the local children. All I can say is that Houseman is one heck of a storyteller. If I happened to be one of those kids I’m sure I would have screamed, if not from the story itself, then from Mr. Machen’s zeal in telling it. Apparently, this prologue was added when John Carpenter viewed a rough cut of the film and realized it was too short for a theatrical release.

The Fog, though not one of Carpenter’s greatest efforts, is still a lot of fun and genuinely eerie. You’ll also recognize Mr. Carpenter’s unmistakable score, which is both simple and effective.

Scene to watch for: John Carpenter makes a cameo as Father Malone’s unpaid assistant, Bennett, toward the beginning of the film.

Line to listen for: “Thank God you’re weird. The last one was so normal, it was disgusting.”

Trivia: John Carpenter stated that one of his inspirations for The Fog was 1958’s The Crawling Eye (aka The Trollenberg Terror). Read more trivia here.

Special thanks: to Dan of No Jive, who first sang the praises of this film at a now defunct blog. It was his enthusiastic views on the movie that prompted me to give it a second look.

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ½ out of 5.

IMDb Link

11 Comments

  1. My favorite scene is when the fog reached the lighthouse and Adrienne comes outside. One of the ghosts appears from behind her, with those red glowing eyes, and you really want to shout “Watch out, he’s behind you!” It’s genuinely creepy the way they keep moving in to hurt her.

  2. Mariana: Yes, that’s a great scene! I was shocked when Adrienne actually got “the hook” in that final reel. And then, when she’s battling the zombie-ghosts, she gets a clear shot of one of their faces, and it is covered with those sea maggots! Great fun for everyone.

  3. dang. I was going to claim “first comment!”

  4. John: You’ll have to be a little quicker on the draw, my friend. Thanks for dropping by anyway (I know this isn’t your genre).

  5. I remember watching this in my youth. The late, late movie on a Saturday night. It certainly spooked me at the time. I too reserve a fondness for Barbeau, but it’s that screamin’ JL Curtis that has always “done it” for me, Mark. (Of course, it might also have something to do with a particular scene from, Trading Places)

  6. Clay: I think I remember that scene from Trading Places. There’s just something about Adrienne Barbeau up in that lighthouse, watching and unattainable, that seemed to draw me to her character. I also had a big crush on her when I was in jr. high school watching her in TV’s “Maude.”

  7. “If this has been anything but a nightmare, and if we don’t wake up to find ourselves safe in our beds, it could come again. To the ships at sea who can hear my voice, look across the water, into the darkness. Look for the fog.”

    Yes! You knew this one would bring me out of the woodwork, Mark.

    The Fog‘s a creepy little movie that was undermined a bit by the studio forcing Carpenter to add gore, but I still love it — and it’s pretty daring as a follow-up to Halloween.

    Like Clay, I remember watching it on broadcast TV (the first time it aired). It was the first Carpenter flick I saw. Maybe that’s why I like it more than I really ought to.

  8. Dan: I had never watched this movie at the theater or even when it was broadcast on TV. I remember picking it up after reading your take on it at one of your old blogs. It didn’t really grab me at first, but when I started viewing it like an old 1950s film, a small community banding together to battle an impossible force, I began to feel its charm. It’s really a great little ghost story, as John Houseman proves in the prologue.

  9. i wonder if stevie primarily being only a voice is meant to be a counterpoint to the actual ghosts? her assistance is the counter balance to their evil doings. rob bottin who did the f/x for carpenter’s the thing remake was the leader of the ghosts. this is my favorite carpenter score. i think this movie is greatly under appreciated. john

  10. Interesting aside: John Houseman’s character, Mr.Machen, was named after a famous Lovecraft-style Ctulhu Cult writer of horror novels, Arthur Machen.

    will


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