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).
If 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).
What 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.
My 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.
Jamie 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.
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.
I 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.”
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.