“The Fog” (1980)
Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures
Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook, John Houseman
Directed by: John Carpenter
Running Time: 89 min.
Synopsis: A strange fog goes across a beach town and the mystery inside the for, terrorizes the people of the town.
Creepy atmosphere and frightening scenes best describe John Carpenter’s classic horror film The Fog. There are tons of great elements that Carpenter puts together in this movie, to the ensemble cast of great actors, to the pure eeriness of the ghosts and the fog itself, and also the excellent score. Actually the film wasn’t a big hit like Carpenter’s Halloween when it was released in 1980, but it gained cult status in the years to come.
In the beach town of Antonio Bay, strange things start to happen one night between Midnight and 1am. Street lights are going on and off, windows are breaking, car horns are going off, furniture is moving, not really a typically night for this small fishing town. Come to find out, it’s not a normal night, it’s the 100th anniversary of the township and a large glowing fog has made an appearance across the ocean heading into the town. What lurks in that fog maybe death itself? Some fishermen find out first hand when the fog comes over their boat and out of it comes what looks like a pirate ship. Suddenly the crew of that ship invades and kills the fishermen. The fog then starts to invade over the town, but then 1am strikes and the mist and its inhabitants go away.
The next day, the town wonders what caused all the strange disturbances and wondering what happen to the missing fishermen. A priest played by Hal Holbrook discovers a journal written by his grandfather in 1880. His grandfather confesses that he and a group of settlers deliberately caused the death of a wealthy group of lepers who wanted to set up a colony near them. The group wanted no lepers close to them but also wanted their gold for they could build their own town. So, they set up a fire near treacherous rocks and the crew of the Elizabeth Dane crashed and perished. The group collected their gold that washed up on shore and used that to build their town. Now, the ghosts of the Elizabeth Dane have come back for revenge.
The film is a great ghost story come to life and has a slight EC Comics vibe, which Carpenter says that was one of his inspirations. They are plenty of scary scenes throughout the film. One scene made me jump when actor Charles Cyphers is investigating the fog outside his weather station. He is on the phone with actress Adrienne Barbeau who plays a local disc jockey. She warns him not to answer the door, of course he does so and looks outside into the fog, there’s nothing. Then all of a suddenly he gets hooked in the neck by one of the ghost and pulled into the fog.
Pretty much every scene with the ghosts is pretty scary. Another scene that comes to mind is when this old lady is watching Barbeau’s son and she tells him to go hide in his room. When he does, the ghosts come out of the fog and snatch the old woman. Another great scene is when actors Tom Atkins and Jaime Lee Curtis are aboard the stranded fishermen boat and Atkins is telling Curtis an eerie story that his father had told him long time ago about some of the legends of this town. Towards the end of the story there’s a fake scare that happens when some junk falls from a cabinet. They both jump and are relived it was nothing, and then a body falls on top of Curtis. Also, the film has a great opening where veteran actor John Houseman tells a ghost story to a group of children.
Another stand out scene takes place in the morgue. It almost feels like a scene out of a zombie film. After Atkins and Curtis take the body they found on the boat back to the town a doctor at the morgue examines it. The doctor and Atkins step out for a second, leaving Jamie Lee alone with the corpse. With her back to the dead body, its hand starts to move underneath the sheet. Then there’s an awesome shot with Jamie in the background and the corpse steps off the table and we see its legs dangle in the foreground. It starts to approach her with a scalpel in its hand then it total collapses to floor just as its about to reach her for the kill.
Throughout the film there are these beautiful anamorphic shots that give the film this great cinematic feel and help the atmosphere. Probably one of the best scenic shots of the film is a shot of the shore with the mountains in the background and Barbeau’s son walking along the beach toward the camera. Of course shots of the town when the fog is soaking in are excellent shots as well. Another key shot is when Barbeau is going to her radio station, which is in a lighthouse. She has to climb down these long winding stairs to get to it and it creates this feeling of isolation because it’s out in the middle of nowhere on the rocks of the ocean.
One drawback to the film is that they are some parts that drag and scenes that are slow moving. If these were trimmed up or done differently, this film would probably be a five star classic. Carpenter also notes that he thought the film sucked when he looked at the first cut. He had to reshoot some scenes, recut some things, and add in more music and sound effects. He said that the more polished scenes are the ones that they shot later on.
The Fog probably has the most Carpenter staple actors then any other Carpenter film, ones he directed or produced. From lead actors such as Jaime Lee Curtis (Halloween I and II), Adrienne Barbeau, who was married to Carpenter at the time (Escape From New York, Someone’s Watching Me!), Tom Atkins (Escape From New York, Halloween III), to supporting ones such as Charles Cyphers (Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween I and II, Elvis), Nancy Loomis (Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween I, II, and III), Darwin Joston (Assault on Precinct 13), and George “Buck” Flower (Escape From New York, They Live). Only one staple actor that’s missing in The Fog is Kurt Russell. Also, Janet Leigh of Psycho fame and the mother of Jaime Lee has a main role in the film.
Speaking of Hitchcock, I notice a small comparison between The Fog and The Birds. Both films take place off the Pacific coast and the towns have similar names, Antonio Bay and Bodega Bay in The Birds. A stranger that’s a female visits the town and crazy things start to happen. In The Birds it’s Tippi Hedren’s character and in this film, it’s Jamie Lee. In fact, Jamie even says in one scene that strange things started happening when she walked into town and that she was bad luck. Also the fact that both movies involve a town being terrorize by a massive force.
The Fog is a standout in the John Carpenter collection and a horror classic from the 1980’s. A terrific cast, a haunting story, and creepy atmosphere makes this film worth the watch. After seeing it, you’ll never want to be stuck in a fog ever again.