The night is calm and weather is cool and not a creature is stirring in the nighttime hours, except for a rolling fog coming in from just off the coast line. While the fog itself may seem innocent enough, something lurks just beyond on what our eyes can see that is until you get close enough to scream! John Carpenter is an iconic name is the film industry with tackling various subjects such as action, science fiction and horror! Halloween and The Thing are among the most memorable of his filmography but another film of his seems to fly low under the radar and that is The Fog.
Released two years after the groundbreaking and now legendary Halloween, Carpenter returned to the horror scene with a story that involves a cursed town, vengeful sailors and one spooky soundtrack (courtesy of Carpenter himself). While it may not hit the high notes of other horror films, The Fog is one of those movie that I feel is largely overlooked and is passed over in favor of more gory type horror flicks such as Friday The 13th and the endless supply of recycled slashers that followed for many more years. It’s foundation is solely built on the story, that was written by Halloween writers Debra Hill and John Carpenter, and while it may not be scary it always made me look at a fog fast approaching a little differently.
The movie centers around a small coastal town in Northern California named Antonio Bay. It’s April 21st and the town is celebrating their 100th birthday! The film opens with a story of a ship that sank off the very shores of Antonio Bay where all the crew were lost and although it’s just a story some weird things start to occur around town. Windows shatter, car alarms sound off and even three men on a fishing trawler disappear when a fog envelopes their boat. Among the inhabitants in town is Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) who discovers an old book wedged inside a part of the town’s church walls. While reading through the pages he uncovers a story that would explain all the strange occurrences in town. The legend is true and now it’s revealed that the dead sailors have returned from their watery graves to seek vengeance upon the ones who wrong them over a century ago.
The main cast is quite small but the characters we do follow are a radio DJ named Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), a local man named Nick (Tom Atkins) who picked up a woman hitchhiker named Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis) and some other characters but they don’t have a lot of screen time for most of us to pay attention. The film is slow burning but shines when telling an interesting story that is mysterious and quite involving. Being released in 1980, it doesn’t rely on gory kills or scenes of pervasive nudity to keep us interested. Like the iconic theme from Halloween, Carpenter lends his hand to creating a musical score that is creepy and reminiscent of seeing a haunted ghost ship rise up from the sea to cause havoc.
Not much really happens during the brisk ninety minute run time, but seeing the dead sailors lurking inside of the fog is enough to keep me on the edge of my seat. I enjoyed the backstory when we learn what really happened to the sailors of the Elizabeth Dane, the ship that carried the souls of the sailors who now seek revenge. As I said before, there aren’t many characters in the film, Stevie is the only one who makes any kind of an impact and I did find it a real treat to see Holbrook portray the grief stricken priest who learns the truth of the ill-fated sailors who now roam outside under the cover of the fog. The dead sailors look almost like mummies in some sense if you look closely at their arms. Even the way they knock on someone’s door is funny yet creepy at the same time. Hey, at least they have the decency to knock first!
Score 4 out of 5
I will be the first to admit that The Fog is not a great horror film, but it’s so mysterious and creepy at times that I just love almost everything about it. It isn’t as complex as The Mist nor as scary as Carpenter’s other work but The Fog is largely underrated and not talked about enough; at least that’s how I feel. It’s nice to sit down and watch an older horror flick that focused on a plot than settling for an excuse for keeping the body count high. The Fog is a worthy horror film that tried its best to be good even though Carpenter himself was displeased with the end result. It’s nowhere close to perfect, but in the end, it doesn’t have to be. It’s a simple movie with memorable villains, a great soundtrack and an ending that perfectly suits all who love things horror. Even to this day, seeing a fog does gives me chills that crawl up my spine wondering if someone out there is watching me.
Ahoy Matey! The Elizabeth Dane is still here and she’s been waiting for you. Just take my advice and stick with the original and don’t settle for that lackluster and lame remake they did. This is one is better from the legend himself, John Carpenter!