The Fog (John Carpenter, 1980)
As a foreword, I would like to mention that Kevin J. Olson is doing a director retrospective over at his blog Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies of all the films of John Carpenter and I suggest that you go and have a read at his thoughtful essays and observations of Carpenter’s career and films. His writing are, I believe, way ahead of mines and I hope that this modest but honest film review will be regarded, at least, half as high Kevin’s.
Set in a little town by the Sea in Antonio Bay in California, The Fog is about a ghost story that is set on the fact that a hundred years ago exactly, a ship wrecked ashore of the Bay and that the entire crew got killed in the water because of the fog.
With a superb opening as eerie and immersing as Carpenter’s seminal Halloween the promise of a great fright is there and the midnight clock of people doing their business with the radio show that links everybody together while we perceive that some ghosts are manifesting their presence. I believe that the biggest flaw of Carpenter and producer-writer Debra Hill is to have made a weak third act that explains and tries too much. At some point I thought to myself that some elements of the film reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds with the manifestation of the fog just like the birds that are common issues for Californian bays. However, Hitchcock never really explains why the birds are acting like this and there is no real solution except their escape. With The Fog, Carpenter and Hill made a different ending that Hitch’s and Halloween. The link with Hitchcock is even stronger in The Fog than in Halloween while Carpenter casts again Jamie Lee Curtis and her mother Janet Leigh from the famous shower scene in Psycho.
Another interesting aspect of Carpenter’s film is how Hawksian he tried it to be like. Rio Bravo being Carpenter’s favourite film, we feel that he tries to converge his story into this final battle of the priest and Blake the ghost. Even the shots of the little town have a Western look that could remind of Rio Bravo or El Dorado, Howard Hawks’ own remake of the aforementioned Western. Even some moments like the ones where the gang is kept in the church reminds of Night of the Living Dead. All this referential in the film tends to make it sound like a patchwork and it is probably one of the elements that makes it a lesser work than Carpenter’s Halloween. Just as Kevin J. Olson states in his essay about Halloween : « Halloween is the best Horror movie of all time ». I would not got that far while probably putting it in my Top 10, I think The Fog doesn’t holds up as well. It is a very good effort and some moments are real payoffs. The first act is almost perfect and if the entire movie would have kept the same level of quality it could have dethroned Halloween of my number one spot as the best John Carpenter movie.
Finally, The Fog is a curiosity as a John Carpenter entry, but I agree on its exclusion, well I think it was on the list for one year, from the 1000 Greatest Films of All Time list. Next Carpenter movie to watch : Assault on Precinct 13.