Posted March 24, 2011 by editor in Retrospectives
 
 

John Carpenter’s The Fog


After the critical and commercial success of John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s Halloween, this much grander and more gothic campfire spook story was released. The story concerns a small coastal town which is haunted by an eerie all-consuming fog, coupled with strange deaths and poltergeist-like activity. As it turns out a hundred years earlier a group of sailors died during a shipwreck and now their ghosts are haunting the town, vengeful and ready to spill blood.

After the legendary Halloween this second horror feature feels like a grander affair with more violence and bloody killings. But even if this is far from the standard of either Halloween or The Thing, it still contains some solid scares and atmospheric suspense. It’s essentially a good old fashioned ghost story told around a campfire – a sequence which is highlighted during the prologue adding an almost Edgar Allen Poe quality to the proceedings.

Carpenter once again brings Jamie Lee Curtis – Halloween’s scream queen – along for the ride, along with her mother Janet Leigh (the legendary Hitchcockian scream queen – like mother like daughter) which makes for some interesting references to the horror genre.

Thankfully the film’s weak points are fairly minor. Its narrative structure is in a bit of disarray at times, leading to it being a tad convoluted during the slower scenes. With several of its plot threads going off on tangents, it feels as though certain character arcs could have been cut. All of which leaves the, admittedly minuscule, running time dragging slightly at points. Some could argue that this is all style over substance and personally I’m inclined to agree. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing in a film which relies on building tension and dread from well crafted shots and angles.

It’s shot in some eye wateringly beautiful locations. Director of photography Dean Cundy applies panache and style to this old tale. The use of the Panavision shooting style lends its self to a grander and more sophisticated vision, which certainly feels like a continuation from Halloween.

Then there are the scares themselves. They’re never overused and Carpenter avoids cheap tricks. Take for example the moment where Tom Atkins character (Nick Castle) is telling Jamie Lee Curtis about his father’s encounter with a mysterious piece of Spanish gold. Carpenter treats the viewer to an advanced surprise as he cuts to a shot of a metal locker slowly opening. It’s almost as though he’s teasing the audience. The scare you predict isn’t the one you get. It’s certainly a well executed use of misdirection on Carpenter’s part; he constantly throws the viewer off the real horror scent.

Although rarely seen, the spectral pirates are more effective and frightening because of that. Just the mere outline of a dark figure within the fog, not knowing whether it’s a spook or human is enough to give a grown man the heebie jeebies. One scene which still provides an effective scare is the murder of old Mrs Kobritz in front of young Andy. As she looks into the fog – telling Andy to go upstairs – she’s suddenly dragged backwards by the ghostly pirates. It’s a short, sharp burst of a scare which truly leaves the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.

One performance that also makes this film stand out is Adrienne Barbeau’s lighthouse radio DJ Stevie Wayne. Her heroine adds life to an otherwise run of the mill set of characters. The attack on the lighthouse is a particular highlight of the film, as the ghostly pirates attempt kill her. While her sultry voice also carries the right amount of night-time DJ appeal.

The film certainly has an undertone of effective creepiness, one which has been often forgotten following more recent and extreme horror films. While it moves slower for the more casual viewer, there’s enough here to satisfy horror fiends looking for an impressively constructed chiller. 

If you’re looking to be chilled to the bone, you could do worse than watch The Fog. It’s certainly another notch on Carpenter’s already impressive directing belt. After the sorely lacking features from the late 90s that Carpenter churned out, it’s easy to see why fans were up in arms. The Fog is a prime example of old school storytelling mixed with atmospheric scares, far removed from what Carpenter produced later on. As it stands – some 30 years on – this is still an impressively well-crafted low budget feature from John Carpenter. An early 80s classic and one which holds a special place in this reviewer’s heart, if you’ve yet to see it, don’t delay (but avoid the 2005 remake of the same name as it’s an utter travesty) 

.

After the critical and commercial success of John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s Halloween, this much grander and more gothic campfire spook story was released. The story concerns a small coastal town which is haunted by an eerie all-consuming fog, coupled with strange deaths and poltergeist-like activity. As it turns out a hundred years earlier a group of sailors died during a shipwreck and now their ghosts are haunting the town, vengeful and ready to spill blood.

After the legendary Halloween this second horror feature feels like a grander affair with more violence and bloody killings. But even if this is far from the standard of either Halloween or The Thing, it still contains some solid scares and atmospheric suspense. It’s essentially a good old fashioned ghost story told around a campfire – a sequence which is highlighted during the prologue adding an almost Edgar Allen Poe quality to the proceedings.

Carpenter once again brings Jamie Lee Curtis – Halloween’s scream queen – along for the ride, along with her mother Janet Leigh (the legendary Hitchcockian scream queen – like mother like daughter) which makes for some interesting references to the horror genre.

Thankfully the film’s weak points are fairly minor. Its narrative structure is in a bit of disarray at times, leading to it being a tad convoluted during the slower scenes. With several of its plot threads going off on tangents, it feels as though certain character arcs could have been cut. All of which leaves the, admittedly minuscule, running time dragging slightly at points. Some could argue that this is all style over substance and personally I’m inclined to agree. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing in a film which relies on building tension and dread from well crafted shots and angles.

It’s shot in some eye wateringly beautiful locations. Director of photography Dean Cundy applies panache and style to this old tale. The use of the Panavision shooting style lends its self to a grander and more sophisticated vision, which certainly feels like a continuation from Halloween.

Then there are the scares themselves. They’re never overused and Carpenter avoids cheap tricks. Take for example the moment where Tom Atkins character (Nick Castle) is telling Jamie Lee Curtis about his father’s encounter with a mysterious piece of Spanish gold. Carpenter treats the viewer to an advanced surprise as he cuts to a shot of a metal locker slowly opening. It’s almost as though he’s teasing the audience. The scare you predict isn’t the one you get. It’s certainly a well executed use of misdirection on Carpenter’s part; he constantly throws the viewer off the real horror scent.

Although rarely seen, the spectral pirates are more effective and frightening because of that. Just the mere outline of a dark figure within the fog, not knowing whether it’s a spook or human is enough to give a grown man the heebie jeebies. One scene which still provides an effective scare is the murder of old Mrs Kobritz in front of young Andy. As she looks into the fog – telling Andy to go upstairs – she’s suddenly dragged backwards by the ghostly pirates. It’s a short, sharp burst of a scare which truly leaves the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.

One performance that also makes this film stand out is Adrienne Barbeau’s lighthouse radio DJ Stevie Wayne. Her heroine adds life to an otherwise run of the mill set of characters. The attack on the lighthouse is a particular highlight of the film, as the ghostly pirates attempt kill her. While her sultry voice also carries the right amount of night-time DJ appeal.

The film certainly has an undertone of effective creepiness, one which has been often forgotten following more recent and extreme horror films. While it moves slower for the more casual viewer, there’s enough here to satisfy horror fiends looking for an impressively constructed chiller. 

If you’re looking to be chilled to the bone, you could do worse than watch The Fog. It’s certainly another notch on Carpenter’s already impressive directing belt. After the sorely lacking features from the late 90s that Carpenter churned out, it’s easy to see why fans were up in arms. The Fog is a prime example of old school storytelling mixed with atmospheric scares, far removed from what Carpenter produced later on. As it stands – some 30 years on – this is still an impressively well-crafted low budget feature from John Carpenter. An early 80s classic and one which holds a special place in this reviewer’s heart, if you’ve yet to see it, don’t delay (but avoid the 2005 remake of the same name as it’s an utter travesty)

Dominic O’Brien


editor