Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter & Debra Hill
Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, John Housman, Tom Atkins, James Canning & Hal Holbrook
Coming off the success of HALLOWEEN, John Carpenter and Debra Hill decided to go old-school with their next horror project. They decided upon an atmospheric ghost story as opposed to another slasher film. Their intentions were good, but the initial first cut came out looking like crap. This led to a lot of fine tuning, an entire new musical score being written, and reshoots that cut extremely close to the film’s release date. Due to the troubled production, Carpenter often cites THE FOG as one of the least favorite films of his career. This also led to him selling the rights for 2005’s abominable FOG remake, but the less said about that, the better. Taken as a cheesy slice of 80’s horror, the original FOG is a fun time that wears its small budget on its sleeve.
The coastal town of Antonio Bay is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary. However, this appears to be one celebration that the townsfolk will never forget. From midnight until 1 am, a mysterious glowing fog moves in and causes random objects to break, strange noises in the street, and the entire crew of a fishing boat to suffer a chilling fate. It seems that the horror that lasted a mere hour is far from over though. The history of Antonio Bay was built on blood and a priest has uncovered the dark truth. As night falls on the town’s 100th celebration, the mysterious glowing fog moves in again and shadowy figures can be glimpsed within the fog bank. What’s in the fog? What is so mysterious about Antonio Bay’s past? Will any of the town’s residents (including a friendly fisherman, a local DJ, said DJ’s son, and a strange hitchhiker) make it out of this supernatural disaster unscathed? I guess you’ll have to watch this movie to find out.
Running at under 90 minutes, THE FOG’s plot is all over the map. We follow various groups of residents and see their encounters with the supernatural fog. Some of them meet up at certain points in the story, while others never encounter a single other major character (e.g. a creepy old fisherman). That’s not to say that these characters aren’t interesting or enjoyable to watch. This cast contains a lot of familiar faces from other horror films. As far as the most memorable character of the bunch, we get Adrienne Barbeau (who later went on to star in Stephen King’s anthology CREEPSHOW) as the lighthouse DJ. Barbeau plays one of the stronger female characters to come out of 80’s horror, though she mostly does her heroine arc by being a voice on the radio. Jamie Lee Curtis (from HALLOWEEN, duh) plays a somewhat pointless, but enjoyable to watch, hitchhiker who gets picked up by Tom Atkins (who later went on to star in HALLOWEEN III and NIGHT OF THE CREEPS). Atkins is far more of an actual character, but Curtis shows off convincing chemistry alongside him. Janet Leigh (Curtis’s mother and star of Hitchcock’s PSYCHO) has a small part, while Hal Holbrook (who went on to star opposite of Barbeau in CREEPSHOW) is great as a drunken priest.
You can tell that John Carpenter had a tight budget while making THE FOG and that shows through the lack of any actual ghosts that get up close and personal. Instead of revealing the shadowy figures in the glowing fog bank (something that the remake did entirely too much of), Carpenter leaves his phantoms as silhouettes with bright red eyes. We do get to see a couple of kills, but they almost feel like an afterthought. These death scenes were actually most of the reshoots. What THE FOG excels at is building a creepy atmosphere. Seeing as fog constantly attributes to a spooky atmosphere in many other horror films, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but still remains creepy nonetheless. The basic storyline of the film is pretty easy to predict and fairly straight-forward. In many ways, it does remind one of older ghost movies where the mystery of the haunting was simple and to-the-point.
THE FOG isn’t among Carpenter’s best films (HALLOWEEN and THE THING), but it stands as a good entry in a long filmography of horror entertainment. At its center, this is just a simple ghost movie and can be enjoyed as such, though a strong atmosphere and good performances elevate it to another level of creepiness. If you’re a fan of John Carpenter or ghost movies in general, then this should be right up your alley.