by Mel Valentin
Minuses weaknesses in character depth and characterizations, John Carpenter’s "The Fog," his follow up to 1978's seminal slasher flick, "Halloween," is an effective, atmospheric, low-key, supernatural horror film, primarily due to Carpenter’s detailed attention to visual composition (shot in anamorphic widescreen Panavision), pacing, dread-inducing set pieces, and visual effects that hold up surprisingly well twenty-five years later. The fog of the title emerges as a character on its own, a character seething and rolling with light, mystery, history, and menace motivated by a century-old crime and consequences that spread across decades and generations.Set in the fictional Northern California seaside town of Antonio Bay (Pt. Reyes Station and Inverness, California), The Fog opens with an old sailor, Mr. Machen (John Houseman, in a cameo role added after principal photography) spinning a tale of doom and retribution by campfire to the town’s children as the hour strikes midnight. The Fog then introduces Stevie Layne (Adrienne Barbeau), a radio DJ and station owner (appropriately enough, we hear Stevie’s voice before seeing her), an unimpressive, underused church administered by an alcoholic priest, Father Malone (Hal Holbrook), who, after almost being injured by a falling stone, discovers a journal written by his ancestor hidden inside a church wall.
"Not top tier Carpenter, but definitely worth a view (or revisit)."
The first hints of the supernatural slip into the peaceful, sleepy town. Fluorescent lights flicker and pop, car sirens go off simultaneously, a hitchhiker, Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis, a holdover from Halloween, whose character early on slyly mentions her bad luck) meets a local, Nick Castle (Tom Atkins, later revealed as the nominal hero) on an empty road, a glowing fog bank moving off shore is spied by Stevie in her lighthouse/radio station, ultimately settling in with the ill-fated crew of a fishing trawler, The Sea Grass, for the first clash with a phantom ship and saber- and hook-wielding ghosts, eager to exact bloody revenge for a 100-year old crime tied to the founding of Antonio Bay.
The next morning, Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh), the head of the centennial committee, learns about the disappearance of The Sea Grass and her husband. With centennial celebrations culminating later that night, Kathy seeks out Father Malone for a late-night benediction over the proceedings, just as he begins reading from his long-lost ancestor’s journal. Each line is paralleled by the discovery and search of The Sea Grass by Nick and Elizabeth. The day turns into night, and the night turns into prime hunting time for the ghostly avengers. Only Stevie, high above the town in her lighthouse, suspects the nature of the fog and what it means for the townspeople, including her son, Andy (Ty Mitchell), who earlier that day discovered a piece of driftwood carved with the name of a ship.
With multiple characters and storylines, The Fog first follows the characters separately (or in small groups) as each, in turn, encounters the fast-moving, green-glowing fog and its otherworldly, malevolent specters and, later, at the climax, as the survivors gather inside the Beacon Hill Church, with a still drunk Father Malone foretelling their grisly doom. As the specters mass for an attack, genre fans will immediately see echoes of Night of the Living Dead or John Carpenter’s second film (and acknowledged "cult classic"), Assault on Precinct 13. Alas, rather than an extended set piece (or pieces), the scene inside the church ends quickly, with the exposition-filled journal all too easily providing the solution for the survivors to deflect or stop the ghosts before they enter the church while cross-cutting with Stevie alone at the lighthouse, fending off several ghosts of her own.
While genre fans have come to expect minimal characterizations or character depth (the characters here have limited backstories and nonexistent character arcs, outside of surviving the night), The Fog also suffers from a limited set of complications or reversals, as well as a rushed, abrupt final scene and several, obvious plot holes including ghosts whose powers are limited or expanded depending on the needs of the plot, ghosts who wield sabers and fishhooks for no discernible reason, a central character who makes an unsupported leap into a supernatural explanation for the fog and the disappearances associated with it, or why the centennial celebration would reawaken the return of the ghosts from their slumber at the bottom of Antonio Bay.Shortcomings aside, "The Fog" ultimately succeeds due to Carpenter’s controlled, classically inspired direction, specifically the set pieces that culminate not in shots of blood and gore, but in (mostly) off screen violence, an eerie, minimalist score, and strong, impressionistic images that reach at something primal and visceral, a combination of our fears of the dark and fears of the unknown (and the unseen). In this, Carpenter isn't far from H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories of the supernatural or an underseen science-fiction/horror film from the 1950s, "The Crawling Eye" (a/k/a "The Trollenberg Terror"). Carpenter, unsurprisingly, has cited both as influences on "The Fog."
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originally posted: 08/31/05 15:15:53