Welcome back to Movie Reviews from The Fox Hole. My little buddy and I have a classic ghost story for you this time around and a blast from the past.
John Carpenter’s The Fog
Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, John Houseman, Tom Akins, Hal Holbrook
As an adult, you often look back on your childhood and recall memories tied in with activities that you shared with either friends or family. For me some of those favorite memories are of watching horror movies with my mom. We constantly butted heads, didn’t have the best relationship in the world, but there was one thing we shared our love of horror movies. I grew up in a very poor household and didn’t actually go to the movies until I was eighteen and on my own. The first movie I saw in a theater was one done by one of the master’s of horror I’d grown up with John Carpenter. One of my favorite John Carpenter treats is The Fog.
The Fog is a classic ghost story; a tale of vengeance and the sins of the fathers revisited on the children. I haven’t seen the remake—No, I have, but it was so unremarkable that I already forgot. Any who back to the original and best…
Carpenter opens with a fantastic quote from one of the father’s of modern horror Edgar Allen Poe, “Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?” This happens to be one of my favorite Poe quotes and suits the story that follows to a tee. In the first scene we’re tantalized with the ghostly legend of the Elizabeth Dane, a ship that had crashed on the rocks at Spivey Point, a hundred years previous, as told by an elderly sea captain (played by the late, great John Houseman) to a group of kids setting around a fire on the beach. Houseman was an exquisite actor whose raspy voice made the hairs on the back of neck stand straight up when I was a kid. Not much has changed. The man had a way of mesmerizing you with that voice and that intense gaze would make you feel guilty even if you did nothing. 🙂
Having set up the origin of the ghost story, Father Malone (the incredible Hal Holbrook) is introduced, a priest who seems to enjoy the communion wine just a bit more than is appropriate. Don’t blink during this scene or you’ll miss a cameo by Carpenter himself as the church handyman (all big fluffy hair and bell-bottoms that scream 1980). As the clock strikes midnight, April 21st rolls into the town of Antonio Bay with a stirring of what lies ahead for the townspeople as they prepare to celebrate the town’s centennial.
Unlike most of Carpenter’s work The Fog relies more on suspense than what you see in the blood and gore department. The opening sequences introduce us to a handful of characters including Father Malone who we follow as the story unfolds; Stevie Wayne, the local disc jockey; Nick Castle, owner of a small local fishing vessel; Elizabeth Solley, a hitchhiker Nick picks up and beds; Kathy Williams, the town mayor, and Sandy, her assistant.
A minor tremor rocks the town, revealing a journal and something else buried in the church’s basement wall. The journal, a hundred years old, reveals what appears to be a warning dated April 30th —Midnight ‘til one belongs to the dead. Good Lord deliver us. Numerous mechanical things go haywire as well; pay phones ringing, lights flickering on, cars engines coming to life, car alarms going off, etc. announcing the arrival of something sinister and supernatural.
As the story unfolds, we learn that the town of Antonio Bay has a dark secret, hidden by the founding fathers that no one has suspected in a hundred years. During the hour between midnight and one, the first night, the fisherman of the Sea Grass discover themselves trapped in a mysterious icy fog bank that rolls up out of nowhere. Their boat goes dead in the water and something emerges from the fog; a ship that shouldn’t be there followed by a group of shadowy figures. Stevie, the disc jockey, is the only one to witness the unnatural behavior of the fog, including the fact it seems to glow, that night from the lonely lighthouse where she broadcasts from to Antonio Bay. As the clock strikes one the fog vanishes without a trace.
The following day Father Malone tries to talk the mayor out of going through with the centennial celebration after revealing to her the secret hidden for the past century—a conspiracy involving murder, greed, and six of the founding fathers of the town including Malone’s own grandfather. She refuses to reveal this information and continues with the plans despite his warnings that the town is cursed.
During the course of the day, each of the main players experience occurrences that border from the unexplained to the out and out supernatural including the discovery of the Seagrass and one of her crew who apparently drowned, but not before his eyes were gouged out.
Stevie acts as the binding between the various other characters warning them of the fog that rolls in as the sun sets and the things hidden within it. Adrienne Barbeau who plays Stevie (better known for her breasts, any guy who came of age in the 1970’s will tell you) does an excellent job of being a single mother separated from and terrified for her child. Her fear and strength in the situation she discovers herself in is real and palpable. Soon the celebration turns into a fight for survival as what lurks in the fog steps foot on dry land for the first time in a hundred years to seek vengeance.
The Fog although dated is beautifully done in palettes of blues and grays during the night scenes a harsh contrast to the beautiful sunny daylight scenes. The special effects team use all the tricks at their disposal (remember this was 1980) to give the fog an intelligence that it shouldn’t possess as it rolls into town destroying phone lines and cutting power. Carpenter scored the movie as well and the music heightens the sense of danger with a throbbing rhythm that rises and falls through out, highlighted by an eerie undertone that reminds me of the hum of katydids or peepers out in the countryside of my childhood.
If you’re a fan of Carpenter’s early work, a lover of classic ghost stories that rely more on suspense than gore then The Fog is your kind of movie—dated or not. I suggest you sleep with the light on afterward though and you might not want to answer if a knock comes at your door in the night. It might be The Fog…
Final Rating: 4/5 Fox Pups
5 Fox Pups – Must See/Can’t Miss
4 Fox Pups – Excellent
3 Fox Pups – Good
2 Fox Pups – Passable
1 Fox Pups – Skip It