The Fog (1980)

JOHN CARPENTER

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1980. , , . Screenplay by John Carpenter, . Cinematography by . Produced by Debra Hill. Music by John Carpenter. Production Design by . Costume Design by , . Film Editing by , Tommy Lee Wallace.

The sleepy west coast seaside town of Antonio Bay, California is about to celebrate its one hundredth anniversary, and leading community member has planned a ceremony for the unveiling of a statue to commemorate the occasion. Doing a much more effective job of marking the centennial is a mysterious, glowing fog that approaches the town from the murky, mysterious sea, and from midnight to one over several evenings, darkly dressed brigands brandishing swords and giant fish hooks emerge to slice and dice the humans that cross their path.

(at the time Mrs. John Carpenter in real life) is terrific as a disc jockey who first sees the phenomenon approaching before realizing to her horror that it might threaten her son, but she can’t get to him because she is trapped atop the lighthouse from where she broadcasts her show. plays a fisherman who worries that his friends haven’t come back from a fishing expedition at sea, and begins investigating while accompanied by the young woman () he picked up hitchhiking the night before.

Shades of Hitchcock’s The Birds (further emphasized by a cast member who is directly connected with that director’s oeuvre) abound as the possibility lurks in the air that Curtis’ arrival has something to do with the havoc being wrought upon this town, for along with the fog come the crashing of windows, the smashing of clocks and mysterious knocks on the door. The mystery could also be related to the dusty old journal that the local priest () finds hidden behind a wall in his chapel, written by his grandfather and telling the tale of a shipwreck containing members of a leper colony and gold that they were carrying aboard.

John Carpenter follows his incredibly successful sleeper independent hit Halloween with a refusal to sell out, making another classic on a low budget that benefits greatly from his visual ingenuity and devotion to subtle characterizations. Dean Cundey’s cinematography creates breathtaking painterly images that make for some of the most gorgeous shots in Carpenter’s oeuvre, there’s so much pleasure to be found in the supernaturally brightened fog or the dark figures that show up in it that you’re ready to forgive the film’s glaring major error (and an unfortunate habit in Carpenter’s filmography), that there isn’t an exciting enough climax in a film that an audience is willing to sit longer for.

At 89 minutes it feels as if Carpenter is being a bit too strict with himself and there’s a lot missing in the third act that could have rounded the experience out a little more, but it’s wonderfully daring for a horror movie to be played out at such a calm and steady pace, emphasizing the chilling mood while paying effective tribute to the classic American Sleepy Hollow-type legends that inspired its style.

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