How the Hell do you follow a beast like Halloween? John Carpenter’s suburban based horror groundbreaker had landed hard and was well on it’s way to becoming the one of the most profitable independent movies of all time, the studio was clamouring for another hit, what do you do?
Simple, you do something different.
Miles from the sharp intelligence and shrewd pacing of Michael Myers’ assault on the babysitters of Haddonfield, Illinois sits the slow creeping dread of what happens in Antonio Bay, a small coastal town about to celebrate it’s 100th birthday.
The Fog, you see, is a simple ghost story. No reinventing the wheel, no fancy tricks. Just a sense of foreboding so thick you could use it to grout your bathroom.
Maybe it’s the magnificently subdued Carpenter score (one if his best in my opinion), all forboading piano chords and pulsing synth. Maybe it’s the opening scene of an old man telling children a tremendously atmospheric tale around a campfire, a plain statement of intent that this movie is a good ol’ fashioned ghost story. Maybe it’s how all the characters are woefully unprepared and unable to stop the oppressive wall of fog and the vengeful spirits that lurk within from completing their murderous task. Maybe it’s all of it but The Fog, despite some niggling flaws in it’s storytelling, is one of those few films that no matter how many times I watch it, no matter how accustomed I get with it, it NEVER fails to give me a chill. Never.
In a smart piece of anti-storytelling, The Fog doesn’t really have a main character. Be it Hal Holbrook’s sozzled priest who finds a journal pointing a damning finger at the town’s founders or Adrienne Barbeau’s radio DJ who weather reports first herald the coming abnormality, to Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis’ odd couple who stumble across some early victims, no one character ever has all the facts. Only we, the viewer know everything that’s transpiring and why and much of the dread comes from watching the ensemble cast stumble through the film’s runtime figuratively and metaphorically unable to see the whole picture.
And as the fog rolls in at the climax and the amount of safe places of refuge dramatically reduces exponentially, claustrophobia reigns as multiple sieges of the movies two primary locations take place. As the surviving cast desperately try to fortify their locations from the vengeance thirsty, seaweed encrusted ghost bastards the tension rockets.
However. It ain’t perfect. While it works for the tone of the movie, the characters will feel slight to some and are serviced more by the able cast of seasoned character actors than they are by the script, plus the motive of the leperous ghosts really doesn’t bare up to close scrutiny. If all they want is the 6 relatives of the original town founders who wronged them and stole their gold then surely isn’t everyone else safe, or are they killing indiscriminately UNTIL they find their intended victims? You assume the latter due to the climactic attack on Barbeau’s lighthouse but it’s never truly made clear and it means that at times the plot contains as many holes as the ghost-leppers themselves.
But pish-posh to all of those niggles! Who cares about the why’s and wherefore’s when a film can grip you this tightly based on mood alone?
For old school horror-philes, Carpenter enthusiasts, or even if you just like being spooked out, The Fog is not to be mist…