As part of my ongoing series: "Catching up with older movies that I should be embarrassed about not having seen," I sat down with John Carpenter's The Fog this past Sunday. There wasn't any real impetus to take up this film, other than my desire to check out all of Carpenter's lesser discussed works (Christine, Village of the Damned, Vampires, etc). Carpenter has one of the strongest voices of any horror director, and his style heavily permeates all the films that I've seen. The fact that he does most of his own scores only adds to that feel.
The Fog was Carpenter's first feature to hit theaters after Halloween. Coming off of that success, the director again showed a lot of talent for creating eerie atmospheres and elevating horror into a more cinematic sphere. To that end, he actually shot The Fog in anamorphic format, which allowed for bigger, more scenic shots of the California coastline. This choice pays off primarily in establishing shots, but also works when the titular fog begins to roll in.
While the film looked and even felt pretty interesting, I had a lot of trouble actually staying interested. Largely, this was due to the heavy reliance on a rather convoluted plot. The Fog is, at its heart, an old fashioned ghost story. A long time ago, some folks killed some other folks, and now the dead people's spirits are back to get revenge (if this sounds familiar it's because Asian horror filmmakers have been beating the concept's lifeless corpse for most of the last decade, to varying degrees of success). The process of arriving at the action is particularly drawn out in The Fog though, and despite a prolonged first encounter with the bad spirits in Act 1, we don't get too much mayhem until Act 3.
What we do get, in the interim, is a lot of bizarre interactions between characters. Carpenter seems to have drawn heavily from the Stephen King school of town building, wherein small towns are invariably composed of a tightly-knit, although not necessarily friendly-with-one-another, group of people. In and of itself, this is fine—if anything it explains why the characters don't just bolt when things get crazy. What was really strange however, was the presence of Jamie Lee Curtis's character. She arrives in town after being picked up by a sketchy looking, and much older, pick-up truck driver. They immediately sleep together, although it's not clear why, and she decides to tag along as he battles the evil leper-ghosts.
What really derailed the film for me though were the ghosts themselves. Carpenter lets the cat out of the bag early that, while the fog is what the characters fear, the actual deaths are being brought about by anthropomorphic beings that appear to have wandered off the set of Pirates of the Caribbean. That means that the vague threat of a moving fog is actually a cover for a very specific threat from these killers. This was apparently changed in the 2005 remake, the results however, weren't any better.
Despite its flaws, I ended up enjoying The Fog to an adequate degree. It has many of the hallmarks that make a solid Carpenter film, and there's enough creepiness and tension in Act 3 to validate the off-the-wall aspects of the story. This movie would probably play best to younger horror fans—in fact, the pirate nature of the baddies should put it right in most pre-teens' wheelhouses. In many ways, it's a more earnest, but equally kitschy, step in the direction of They Live. In the spectrum of Carpenter's films The Fog is definitely middle of the road, but it would be a feather in many other director's caps.