Reader Requests – John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980)

Legend says that Antonio Bay was built in 1880 with blood money obtained from shipwrecked lepers but no one believes it. On the eve of the town’s centennial many plan to attend the celebrations, including the murdered lepers. (IMDB synopsis)

Hullo once again! Today’s film review comes at the request of my good friend Wesley. (Cheers, Wes!) The first time I heard about this film was during Eddie Izzard’s stand-up DVD, Dress To Kill, in which he compares San Francisco’s foggy July-August weather to John Carpenter’s The Fog’s fog. Yes indeed. Eddie’s a bit of a film nut, something which I personally aspire to, and if he likes it, I have to at least give it a chance. Let’s go.

Review:

The movie starts with a quotation from Edgar Allen Poe: “Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?”
Good question, Mr. Poe! Luckily for us, we’ve since developed numerous ways to carry out reality checks.

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Shortly after this, a man on the beach tells a short story to several children wrapped up in blankets. He tells them that 100 years ago today, there was a terrible shipwreck out on the fog-covered ocean, and that when the fog returns, so will the drowned shipmates. Who is this man? How does he know about the shipwreck? Who knows? We may never see him again. Sweet dreams, kids!
Meanwhile, Father Malone is just finishing another bottle of communion wine when a piece of the church wall crumbles, revealing the journal of his grandfather, also called Father Malone. One of the pages reads:

“April 30. Midnight ’til one belongs to the dead. Good lord deliver us.”

How very ominous. The dead do like to come out during the witching hour, don’t they? I wonder why. Most pubs are closed by then.
Throughout the night, various supernatural happenings, well, happen, such as car alarms going off in unison, phone boxes ringing simultaneously, dogs barking in the direction of the ocean, etc. A strange glowing fog appears from the East and envelops the Seagrass, a fishermen’s trawler. Sure enough, the fog is filled with the slimy ghosts of the dead crew mentioned earlier, and they hack the three fishermen to pieces with their hooks and sabres. But there are three more lives left for them to claim. For some reason. DUN DUN DUUUUUUUN.
This is an interesting premise for a film, and as with Hallowe’en, John Carpenter spends a good deal of the running time ratcheting up the atmosphere. During the so-called witching hour on the day of Antonio Bay’s 100th anniversary, the streets are quiet and deserted, allowing each noise to echo deep into the night. The music score is used sparingly, and it sounds just as haunting as the Hallowe’en theme – all organs and harpsichords and what-have-you. I also believe that much of the film’s atmosphere comes from its eponymous fog. Fogs are creepy by nature, because they’re cold and thick and you can’t see what’s on the other side of them. It’s not such a stretch to imagine that there are things lurking inside it. The best thing about casting a fog as the film’s main villain is that one can’t exactly fight against it. One can’t simply grab an axe and start chopping the fog to bits, now can one?
However, unlike Hallowe’en, this film doesn’t appear to have a clear protagonist. In fact, it jumps around from character to character every five minutes. There’s Stevie, the sultry-voiced radio broadcaster; Dan, the weatherman who phones her up with meteorological info and pick-up lines; Nick, the, er… some guy; Elizabeth, the hitchhiker he picks up and begins a relationship with; Father Malone, the booze-loving priest; Kathy Williams, probably the mayor, and many more.
Of these characters, Stevie is the most interesting to me. She’s a working single mother, and she’s one of the first to sense that something’s wrong with Antonio Bay. Her son Andy picks a plank of wood off the beach, which turns out to be a part of the shipwrecked Elizabeth Dane and carries the message that ‘6 MUST DIE’. Stevie, in turn, warns the town’s residents away from the fog and directs anyone who might be listening to save Andy. Hurrah, character development! Heroism! Sisters doing it for themselves!
So, what do these century-old ghosts want, anyway? Good old fashioned VENGEANCE. It turns out that the town’s founders, including Reverend Malone Sr., killed the crew of the Elizabeth Dane,then used their gold to found the town in the first place. Don’t worry, it’s very well explained. Reverend Malone Jr. finds this out and makes it known, but nobody can stop the fog and the ghosts who live within it.
Not everything about this film worked for me. Funnily enough, the six people that ‘must die’ could be anyone; it doesn’t seem to matter to the ghosts. First they kill the three fishermen, then Dan, Dan, The Weather Man, and THEN they murder Andy’s babysitter, a sweet old lady called Mrs. Kobritz. What did she ever do to you guys?
Don’t worry, little Andy gets rescued from the ghosts soon after. Good thing, too, as he doesn’t have a self-preservation instinct to speak of. Here’s what he does as one ghosts breaks down the door with his hook.

“…Mrs. Kobritz?”

Tsk. Child actors.
The other characters are OK. Both Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis are cast, which doesn’t surprise me, as John Carpenter likes to call back to Hitchcock’s films as well as his own. However, their characters, Kathy and Elizabeth, barely interact with one another.
Probably the most interesting thing about the film is those damned ghosts. We, the audience, never get a good look at them, save for a wrinkly arm or a flash of green, waterlogged, rotting skin. (I’d get a hairdryer on that if I were you.) Also, the main ghost, Blake, has glowing red eyes and it’s hilarious. In the ghosts’ final showdown with the characters, Father Malone Jr. presents them with a golden cross to replace the gold that was stolen from them, and they take it in a flash of blinding light. They then come back for him and lop off his head, making six out of six kills. Makes sense; they have come all this way, after all.
And there you have it!

Final Verdict:

It’s not nearly as good as Hallowe’en, but The Fog does have some spooky ideas and managed to give the actual fog a unique presence of its own. The music is excellent and the scares are well executed. I just wish the characters had been given more focus.

Rating:

6 jam sandwiches.

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