Skip to main content

Get inside and lock your doors. Close your windows. There's something in the fog.

The Fog
(1980)

(SPOILERS) The Fog has its fans, but I tend to concur with Carpenter’s acknowledgement of the movie’s issues; it represents his first serious stumble, lacking both the sure, driving pace of his previous horror classic and its sense of humour (despite a surfeit of in-jokes, mostly on the character name front). It’s a short movie, but one that never really hits its stride. What The Fog undoubtedly has going for it is superb, highly memorable and evocative photography from Dean Cundey (it’s no coincidence that, when he stopped working with the director, the latter’s days delivering the goods were numbered) and a memorable cast. Although, in the latter regard, it’s telling that there are far fewer distinguished players in the much more effective, structural near-remake of the overtly Lovecraftian Prince of Darkness seven years later.


The Fog opens with considerable panache, however. Following a title card quoting Poe (“Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?”), John Houseman delivers a classic “It was a cold and stormy night” tale, scaring the bejesus out of a bunch of kids with a tale of the undead crew of clipper ship the Elizabeth Dane, and how, “when the fog returns, they search for the campfire that led to their icy death”. 


It was one of a number of scenes added during reshoots, as Carpenter was extremely unhappy with the initial cut (the quote came from Deborah Hill, a Poe fan, the fog itself from a trip they took to Stonehenge when the stuff rolled in, and the grue from Carpenter’s affection for EC Comics). Having decided “This doesn’t work” he added more “mood, fear”, ghosts and several extra shock sequences, including Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis) in the morgue with the resurrected corpse and Stevie (Adrienne Barbeau) on the roof of the lighthouse being menaced by maggoty mariners.

 

There are definitely some uber-cheesy jump scares in the picture, but the biggest problem is that Carpenter fails to imbue a sense of building dread. Individual scenes ascribe an appropriate air of ancient evil returning, such as Hal Holbrook’s Father Malone (originally earmarked for an unavailable Christopher Lee) discovering his grandfather’s diary in the church and its confession of terrible crimes against the crew of the Dane (Doctor Who’s The Curse of Fenric would plunder a number of elements from Carpenter’s film, not least the discovery of an important piece of the puzzle in a church wall), but there are long stretches were the anticipation of climactic events fails to weave a spell (it isn’t clear to me exactly why Malone tells Janet Leigh’s mayor Kathy Williams about his find, other than he wants to tell someone, and despite her lofty position, she’s ultimately a rather redundant character).


As with Jaws, there are requisite starters before the main course (the crew of a trawler are butchered by Blake and his men). Supernatural portents appear (Stevie, the local DJ, hears admonitions of revenge and sees “6 must die” on a piece of driftwood – one wonders if Carpenter was inspired by The Warriors in having her running commentary/ broadcast on events). And the fog rolls in.


The biggest star of a John Carpenter film is John Carpenter, hence his name before the title. Or is it? The biggest star of The Fog is actually Dean Cundey. Carpenter selects the anamorphic format and favours the steadicam, but it’s Cundey’s photography that ensures the picture lingers in the memory. Any shot featuring the inexorable fog is an instant keeper, but it’s with the crew of the Elizabeth Dane that the DP really comes into his own: backlit figures with glowing eyes, hooks at the ready – if the movie was as good as its publicity shots, it would be an all-timer. The shot of Blake in the church at the climax is a masterpiece (effects supremo Rob Bottin played Blake, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the following year’s Snake Plissken, given the hair). While Cundey went on to work with both Zemeckis and Spielberg, it’s safe to say that neither he nor Carpenter were ever quite as effective after they split.


Another issue with The Fog, despite its slender running time, is focus; Carpenter and producer Debra Hill (they co-wrote the screenplay) know where they want to get to, but this requires a lot of wheel spinning en route. Barbeau succeeds in convincing you that she's making the right choice spreading the word to the townsfolk rather than going after her son, but the picture would lose nothing at all by excluding Curtis (she doesn’t even get screen time, or scream time, with her mum), who was so fundamental to Halloween, and would probably gain a bit of credibility, since no sooner has Elizabeth thumbed a lift from Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) than she’s in the sack with a guy twice her age. One wonders if Castle was the part offered to Kurt Russell; he at least wouldn’t have seemed slightly creepy. Atkins bears resemblance a rather dull version of Nick Nolte (there was a certain look of bland leading men with mullets around that time, see also Christopher Stone in The Howling), and Carpenter missed a trick by failing to pull a gender reversal of Psycho and slaughtering him at the end of the opening act.


As far as tricks go, Blake’s decision not to kill Father Malone in the church makes no more sense for Malone pondering aloud why he didn’t. The answer’s obvious, of course – so Carpenter can produce a shock ending out of his hat (although, by this point, he and Brian De Palma had collectively managed to make the cliffhanger twist the new norm). It was a mistake to add shots of the wormy faces in the rooftop attack on Stevie (along with the impalements, influenced by the more graphic trend of the likes of Cronenberg’s Scanners). Without them, the force is much more elusive and impressive. Nevertheless, while The Fog doesn’t have terribly good characters, or plot, and even the score is more The Exorcist than typical Carpenter, it does come armed with a clutch of decent tropes. You can go a long way with a clutch of tropes.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

I think my mother put a curse on us.

Hereditary (2018)
(SPOILERS) Well, the Hereditary trailer's a very fine trailer, there's no doubt about that. The movie as a whole? Ari Aster's debut follows in the line of a number of recent lauded-to-the-heavens (or hells) horror movies that haven't quite lived up to their hype (The Babadook, for example). In Hereditary's case, there’s no doubting Ari Aster's talent as a director. Instead, I'd question his aptitude for horror.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

There’s still one man out here some place.

Sole Survivor (1970)
(SPOILERS) I’m one for whom Sole Survivor remained a half-remembered, muddled dream of ‘70s television viewing. I see (from this site) the BBC showed it both in 1979 and 1981 but, like many it seems, in my veiled memory it was a black and white picture, probably made in the 1950s and probably turning up on a Saturday afternoon on BBC2. Since no other picture readily fits that bill, and my movie apparition shares the salient plot points, I’ve had to conclude Sole Survivor is indeed the hitherto nameless picture; a TV movie first broadcast by the ABC network in 1970 (a more famous ABC Movie of the Week was Spielberg’s Duel). Survivor may turn out to be no more than a classic of the mind, but it’s nevertheless an effective little piece, one that could quite happily function on the stage and which features several strong performances and a signature last scene that accounts for its haunting reputation.

Directed by TV guy Paul Stanley and written by Guerdon Trueblood (The…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

What you do is very baller. You're very anarchist.

Lady Bird (2017)
(SPOILERS) You can see the Noah Baumbach influence on Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, with whom she collaborated on Frances Ha; an intimate, lo-fi, post-Woody Allen (as in, post-feted, respected Woody Allen) dramedy canvas that has traditionally been the New Yorker’s milieu. But as an adopted, spiritual New Yorker, I suspect Gerwig honourably qualifies, even as Lady Bird is a love letter/ nostalgia trip to her home city of Sacramento.