THE FOG ***** USA 1980 Dir: John Carpenter. 91 mins
Rescued in post-production by reshoots, reediting and rescoring, this brave attempt at a modern take on the old-fashioned ghost story opens with an Edgar Allen Poe quote though its influences are closer to Lovecraft, EC Comics, THE GHOSTLY GALLEON and – by Carpenter’s own admission, Hammer’s X THE UNKNOWN. The director’s increased stature resulted in his most high-profile cast to date, with John Houseman’s redolent storytelling setting the scene via a beautifully eerie opening campfire ghost story.
Many Carpenter regulars survive this time around : Nancy Loomis is still fabulously sarcastic; Charles Cyphers is the sleazy weatherman who keeps coming on to D.J. heroine Adrienne Barbeau (the sexiest voice in 80’s horror and spending most of the movie in isolation); and Jamie Lee Curtis portrays the polar opposite to Laurie Strode as a free spirited hitchhiker who sleeps with Tom Atkins before they know each other’s names. Barbeau entertains and – when the fog rolls in with its accompanying vengeful ghostly lepers – advises the imperilled townsfolk of picturesque Antonio Bay (“Keep me turned on for a while and I’ll do my best to do the same for you…”) while ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13’s Darwin Joston plays a coroner named Dr Phibes and Curtis’ mom Janet Leigh has a rare latter-day movie role as the town’s neurotic chatterbox chairwoman. The narrative demands a body count no bigger than six (though it has to cheat for the sake of a final shock), so the movie is unfashionably bloodless for 1980, but Carpenter still gets to reprise HALLOWEEN’s hand-on-shoulder shocks, with Curtis participating in a Myers-like scene in which a “dead” body rises up behind her in the widescreen frame. Hal Holbrook makes for a splendidly articulate Basil Exposition character – one of many characters who take time out to deliver a spooky anecdote about past events, reinforcing THE FOG’s place in the great oral tradition of ghost stories. It’s often scary and suspenseful – the fate of sweet old babysitter Mrs Kobritz is terrifying – and the sustained climax (split between Barbeau menaced atop her lighthouse and the main cast trapped by the ghosts in the church) is one of Carpenter’s greatest suspense sequences, accompanied by one of his most evocative scores. The coastal setting make it Carpenter’s most visually beautiful horror picture and Barbeau’s final speech is a wonderfully ominous tribute to the closing scene of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, a consistent influence on the director’s work : “To the ships at sea who can hear my voice…look across the water into the darkness…Look for the fog…”
Review by Steven West