Saturday, October 31, 2020

A Seaside Ghost Story: The Fog (1980)

The Fog (1980)
Rating: ****1/2
Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh

At the stroke of midnight, the coastal Californian town of Antonio Bay is now a hundred years old and this centennial appears to have stirred something otherworldy: amidst the small tremors and poltergeist activity causing minor havoc around the sleepy burg, three fishermen out at sea find themselves and their boat engulfed by a strange fog, which brings with it the plundered remains of a ship called the Elizabeth Dane. The murderous revenants of the ghost ship's crew then appears and surrounds the men, slaughtering them one by one and leaving the boat to be found the following morning afloat, weathered and rusted.

As most of the inhabitants of the Bay prepare to celebrate their town's foundation, local Nick Castle (Tom Takins) busies himself piecing together what happened to his friends, the three unfortunate fishermen, while radio DJ Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) gets a haunting encounter when a piece of driftwood her son found suddenly went ablaze and a mysterious ominous voice is heard from one of her tape players vowing revenge. Elsewhere, town priest Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) distraughtly shares to Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh), who is overseeing the celebration, detailed accounts of Antonio Bay's dark little secret as written in his grandfather's journal, discovered bricked away within the church's walls.

It is all soon revealed that the ghoulish phenomenon earlier that day are be linked with the town's founding men and the crimes they committed in the past. A past now tainted and back from the dead, shrouded in an unearthly fog and hunting down unfortunate souls in the name of vengeance as night falls once more...

The Fog (1980) is one of director John Carpenter's many overlooked cult classics following his slasher mega hit Halloween (1978), and it is something I can best described as a ghost story with a bodycount. Brimming with small town atmosphere and an assortment of likable characters, the whole film is more akin to timeless camp fire stories focusing more on brooding, small scale chills rather than a gore-filled exploitative extravagance, a matter that works well given the talents working in front and behind the camera.

Partly inspired by the scifi horror movie The Trollenberg Terror (1958), the movie is well-written enough to boast a competent script with straightforward plotting, albeit at a small cost of character development leading to some spotty pacing flow. Fortunately, giving life to the movie's simple plot is an impressive line of horror veterans such as scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis and B-flick cult favorite Tom Atkins, both taking a good front of the limelight as a pair caught in the middle of a ghostly vendetta, their ordeals with the darkly supernatural peppered with strong banter and performances. 

Carpenter's own former wife Adrienne Barbeau (in her first theatrical appearance) shares a good size of the focus, too, as a single mother about to go through a harrowing night as the fog prevents her from leaving the station, forcing her to beg strangers hearing her broadcast to protect her child at home before she herself has to try and survive a claustrophobic siege of water-rot ghouls. Other familiar faces include Psycho (1960)'s own Janet Leigh as a town official sided with a rather "annoying" assistant lovingly played by Nancy Loomis, who's known for playing Annie Brackett back at Halloween (1978), as well as a small cameo of publicized Orson Welles collaborator John Houseman, as a old time mariner giving a group of kids fair chills with an opening campfire story.

As most of his works, Carpenter pitched a perfectly minimalist synth score to go along the scares and thrills, giving them a fittingly foreboding ambience. Director of photography Dean Cundey worked on the cinematography of this film and the overall result is as amazing as it is sinister, particularly at the breathtaking shots of the bay town at morning, as well as how he made the fog look like its own organic presence rather than a tool or an omen for the murderous specters. On that note, I really love the shadowy approach used on the rotting ghosts, obscuring them enough to keep them mysterious yet providing shots of a seaweed-soaked arm or a part of a diseased face here and there to show us that they are a physical threat who can grab hold and wield weapons. It's a tad cheesy in its datedness, but effective nevertheless.

With its horror elements centered more on tone and mood, The Fog (1980) is relatively tame for a movie about fog-bound killers, its murders low on count and, despite reshoots done to spice it up with a few more splashes of red, it’s far from anywhere being bloody. It's definitely leaning heavy on old school horror and spooks, a feat admirable as the resulting product is effectual in its simplicity and it's a real treat to watch, especially if you feel like taking it easy on your horror viewings. 

A deserving cult classic over time thanks to being one of plenty staples of late network and cable airings, The Fog (1980) is simply fun for what it is; a homage to local legends and folktales, treating us right with well-crafted, enduring old-fashioned horror entertainment.

1 male stabbed ran through twice with a sword, stabbed with a dagger
1 male hacked to death with hooks
1 male had his eyes stabbed out with a pick
1 male had his throat hacked with a hook
1 elderly female hacked to death
1 male decapitated off-camera with a sword
Total: 6

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