At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Fog “80”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, Darwin Joston, John Houseman/ Runtime: 90 minutes

I feel it is important to start this review off by stating that when determining your chances of viewing a film, it always comes down to what exactly you as an individual’s specific tastes and/or personal preferences are. Nowhere in the spectrum of film is this more obvious than in the horror genre. Indeed this is because, duh, whereas some people like horror films, other people just wish to bury the lot of them in the desert next to ET on the Atari. Yet even amongst the people who like this storied genre, there are still divisions to be had especially in regards to the debates of Gore vs. Subtlety, and Script vs. Effects. In all of this though there is one group I would like to give particular thanks to not the least of which because I’m a honorary charter member. This is the group of fans who just plain and simply aren’t affected or swayed by any of these divisions in the slightest; they just want to sit back, relax, and hope and pray that the movie they are about to watch is actually going to be worth their time after all.

The reason I bring this all up is because our movie for today The Fog is everything and yet subsequently none of the things that I have brought to your attention here today. Indeed make no mistake; this is a horror film, and yes it was always intended to be one. Yet this is also a horror film that can be watched by people who don’t like horror films since it has the feel and vibe of a ghost story from around the campfire come to life. Yet it also manages to possess appeal to both sides of some of the other debates we brought up as well since this film has gore, albeit a dated definition of what that consists of, but at the same time it is also able to be scary without it. This is also a film which manages to possess a heck of a script yet is also quite well executed thanks to the engaging efforts of a game cast and crew. Ultimately though the best thing that I can say about The Fog is that even if none of those things really affect you that much, and you just want to pop some popcorn, cuddle up next to your significant other, and then have a spooky good time then boy are you in for a treat with this one…..

The plot is as follows: The Fog takes place in a small seaside town of California known as Antonio Bay that subsequently is fast approaching its one hundred year anniversary; a time of great significance for this tiny little town. You see a hundred years ago according to movie lore, there was a a wealthy man named Blake who decided to take a ship called the Elizabeth Dane and, along with a crew, used it to set sail for the place where they were to set up a colony for lepers such as themselves. However it was sadly not meant to be; this is because, while approaching their destination they found themselves at the mercy of a seemingly unnaturally thick fog that then led them erroneously astray by a campfire on dry land, the ship struck the rocks, and everyone on the ship was killed….or so the story is told (ooohhh). Now as we fast forward to the present day (or at least 1980), we see that the residents of Antonio Bay are about to celebrate their centennial anniversary with grace and humility. Of course with this being a horror film, I guess I should now reveal that there is about to be a major addendum to the list of celebratory activities as well as participants. You see that same fog from over 100 years ago is back, but this time contained within are the apparitions of those who died in that horrific accident at sea all those years ago and suffice it to say they are back and boy are they not happy….not one bit…now it’ll up to an eclectic group of people to not only attempt to figure out why these unholy spirits have returned after all this time, but to also survive the night at any cost…..

Now I feel that this film’s script which was written both by Carpenter & long-time collaborator/producer Debra Hill is at the core, nothing more than a simple ghost story that you could see being told around a campfire in order to put a chill down the spines of those enraptured in the telling of it. Suffice it to say then that this is also a ghost story that is told for our viewing pleasure absolutely wonderfully both in how it all comes together and also in how well Carpenter chooses to pace the story beats throughout. Speaking of pacing…I feel that you should know that The Fog is deliberately slow to start with, and that although there will be those who are ok with a movie taking it’s time to get where it needs to, I feel that I should warn those of you out there who either have a short attention span, suffer from a terminal case of impatientness, or both then The Fog may at certain points kind of feel like a drag for you. With that being said though all I ask of you dear reader is that if you fit that description then please just give this movie a chance. I say this because despite the potential for drag, this is a film which has a few layers hidden just under the surface in regards to the story we are being told, and as the film heads toward a truly riveting climax I do feel that it never manages to become any less than interesting & gripping all the way to the very end.

Now I feel that Carpenter and Hill also hit upon something ingenious when it came to the central premise of The Fog and I think it works really well. This is because, like the titular fog, every community has secrets hidden away, and yet it’s not until they’re staring you directly in the face that you can begin to try and get an idea of what you are looking at, and even then you still might not find yourself being able to fully register just what it is that you are seeing. Indeed this may be a ghost story, but at the heart of this spook-fest are the very real ideas not only of what can happen when a story and/or history you thought you knew by heart all turns out to be a fabrication, but also about what happens when the sins of the past come back to haunt you in the here and now and what are you prepared to do in order to deal with them as well.

With that being said I feel I should also give you this fair warning in regards to this film: if you are the kind of viewer who is coming into this and looking for gore and buckets of blood a’plenty then I must politely ask you to look for your movie elsewhere. Indeed this is not a movie for you although there is a wee bit of blood to be found herein. I say that because The Fog is in all actuality a film either for the viewer who likes to think, or one who likes to be scared in style. Indeed, like the very best ghost stories, this is a movie which possesses an effectiveness that resides not in the outcomes of what happens to the various characters we are introduced to throughout the film, but in the buildup of tension from the moment the story begins all the way through to the riveting conclusion just before the credits finally begin to roll thus ushering us out of the spooky story and back in our own reality where hopefully nothing like this will ever happen to any of us. Now although Carpenter does manage to offer up a few startles and jolts along the way for those who dig that sort of thing, this is nevertheless a film that is only as effective as it is because of the deliberately slow yet foreboding and ominous pacing that Carpenter chose to move the story along at. Yet, despite the eerie pacing, Carpenter still manages to ensure that, at 89 minutes, his movie also manages to move forward sufficiently enough that this film never once feels like it is having to stretch the ever-loving heck out of its entertainment value in order to help it get through the entirety of the film’s story.

Now I feel that the cast of The Fog, made up of great character actors and 3 cast members from Carpenter’s prior horror film at the time Halloween, is not only extremely well-put together, but that everyone involved all does an amazing job. This of course starts with the voice of Catwoman from Batman: The Animated Series’ Adrienne Barbeau who, in her film debut, actually does a great job as Stevie, the radio DJ who is amongst the first to really zero in on the horrible secret of what lies in the Fog, and then does everything she can to save her son and everyone else from her lighthouse radio station. Indeed Barbeau manages to deliver her role with a wonderful sense of both intensity and seriousness despite not having nearly as much in terms of locale to work with as the majority of the cast. Also of note is Jamie Lee Curtis who does good work here even as she was in the midst of establishing her status as a truly gifted Hollywood actress. That being said though: I feel you should know movie goers that this character is a complete 360 change from Curtis’s Laurie Strode in that, unlike Laurie, this is a character who is much more by equal measure both forceful and independent. However, in a vein eerily similar to Curtis’ portrayal of Strode in Halloween 2 from 1981 this is also a character that kind of gets lost amongst the comings and goings and is just kind of there for….reasons. We also get cult classic favorite Tom Atkins as Nick Castle aka the pretty typical horror hero yet although he checks off the stereotypes that this archetype is supposed to have, Atkins also manages to bring a subtlety that is used to great effect here. We also get dependably great work from screen legends Hal Holbrook, who brings a gravitas and palpable sense of regret to his role as Father Malone and OG scream queen Janet Leigh who brings a humanity to the role of Kathy Williams that in a lesser actor’s hands would’ve truly become a one-note character. Indeed I feel it is safe to say that the majority of the characters that we are introduced to in this film, with perhaps the distinct exception of Stevie aren’t really the focus of the film; rather they are all used as efficiently as possible. Yet nevertheless I do feel that everyone from the cast listed above all the way to Charles Cyphers as local weatherman Dan, Precinct 13 alumnus Darwin Joston as the town coroner, and John Houseman whose fisherman opens this creepy tale with just the right amounts of dread, suspense, and spine-chilling intrigue all do a marvelous job with their characters and they all manage to make the absolute most of every single second of screen time that their individual parts are given no matter how big or small they may be.

All in all fear is what happens when we as people find ourselves confronted with things we just don’t fully understand. Indeed be it a swarm of gang members mercilessly with no rhyme or reason attacking a police station, a William Shatner-mask wearing babysitter killer who may just be the embodiment of pure evil, or an alien organism of unknown origin that can become virtually anyone or anything I feel that John Carpenter understands this fear better than most. Here in The Fog is indeed no different. I say that because this is a movie that introduces us to an ominous fog that may contain undead sailors who bring with them a secret that was buried with them over 100 years ago, but that also contains something else. Indeed it contains no more and no less than a shiver down the spine, a desire to seek a warm embrace, and a chilling unknown that by film’s end has horrifically made itself known to the people in a small little coast side California town. In other words; this fog contains all the chemical properties necessary for fear with the possible upgrade to pure terror. Trust me when I say then that this is exactly what the movie delivers time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Fog “80” a solid 3.5 out of 5.