Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins
Spoilers Within: No
Originally posted 11th July 2016 on Letterboxd.
If there’s a single director whose entire output is full of unassailable masterpieces (The Thing, They Live), to the boring-but-never-terrible (The Ward, Ghost of Mars), it’s the inimitable John Carpenter. In spite of this praise, I’ve somehow never seen his 1980 ghost story The Fog until now.
Opening with a literal campfire tale to set the stage, then moving on to what now could be one of my favourite Carpenter sequences (the glacial-paced mystery of the town’s electrics going haywire), Carpenter and co-writer Debra Hill have forged a brilliantly uneasy set-up to get you stimulated for the spooky goings-on in the seaside town of Antonio Bay. By slowly giving details of the cause of the eponymous fog, Carpenter and Hill allowed themselves to populate the town with various locations: whereas many of the director’s films have one or two areas, The Fog has multiple, ranging from a lighthouse, a weather station, an off-coast fishing boat, and numerous shops and homes that make the small-scale society feel bustling and dense. It would have been fun to see these inhabitants further terrorised by the fog during their centennial celebrations toward the last act, but the focus was kept squarely on those from different – but no less essential – vocations in the town. This small cross-section of citizens had enough personality that it made caring about the entire town of sincere importance.
The handling of some of the finer moments was what made it for me. Like the aforementioned opening sequences, there was a subtlety at play which is very rarely used in horror, no matter what decade the film was released. Loud bangs that have become so endemic of modern horror are here used within the scene; a rock falling onto a table; a door slamming due to the wind; a radio suddenly jolting on etc. All of these sounds are in-situ without supplementary soundtrack alerts to ensure your attention is there, making for some genuinely surprising shocks. The film is awash with other praisable, nuanced moments: from care-free, non-shaming moments of sexuality with Jamie Lee Curtis’ Elizabeth and Tom Atkins’ Nick (they meet, then the next scene they’re in together is post-coital, to no fanfare), to much-welcomed delays in exposition from Hal Holbrooks’ Father Malone; to great positions of power for the female cast; the script is clearly diversely-penned to its advantage.
Every time I see a John Carpenter film that I’ve not yet seen (there are still a few more to go), I’m surprised at how much more I enjoy it compared to how I anticipated. It’s taken me a long while to come to terms with this fact: but after the playfully intriguing The Fog, I can now confirm that – even at his lowest – he’s one of my most revered director’s of all time.