IN SELECTED CINEMAS: 26th October
AVAILABLE ON FOUR DISC LIMITED COLLECTOR’S EDITION BLU-RAY AND UDH: 29th October, from STUDIOCANAL
RUNNING TIME: 89 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In 1880, six of the founders of the Californian coastal town of Antonio Bay deliberately sank and plundered a clipper ship named the Elizabeth Dane owned by Blake, a wealthy man with leprosy who wanted to establish a leper colony nearby. Gold from the ship was used to build Antonio Bay and its church. Now, on the town’s 100th anniversary, bizarre supernatural events begin to occur and a glowing fog begins to envelope the area, bringing with it the victims of this heinous crime to kill and search for what is rightly theirs….
Some of you old time readers of HCF will probably recall that I’ve mentioned several times that I got the horror bug from sneaking downstairs to watch movies after my mum and stepdad had gone to sleep. They were usually Hammer films or even older, but a few weren’t, including the first UK TV showing of The Fog. As I watched it, the wind outside kept rattling our letterbox which just like the door knocking in the film made it seem like somebody is outside and wants us to answer the door, and after going to bed I woke up early and it was damn foggy outside. You can probably understand how this might frighten a 12 year old. John Carpenter’s ghost/zombie [you decide, the apparitions seem to be both] chiller that carries a distinct whiff of the supernatural vengeance-obsessed EC comics about it doesn’t seem to be regarded as being among his best work, and I don’t think that the man himself is that keen on it himself, but it’s probably his most atmospheric film as well as in a way his purest after Halloween. In fact I would go a bit further than that and say that its first twenty or so minutes are some of the very best stuff he’s done and are evidence that Carpenter’s reputation as a master of horror is entirely justified. After that – well, the film is still good even if I’m not sure that Carpenter thought his story through totally with the viewer being left with more questions than answers.
Carpenter was partly inspired by 1958’s The Trollenberg Terror with its monsters hiding in the clouds and seeing a huge fog at Stonehenge, plus the true story of a wrecking and subsequent plundering of a ship 19th century near Goleta, California. The role of Father Malone was originally offered to Christopher Lee [who’d turned down the part of Dr Loomis in Halloween though later regretted it], but he proved unavailable and Hal Holbrook was eventually cast. The Fog was part of a two-picture deal with AVCO-Embassy along with Escape from New York, and was filmed at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood and various California locations. It was shot as a ‘PG’-rated film, but after viewing a rough cut, Carpenter felt that it didn’t work, was too short, and needed more violence to compete with other horror films of the time, so he re-shot about a third of the movie, added shots to some scenes and even filmed some new scenes including the climactic lighthouse struggle. This ensured that it got an ‘R’ rating which as it was a horror film made it more commercial. Though it only cost just over $1 million to make, Avco Embassy spent three times that amount on advertising and promotion, but it was only a modest hit [though whatever Carpenter had made it would have struggled to have matched the impact of Halloween which was just before it] had and got average reviews. In the 1990’s, Carpenter mentioned that he was interested in producing an anthology series based on the film where the fog would have served as a catalyst for other supernatural stories elsewhere, and then as the series progressed, connective ties to his 1980 film would become more apparent. However, the series never materialised [come on John, there’s still time], and in 2005, that crappy remake was made instead.
The opening scene of John Houseman telling a camp fire story which was imitated in several slashers of the time is such a perfect opening that it’s hard to believe that it was one of the added scenes, even though John’s tale about the deliberately wrecked ship from a century ago and the sailors who will rise up and look again for the campfire that led them to their doom actually only lasts just under three minutes rather than the five minutes stated. Next we get a brilliant establishment of setting and tone with perfectly chosen shots of various town landmarks, and that great Dean Cundey prowling camera leading us into a series of odd happenings [it’s almost like watching a slightly creepier Close Encounters Of The Third Kind for a short while] such as car horns going off and pay phones ringing by themselves. Some men in a trawler see an old ship heading right for them [I do wonder if Carpenter ever saw The Ghost Galleon] in a very thick and rather shiny fog, and are then murdered by the briefly glimpsed figures on board. I’ll say right now if you haven’t seen this film that, even though there are several kills with hooks and scythes, there’s hardly any graphic bloodshed [Carpenter still partly stuck to his guns when altering the film] and we don’t even see the ghosts [or zombies – maybe we should call them revenants] in much detail, Carpenter opting to show them mostly in shadow except for one close-up which of course makes them creepier though I could have done without the shiny red eyes of Blake the captain which look a little goofy. Still, as with Halloween though perhaps slightly less effectively, Carpenter is being quite subtle and restrained here considering the subject matter, opting more for creepiness and trying to play on your fears.
The next day it’s bright and sunny as Antonio Bay prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary even as Father Malone finds [or rather it finds him] a diary written by his great-grandfather that reveals how the town was built on blood and a terrible crime. Overseeing the celebrations is Kathy Williams, and it’s lovely to see those two iconic horror heroines Janet Leigh and daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in the same film, though sadly they don’t appear together [H20 would of course rectify this]. Curtis plays a hitchhiker called Elizabeth Solely who’s picked up by fisherman Nick Castle [yes Halloween fans the name is deliberate as there are a few other familiar character names including even Dr Phibes], and they end up in bed before they know each other names – though perhaps that’s little surprise if you remember lucky old Tommy Lee Wallace scoring with an even younger girl [whose father hadn’t long been murdered] in a certain other early ‘80s horror that Carpenter was involved with. Then there’s Carpenter’s wife Adrienne Barbeau as the local radio DJ Stevie Wayne whose seemingly endless programme is often playing in the background as a kind ironic commentary on what’s going on. The production couldn’t afford pop music tracks so went with older jazz-type music, but this better suits the film which is about the past haunting the present. While the tape recorder is playing, the wood inexplicably begins to seep water, causing the player to short circuit and a mysterious man’s voice to emerge from the tape player swearing revenge, then the words “6 must die” appear on the wood before it bursts into flame. When the town is threatened the second night, while most of the other characters including Andy are together in a church, Stevie’s just on her own in a lighthouse which makes her scenes scarier.
The scenes of the still quite convincing and rather otherwordly fog spreading all over the place are really unsettling. You wonder why the revenants need the fog, but it’s a great concept that’s also an excuse for great visuals anyway. Perhaps the final act doesn’t quite pack the punch it should. I could also have done with a bit more dwelling on the guilt of the town and especially Father Lamont, Carpenter’s liking for keeping everything compact and to-the-point both hampering and benefiting the film in different ways. I couldn’t understand why the victims seem to be chosen at random except for the final one which is the only kill that makes a whole lot of sense [apparently the novelisation explains this]. Quite a lot else isn’t explained away either, things often happening just because they might be scary such as the corpse that seems to revive for a few seconds before collapsing in a rather disappointing bit that seems like it’s really going to go somewhere, while the screenplay seems to just scratch the surface of things – though I suppose that this isn’t automatically a flaw either, some parts of the film almost having the irrational, nightmare feel of those early ‘80s Lucio Fulci classics. With The Fog, Carpenter comes closer to the world of Italian horror than in any other examples of his work.
Acting, characterisation and even dialogue are quite natural seeming and generally rather laid-back. I especially like the friendship between Stevie and an admirer which is done over the phone, the two never having actually met, and am disappointed when they never actually do. The exception to the ‘lived in’, believable feel to the Antonio Bay side of things is Hal Halbrook’s Malone who almost seems like he’s jumped in from another movie possibly much older but is most entertaining to watch. One thing I didn’t really notice in previous viewings is how stunning the lighting is in this one, especially during the build-up to and including one kill where the outside of someone’s house is bathed in red. Some of the shots of the revenants in the fog are truly painterly, while of course few cinematographers working on horror films used the widescreen format like Cundey. Carpenter actually scrapped his original score and wrote another one, which maybe accounts for its somewhat hasty feel. The baroque-tinged title theme is nice and the aural accompaniment to the fog is hugely effective though overall it’s one of his lesser soundtracks and I do wonder if a more conventionally symphonic score may have worked better in this instance. But despite some minor issues The Fog is still a cracking little chiller with the lovely air of a fable that’s perfect for Halloween night, even perhaps for young ones to watch with parents who are horror fans and itching to get them into horror so they don’t always have to watch scary movies when they go to bed.
The 4k restoration of The Fog is showing in selected UK cinemas on October 26th this Friday and you find out where here: johncarpenter4k.co.uk
And then on October 29th, it’s released on 4 disc limited Collector’s Edition, containing :
1 UHD, 1 Blu-ray feature, 1 Blu-ray extras, 1 CD Soundtrack
48 page book
*Retribution: Uncovering John Carpenter’s The Fog: A brand retrospective documentary produced by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures and featuring interviews with cinematographer Dean Cundey, production designer/editor Tommy Lee Wallace, photographer Kim Gottleib-Walker, make-up effects artist Steve Johnson, Carpenter biographer John Muir, music historian Daniel Schweiger, visual effects historian Justin Humphreys and assistant Larry Franco
*The Shape of The Thing to Come: John Carpenter Un-filmed: A brand new featurette looking at the John Carpenter films that never were
*Easter Egg – surprise!
*Intro by John Carpenter – an interview with director John Carpenter originally recorded for a French DVD release in 2003
*Scene Analysis by John Carpenter – Director John Carpenter analyses key scenes from The Fog, in an interview from 2003
*Fear on Film: Inside the Fog (1980) – A vintage featurette which includes an interview with John Carpenter
*The Fog: Storyboard to Film – original storyboards
*Photo gallery incl. Behind the Scenes
*Audio Commentary with writer/director John Carpenter and writer/director Debra Hill
*Audio commentary with actors Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins and production designer Tommy Lee Wallace
*Horror’s Hallowed Grounds with Sean Clark – a fun tour of the film’s locations hosted by Sean ClarkHE FOG