“I don’t know what happened to Antonio Bay tonight. Something came out of the fog and tried to destroy us.”
JOHN Carpenter is without doubt a hugely influential filmmaker, his influence can be seen within many recent sci-fi and horror movies; but some of the films within his impressive back-catalogue are often overlooked and underappreciated. One of those in particular is his 1980 feature The Fog, which was recently screened by the Belfast Film Festival on Portrush’s West Strand
The phenomenal box-office success of Halloween in 1978 brought the slasher movie to mainstream cinema audiences, but Carpenter’s next foray into the horror genre would be on something completely different. Reteaming once again with writing partner and producer Debra Hill, The Fog plays like an old fashioned ghost story with definite nods to Hitchcock, H.P. Lovecraft and even George A. Romero in its church set finale.
The plot sees the inhabitants of Antonio Bay terrorized by zombies lurking within a thick bank of luminous fog. These horrid creatures, the deceased crew of the clipper ship the Elizabeth Dane, have risen from their watery graves to avenge their deaths at the hands of the town’s founding fathers. Murdered for their gold a hundred years prior, they have returned to get their bloody revenge and retrieve what is rightfully theirs.
It boasts an impressive ensemble cast with genuine horror pedigree, including real-life mother and daughter Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis. Carpenter regular Tom Atkins features, as does the director’s then wife Adrienne Barbeau, who plays the sultry voiced DJ Stevie Wayne. Hal Holbrook gives a memorable performance as Father Malone; the alcoholic priest who discovers the town’s shameful past.
Let me be clear The Fog is by no means Carpenter at his finest; even the director himself would begrudgingly accept that. In fact he was displeased with the film’s original edit that he scrapped it just months before its theatrical release and went back and reshot nearly a 1/3 of the entire movie; upping the gore levels and creating an entirely new opening sequence.
It’s this film’s first act that I’m particularly fond of, it’s just so wonderfully creepy and atmospheric. The brief prologue before the opening credits with Oscar-winning actor John Boorman as a sea-captain telling a group of children the ghost story of the Elizabeth Dane. Then in the next scene, which contains a cameo by the director himself, we see Father Malone discovering the journal that reveals the town’s dirty secret. On the stroke of midnight, which marks the town’s centenary, paranormal activity starts to occur throughout Antonio Bay’s darkened streets, perfectly setting the tone for the rest of the movie.
The Fog does have its flaws; many of which are caused by the director’s decision to reshoot so much of the entire film. Earlier that year David Cronenberg released Scanners, with it’s now infamous exploding head sequence. Realizing that horror fans expected more, Carpenter upped the gore by including several close up stabbing deaths in his final edit. It’s commendable that he tried to make his movie work, but sadly this ‘slasher movie sentiment’ just feels off-kilter with the old fashioned ghost story the film’s trying to tell.
However there’s still a lot to be praised about the movie; as you’d expect from any Carpenter movie there’s a brilliant score, done by the director himself. Cinematographer Dean Cundy, who would later go on to work with Steven Spielberg, delivers some accomplished visuals which are accompanied by some great practical horror effects throughout the movie. The Fog was first movie where Carpenter worked with special effects guru Rob Bottin, who delivered some fantastic creations for the movie; including one nicknamed ‘maggot-face’ by the director, which can be seen during it’s finale.
The Fog mightn’t reach the same lofty heights as some of Carpenter’s other more notable films, but it’s still an important entry within his cinematic CV. It’s the first film where we clearly see the influence H.P. Lovecraft on him as a filmmaker, two years later Carpenter would create his sci-fi masterpiece, The Thing which was heavily influenced by the author’s work. Whilst it’s slightly creaky and tame by today’s horror movie standards,The Fog is still a movie that’s well worthwhile giving a watch.