October 4, 2012

The Fog (1980)

"A Northern California fishing town, built 100 years ago over an old leper colony, is the target for revenge by a killer fog containing zombie-like ghosts seeking revenge for their deaths."

To say that John Carpenter's "The Fog" is slightly overrated would probably be hypocritical of me since I'm one of the people who has been overrating it for years. Despite the story being created mainly by ingenious editing, it's still a decent film overall and one which I highly recommend for Hallowe'en.

Back in the day, I was disappointed that "The Fog" wasn't an adaptation of James Herbert's famous novel from 1975. Although John Carpenter claims in his director's commentary that his inspiration came from a trip to England where he passed Stonehenge and wondered what it would be like if something came out of the fog, I've always found that to be too coincidental. Stonehenge is in Wiltshire, and the fog of James Herbert's novel appears first on Salisbury Plain which is also in Wiltshire. As the bestselling book predates the movie by five years, I would have preferred it if John Carpenter had admitted the true source of his inspiration since it wouldn't have hurt him to mention it. Several times in the director's commentary, John Carpenter freely admits to borrowing a lot of ideas and locations from Alfred Hitchcock's movies (and a couple of others) so it's always seemed odd to me. Maybe he just didn't like James Herbert for some reason or, more likely, he had to keep quiet about it for fear of being sued.

Obviously, John Carpenter's "The Fog" and James Herbert's "The Fog" are completely different stories. The latter is all about a kind of nerve gas which drives people insane rather than being a supernatural slasher. The only thing they've ever had in common is fog and the shared title. Any confusion about the two seems mostly confined to British horror fans. I just felt that I'd mention it though because when someone brings up "The Fog" in conversation, I always have to ask, "Which one?"

Making matters even worse now is that there was an appalling remake in 2005 which I barely made it through and have no intention of ever reviewing unless I get really bored one day. Actually, sometimes I get tempted to rewatch it just to look at Selma Blair in her skimpy knickers, but that's another story.

One of the reasons why I grew to love John Carpenter's "The Fog" over the years was undoubtedly Adrienne Barbeau's performance as Stevie Wayne. Her character may play some of the worst elevator music that I've ever heard on her radio station, but she is quite believable otherwise as a disc jockey. I also like her rather cosy radio studio in a lighthouse set-up. If I was ever a DJ or could be bothered to make more podcasts, I'd kind of like to do it in such an environment.

Some people find Adrienne Barbeau sexy as Stevie Wayne. Maybe it's the combination of her husky voice and sexy body. I would, of course, be lying if I said that I have no idea what they are talking about. She's definitely the best reason to watch "The Fog" unless you are really into Jamie Lee Curtis who I've always thought was too boyish looks-wise. I never could understand her appeal or her promotion as the "Emperor's new clothes".

I also always found Tom Atkins to be rather ugly, and one of the biggest plot holes for me in "The Fog" is how Nick ends up in a relationship so fast with Jamie Lee Curtis' character (whose name apparently is Elizabeth after one of John Carpenter's previous girlfriends). When she cracks onto him after only a few moments in his truck, I don't know whether to think "slut", "easy lay", or "you need glasses". No matter how many times I rewatch that scene, it's just so bizarre. Let's face it though, any low-budget horror film that deals with ghosts who come back from the dead as physical zombies isn't likely to be big on realism.

The leprous, zombie-ghosts of the murdered sailors used to scare me when I was younger, and rightly so. It would have taken a lot more Dutch courage than Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) had inside him for me to ever confront them. As an aside, I once worked as a security guard on a rural industrial site in the middle of nowhere during the time of year when it was particularly foggy, and I kept imagining these very beings lurking in the mist. Suffice it to say that the job didn't last long.

The disadvantage of rewatching "The Fog" on DVD (I have the old green one not the newer blue one with all the useless trailers) rather than my previous "4 Front Deletions" VHS tape which I got from Woolworths was that I was too tempted by the special features and learned far too much about the technical aspects involved in the making of the movie. A lot of the plot holes such as how sparse the fictional town of Antonio Bay was or why only six people met up at the church when Stevie Wayne told everybody to go there were explained by John Carpenter and Debra Hill as being due to the lack of budget. I think that over a million dollars back in 1979 when "The Fog" was made hardly counts as a low-budget, but Hollywood-based movie people are weird when it comes to finances.

Given what they had to work with, "The Fog" turned out to be quite the genre classic although admittedly tame in terms of gore to what we have nowadays. As more of a product of the late '70s than a truly '80s horror movie, it still works for me as an old school horror. It's not perfect and is kind of far-fetched in a few places, but it's stood the test of time very well indeed.

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