Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #13
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: February 1, 1980
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $21,378,000 (domestic)
Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: John Carpenter
Producer: Debra Hill
Screenplay: John Carpenter & Debra Hill
Make-Up Effects: Rob Bottin
Cinematography: Dean Cundey
Score: John Carpenter
Editing: Charles Bornstein, Tommy Lee Wallace
Studios: AVCO Embassy Pictures, EDI, Debra Hill Productions
Distributor: AVCO Embassy Pictures
Stars: Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Jamie Lee Curtis, Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, James Canning, John Houseman, Ty Mitchell, John F. Goff, George ‘Buck’ Flower, Regina Waldon, Darrow Igus
Suggested Audio Candy:
John Carpenter The Fog Theme
“There’s no fog bank out there…”
“Hey, there’s a fog bank out there!!”
Fog is its own entity. It comes and goes as it pleases, shrouds all around it in a mysterious blanket of dense mist, moving at its own pace, and in whatever direction it so chooses. I can think of few more satisfyingly ethereal premises for a horror movie than that of a bank of glowing mist containing resentful century-old mariners striving to exact their bloody revenge on the inhabitants of a diminutive coastal municipality in Northern California, constructed on the ruins of an old leper colony. Herein lies the scope for a truly lingering and daunting chiller, as long as it is executed correctly.
Enter John Carpenter, a man riding on the crest of a wave following the massive commercial and critical success of Halloween two years previous. At that particular time there was no other director more aptly matched to this material than he (mention must be made of long time collaborator, the late Debra Hill who co-wrote the screenplay). Carpenter, by his own admission, loves nothing more to evoke emotion from his audiences, in particular fear but what it is about his filmmaking style that makes him so untouchable?
He achieves the desired effect through a number of techniques. Use of Steadicam has always been a staple of his works as has been low-key lighting. Then of course that idiosyncratic synthesizer score which weaves in and out of his features so effectively. He has scored almost all of his films and The Fog is no exception. It is an exceptional haunting piece of musical angst and faultlessly matches the eerie atmosphere created by his static camera and beautifully encompassing panning shots of the bay. Indeed, The Fog contains one of Carpenter’s most effective musical compositions to-date.
Commercially The Fog performed exceptionally well. Made for a very modest $1 million, it earned over twenty times its scant budget in the United States alone. Critically however, the response was generally a tad disenchanting. Even more astoundingly, one of the chief criticisms leveled at the film was that the villain of the piece was wholly underwhelming. This damning evaluation is both exceedingly ruthless and utterly inaccurate as, in reality, the exact opposite is true. The faceless figures of Blake and his embittered crew are only fleetingly revealed throughout and every time they materialize from their misty recess there is an instant feeling of unease instilled in the viewer. Their reprisal is swift, merciless and achieved with corroded sharp-edged hooks.
Antonio Bay is an idyllic setting for the piece and Carpenter also deserves kudos for his casting which is, as anticipated, spot-on. Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis are perfectly suited to their roles while he also recruits the talents of Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis (who along with Curtis all had parts in his preceding feature), as well as the ever-reliable Hal Holbrook and Psycho scream-queen herself, Janet Leigh. That is some roll call.
The effortless standout here though comes in the form of Carpenter’s spouse at the time, Adrienne Barbeau. Her sultry voice perfectly suits her character’s small-town radio persona. Playing Stevie Wayne, she spends the entirety of the film completely unaided in the secluded lighthouse where her show is broadcast. Her plight is, without a doubt, the most harrowing as there is no immediate escape for her when the fog bank eventually rolls in. She takes her opportunity with relish and I would imagine Carpenter requested her dulcet tones in their bedroom quarters, long after shooting wrapped up. She undeniably provided the auditory soundtrack to my own sexual awakening and is personally responsible for my poor mother frantically searching through the wash basket for my other sock.
There is essentially very little in the way of bloodshed in The Fog although this benefits the experience rather than detracting from it. When another unfortunate victim is dragged behind the curtain of dense mist it is accompanied by wickedly gruesome sound effects as they are decimated by their muted antagonists. One thing not in short supply, however, is tension. From the moment John Houseman begins his campfire ghost story to a group of horrified children, to the closing shot, there is an ominous mood the whole time and the sudden emergence of the fog combined with the aforementioned musical score creates a sense of dread which too few films can accomplish.
Sandwiched in-between Halloween and The Thing, it is all too easy to discard The Fog but to do so would be to overlook a true eighties classic ghost story. Well made, beautifully shot and with the capacity to get right under your skin and stay there indefinitely, this may lack the iconic figure of Michael Myers or the paranoia-inducing menace of that shape-shifting alien but what it does have is its very own silent killer, one which moves at a far greater pace and covers much wider parameters. So the next time you witness the fog rolling in, enveloping everything it encounters, sprint the other fucking way and I’ll meet you at the lighthouse.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For The Grue-Guzzlers: Blake and his men pose a considerable threat so, when another victim is dragged kicking and screaming into the mist, we just know it isn’t going to end well. There is very little in the way of bloodshed but don’t be fooled by that statement as the kills are grisly without needing to resort to showing any lingering grue. On this occasion, the choice is a correct one. One early three-way dispatch aboard a fishing vessel shows more than enough meanness of spirit and achieves chills without a single drop of discernible blood being shed.
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2015)