Newly Restored "Fog" Still Manages to Chill
Having shocked the movie world with the success of Halloween in 1978, John Carpenter’s big-screen follow-up was a relatively exorbitant production by comparison. With $1 million at his disposal – three times the budget of Halloween – the filmmaker set out to make a good old-fashioned ghost story, a movie short on plot and long on atmosphere. Briskly told and effectively eerie, The Fog was another step towards Carpenter becoming known as the modern master of horror, as the movie features traditional genre tropes delivered with a degree of intelligence and sincerity often absent in features of this sort.
Carpenter takes us back to the origin of such tales – a story told around a campfire late at night. Mr. Machen (John Houseman) spins a grisly tale for a group of young campers about a doomed ship that ran aground on the shores of nearby Antonio Bay. Seems the town fathers deliberately led the vessel to its doom as its carried a community of lepers who were to settle close to the town. With Antonio Bay set to celebrate its centennial, an ominous fog is looming on the horizon, which may contain the ghosts of those who met their death in the depths of the sea, intent on retribution.
The premise is simplicity itself and Carpenter gets the audience invested by creating a cast of sympathetic characters we hope won’t fall victim to the sharp hooks that happen to be the weapon of choice for the ghastly ghosts. Stevie Wayne (a sultry Adrienne Barbeau) is a single mother who operates the town’s only radio station, which is conveniently located in a lighthouse where she can keep an eye on the creepy crawling fog. Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) and drifter Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis) find themselves in the middle of the supernatural shenanigans as well, while town councilwoman Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh), her assistant Sandy (Nancy Loomis) and Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) may have uncovered a secret that could turn these malevolent spirits away.
Clocking in under 90 minutes, Carpenter dispenses with the necessary exposition and moves from one creepy set piece to the next. As various characters find themselves threatened by these overripe and agonizingly slow specters, the director displays his penchant for milking every last ounce of suspense he can from a given scene. To be sure, the audience’s suspension of disbelief may be stretched at times, but never to the breaking point. Not sure if there’s a Fog Wrangler listed in the final credits, but the use of the fog is impressive, especially considering this was made in the pre-digital days. Suffused with a growing, glowing light, the vaporous substance becomes a character unto itself, the film’s monster that moves with slow, but determined intent, proving just as malevolent as Michael Myers himself once we see what’s lurking within.
Getting a limited re-release after being newly restored, it’s a delight to see The Fog once more on the big screen, its many nighttime scenes looking particularly crisp, Carpenter’s use of light, shadow and fog sharply defined and ominous as ever. While this film does not have the iconic status of some of the filmmaker’s other movies, it’s still worth a look as the director continues to hone his craft here, creating an old-fashioned creature feature that still manages to generate a chill or two.