The Fog (1980)
John Carpenterís follow-up to the popular and influential Halloween, The Fog is perhaps the quintessential Carpenter film. Itís not his best, not by a longshot, but itís the best at demonstrating his strengths and weaknesses as a writer and a director. Itís also a lot of fun and perhaps his most straightforward film.
Set in a tiny coast town, The Fog deals with simple people in simple times dealing with a not so simple threat. After a night of strange electronic malfunctions, a heavy fog bank appears across the ocean and slowly begins to work its way towards the town. While itís likely to put a damper on the centennial celebration of the town, it carries with it an ancient threat from the depths of the sea.
As Carpenter stories go, itís a bit more on the hokey style, but the way he builds the air of mystery and leaves a lot of the logistics unexplained builds the story more around slow, deliberate pacing and gradually unfolding dread builds to a panicked last act. The suspenseful style makes for a more plausible and ominous horror flick where the cast of characters donít become the foolish ninnies that often permeate horror films.
That being said, The Fog is filled with a cast of almost completely forgettable characters. Itís endemic of Carpenterís larger problem of not having a good grip on making complex or empathetic characters. While the way they respond to the horror is interesting, as actual entities, theyíre about as dull as they come.
But, like most Carpenter films, the real character of the film is the atmosphere. The small, picturesque town gains a whole other dimension in the dark where Carpenter is able to bring out the texture of the shadows and slowly invade it with the softly glowing fog that descends upon the town. Carpenter is able to give shape and form to that tingle in the back of your spine or the sensation that makes you spin around suddenly in the dark, just to make sure thereís nothing behind you.
The Fog ties these fears into a number of places. On a purely physical level, itís the idea of not knowing or understanding the unusual and odd. The fog comes in against the wind and shrouds our sight, leaving us unable to make out anything from a distance. Therefore the horror becomes intimate, that itís not something easily divorceable from ourselves or something we can observe from afar. Itís here, in our faces, by the time we notice it and weíre forced to deal with it.
But The Fog also demonstrates deeper cultural anxieties, rooted in the horrors of the past when we realize that our heritage and past is built atop the lives of many we exploited along the way. Itís almost always the subtlest strand of horror movies, but here Carpenter faces it in some charged imagery that attacks several modern institutions at once.
Like all of Carpenter Iíve seen so far, I enjoyed the mood, atmosphere and horror, but the characters and story are too simplistic to fully immerse me in the terror they must endure. The Fog is still a fun film, its oozing visual display and eerie monster design make it enjoyable to the eye, but by the time the credits roll, the details and character had faded from my mind.