The Fog

the-fog-collectors-edition-poster-artI love The Fog. I love it, because the guys and gals who made Halloween did it partly as an homage to the films of Val Lewton, Alfred Hitchcock, and Howard Hawks. I love it, because they shot chunks of it in Point Reyes, CA and Inverness, CA, two of the most beautiful places in the world, and a pet retreat of mine when I moved to Northern California. And I love it because, within the cult career of its director, John Carpenter, the movie has its own sub-cult. Few people would cite The Fog as their favorite Carpenter, but I like rooting for underdogs, and a B movie that aspires to be a B movie about sea ghosts is my cup o’ sweets – especially one this atmospheric.

Only a fool, though, would gainsay Halloween or The Thing. As Carpenter himself says, The Fog never really took off. It wasn’t scary and parts had to be added or re-shot – to shock it up. Regardless: The concept is old-fashioned and no amount of second-guessing is going to make the characters more involving or the fog more frightening. For such a simple director – and by that I mean a director who favors the concise and sublimates motive to the exigency of the action on-screen – the fog as villain is almost too easy. It’s not terribly thought through. With the fog the airy conduit that it is, why do the ghosts knock on doors? Why limit themselves when it’s just as well to surprise someone from behind?1 As for the citizens of fictional Antonio Bay (most of whom, among the ones we follow, are likable females that feel real), why, apart from DJ Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) and Father Malone (the great Hal Holbrook), do we even concern ourselves with them – except to give Carpenter a chance to unite them in Hawks-like fashion at the end? The Dennis Etchison tie-in (itself an OK read) connects the dots much more explicitly; the script waits too late and leaves too many holes. In Halloween Michael Myers is evil incarnate, but his body confines him. The men of The Thing live on-base in complete isolation; they cannot outrun the “thing” the way the folks in Antonio Bay can outrun the fog. And all the men of The Thing have is each other. Conversely, the Antonio Bay populace is bigger than just the seven or eight people we track.

Still, methinks I overthink. The film is less than the sum of its parts, but it is eerie, and it rides on several elements: awesome scenery; the cross-use of the widescreen lens with the occasional Panaglide; Dean Cundey’s lighting; Carpenter’s elegance with color and composition and his cutting in-camera – a flair for how shots will line up in the editing room (notice the lack of bloodletting); the percussive electronic score by Carpenter and Alan Howarth, very much in the Halloween spirit; and, like Halloween, no clear sense of evil defeated.

“Chee-sy,” a friend said on seeing the movie a few weeks ago. And yes, The Fog is proudly of its time and even more so of 20th Century pulp. As silly as it is and must be for us to take it seriously, the movie pays devoted tribute to a style and class of filmmaking you won’t see much of nowadays.

“Look across the sea, into the darkness. Look for the fog.”

1To build suspense, that’s why!

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