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Film Review: The Fog (1980)

“One hundred years ago, on April 21st, the wealthy leper Blake bought the vessel Elizabeth Dane and moved with his friend from a leper colony to California to build a town for them to live with more comfort. However, while crossing a fog in Spivey Point, they were misguided by a campfire onshore, steering the course of the vessel toward the light and crashing her against the rocks. On the present days, on the celebration of the centenary of the fishing town Antonio Bay, a glowing fog appears, bringing the zombies of Blake and his crew to kill the residents. Father Robert Malone (Hal HolbrooK) finds the hidden journal of his grandfather in the wall of his church, and discloses that Antonio Bay was built with Blake’s gold. Further, a group of conspirators including his grandfather lighted the fire to sink Elizabeth Dane and robber Blake’s fortune and now the ghosts of Blake and his crew are seeking for revenge on the locals.” (courtesy IMDB)

Like so many of his contemporaries, it was the horror-filled pages of Forrest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazine which helped inspire the film aspirations of Kentucky-born John Carpenter. On leaving college he was accepted to the film course run by UCLA where he immersed himself in the study of film. For one of his projects he teamed with fellow student Dan O’Bannon and the two concocted the science fiction parody Dark Star (1974). Although Dark Star gained little success for John within America, he was lucky enough to raise enough money for a second feature, Assault On Precinct 13 (1976), an exciting exploitation thriller which successfully mixes Rio Bravo (1959) and Night Of The Living Dead (1968).

But with his next feature, John scored world-wide with Halloween (1978) which remains a powerful and often terrifying work, despite spawning a host of shoddy imitations. With Halloween to his credit, he turned his attention to the small screen with the high-rating television movies Someone Is Watching Me (1978) and Elvis The Movie (1979). It proved a happy time for John in more ways than one – he married his leading lady Adrienne Barbeau and began his long-time friendship with actor Kurt Russell.

For his next feature film, John turned to the pages of EC horror comics of the fifties, if only for inspiration. The Fog (1980) is a Gothic horror story about a mysterious mist which blankets a small coastal town, and from the fog emerges a band of ghosts intent on avenging their deaths one hundred years before. The film features the early effects work of Rob Bottin who also plays, under heavy makeup, the leader of the bloodthirsty apparitions.

The first half is terrifically atmospheric, almost poetic at times, as John deftly juxtaposes several story-lines (which was one of the early Carpenter’s real skills) and presents several characters we care for, including hitchhiker Jamie Lee Curtis, truck driver Tom Atkins, and smooth-talking disc-jockey Adrienne Barbeau, who warns local listeners of the fog’s direction from her lighthouse radio station. The suspense builds to a high level, but the film quickly deteriorates into conventional horror fare.

Very consciously a ‘story’, The Fog reminds us of the tradition of story-telling from the very beginning, with John Houseman as the old sea-dog telling a ghostly yarn to frightened the kiddies. Then, in perhaps the best sequence in the film, uncanny events take place around the sleepy town at exactly midnight: Glass breaks, car horns blare, a petrol pump starts gushing, a series of beautifully choreographed incidents. But as the film moves on from eeriness and fog to the all-too-solid phantoms looking for victims, it collapses into purely conventional B-movie scares, and incidentally leaves a lot of loose plot ends hanging. You might have thought they could have fixed these problems in the remake, but no.

Instead of resisting the incredible influx of remakes, I now simply hope for the best and expect the worst. I think John Carpenter, coming to the end of an amazing career, feels much the same. He doesn’t seem to care much what Hollywood does with his old properties, and is often listed as an executive producer in name only. Case in point: The Fog (2005). Both original and remake suffer the same problems – the atmosphere gives way to the depressing realisation that you’re watching a simple ghost story about banal apparitions who hide in the fog. Selma Blair (the one vibrant actress in a cast of talentless screamers inhabiting the remake, takes on Adrienne Barbeau’s old role) but there’s a desperation to the entire project: We’re meant to feel unsettled by digital spooks, reckless trucks and rotting pirates who look every bit as terrifying as the Sea Captain in The Simpsons.

And it’s on that rather depressing note I’ll ask you to please join me next week when I discuss another schlocker from the locker for Horror News. Until then, good night and remember, as my old friend Bela Lugosi would say, “Bevare! Bevare of the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep – and the gifts it leaves on your lawn!” Toodles!

The Fog (1980)

About Nigel Honeybone

"Rondo Award Winner Nigel Honeybone's debut was as Hamlet's dead father, portraying him as a tall posh skeleton. This triumph was followed in Richard III, as the remains of a young prince which he interpreted as a tall posh skeleton. He began attracting starring roles. Henry VIII was scaled down to suit Honeybone's very personalised view of this famous king. Honeybone suggested that perhaps he really was quite skeletal, quite tall, and quite posh. MacBeth, Shylock and Othello followed, all played as tall, skeletal and posh, respectively. Considering his reputation for playing tall English skeletons, many believed that the real Honeybone inside to be something very different, like a squat hunchback perhaps. Interestingly enough, Honeybone did once play a squat hunchback, but it was as a tall posh skeleton. But he was propelled into the film world when, in Psycho (1960), he wore women's clothing for the very first time. The seed of an idea was planted and, after working with director Ed Wood for five years, he realised the unlimited possibilities of tall posh skeletons who dressed in women's clothing. He went on to wear women's clothing in thirteen major motion pictures, including the Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and Star Wars (1977), heartbreaking as the remains of Aunt Beru. With the onslaught of special effects came the demise of real actors in these sorts of roles. After modeling for CGI skeletons in Total Recall (1990) and Toys (1992), the only possible step forward for a tall posh skeleton was television, imparting his knowledge and expertise of the arts. As well as writing for the world's best genre news website HORROR NEWS, Nigel Honeybone also presents the finest examples of B-grade horror on THE SCHLOCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW seen every Friday night on TVS Television Sydney." (Fantales candy wrapper)

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  1. John Carpenter

    A Mysterious Fog Holds Killer Sailor Men To Kill People.

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