Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: February 1, 1980
DIRECTOR: John Carpenter
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Dean Cundey
WRITERS: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
MUSIC: John Carpenter
After the success of 1978’s “Halloween”, writer and director John Carpenter began work on a ghost story about a small coastal town haunted by ghosts. “The Fog” was commercially successful, but it did receive mixed reviews at the time of its release. Even Carpenter admitted later on that he does consider it to be one of his least favorite films due to reshoots and the production value.
I actually didn’t get to watch “The Fog” for the first time until about ten years ago. I’m a huge Carpenter fan and I must admit that I too saw this as one of his weaker efforts. Still, I found that while watching it for this review, it is actually quite good as a retelling of the classic ghost story.
The movie even begins around a campfire as an old sea captain tells the children there a ghost story. Antonio Bay is a small town that is about as far removed from civilization as one could get. It also seems that the biggest source of entertainment is a radio station ran by Adrienne Barbeau’s Stevie Wayne, which broadcasts from the top of an old lighthouse.
At midnight, some strange things happen around town such as flickering lights, car alarms going off for no reason, and a mysterious fog that shows up out of nowhere. Aside from the few people that were actually up that night, no one really seems to have noticed anything out of the ordinary. The next night, though, is where things really get interesting as the ghosts in the fog return to get their revenge on the small town.
Instead of having one major lead, the movie depends on an ensemble of characters. Stevie is the one who sort of “narrates” the film as she periodically talks to her listeners and the audience through her radio station. Tom Atkins plays a local resident named Nick Castle and he is joined by Elizabeth Solley, a hitchhiker played by Jamie Lee Curtis.
Other cast members include Nancy Loomis as Sandy Fadel, the personal assistant to Kathy Williams, played by veteran actress Janet Leigh. Rounding out the ensemble is Hal Holbrook as Father Malone, a gloomy preacher that may also have some insight as to why the fog is terrorizing the town.
All of the performers in the movie give good performances, even if their characters don’t have much to do. For example, Curtis is dependable as Elizabeth but her character doesn’t really have to do anything throughout the entire movie. I feel as though there was probably more to her character before the film went through its final edit.
Barbeau, on the other hand, is the character who has the most work to do even though most of her scenes take place at the lighthouse. She proves to be a strong leading actress and I’m really shocked that Hollywood never gave her more of a chance to be a true leading lady throughout the years.
The movie is short on exposition yet heavy on tone. The horror, like in other Carpenter films, comes from setting up a chilling atmosphere worthy of the story’s ghostly narrative. Being that this was another low-budget horror film, there are some scenes that I must admit haven’t aged too well but the chill factor is still there.
Of all the Carpenter films, I can still say that it is one of his weaker films when looking at the basic story. From another perspective, the chilling tone and the effectiveness of the cast still make this one of the better efforts when it comes to ‘80s horror films. It may not appeal to everyone, but it has definitely earned its place as a cult horror classic.