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Reviews

The Fog

The Fog

John Carpenter

USA, 1980

Credits

Review by Rumsey Taylor

Posted on 10 July 2004

Source MGM DVD

John Carpenter’s The Fog has long since been obscured in the shadow of Halloween — even the recent MGM DVD release does little to establish its individuality. Comparisons are in abundance and, for the sake of this film, misrepresentative. Patient and atmospheric, The Fog lacks the continual shocks of its famous predecessor.

The title “character” is described in a ghost story that opens the film: exactly one hundred years prior, a township lured sailors to their shore with bonfires. The ship arrives and wrecks on unseen rocks; the crew is murdered and their gold is stolen (“They were aided by an unearthly fog” our storyteller effectively remits). This violent action is the genesis of Antonio Bay, where the film occurs.

Curiously, this tale is either unknown or disregarded by many in the town, who fail to link the coincidence of fog to Antonio Bay’s centennial. Early on, the ethereal mist creeps in (the action is effectively mirrored in the scoring) on a trio of weathermen. The three are drunk in the hull of a boat, and stare dumbly at their radar that depicts a large, glowing body nearing their position. Two mount the deck — there is an unworldly fog, indeed, surrounding them. Beside them there is a glimpse of the mast of an old ship; soon after, the men see the ghastly silhouettes of strangers on board.

The Fog is at its best in expositional visuals — there are frequent shots of the luminescent cloud enveloping the landscape, and the image is successfully ominous and beautiful. This fog has resurrected the murdered pirates, and often their silhouettes are faintly seen in the middle of the glowing land cloud (more ominous is their manner of announcing their presence, by tapping a metal hook against a door).

Surprisingly, given the film’s triumph at establishing atmosphere, Carpenter resorts to horror conventions in the latter half. There is grotesque imagery, detailed methods of killing, scare chords, and the most familiar scene in the horror canon, in which a potential victim is totally oblivious to a killer behind him. The film is so successful at establishing atmosphere, that these clichés impede the payoff.

Perhaps the employment of these conventions is obligatory. Ghost stories (as this film contains and is) imply horror but rely on imagination. The Fog disregards the function of its parent style; sure, this is a ghost story, though because it is a film images display the action, and in result the intended horror is subsidized. Criticisms aside, The Fog is an effectively established horror film.

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