Oh THE FOG, even when I don’t feel like watching anything I can still watch THE FOG. As soon as JOHN CARPENTER’s haunting score begins, forget it, I know I’m going to be transfixed until the closing credits float by. It’s just such a splendid ghost story and the atmosphere is so convincingly dank I can actually smell the salty air. (In fact, I feel like if my air conditioner should ever break down I could just put in my FOG disc and it could cool the room with comparable results.) CARPENTER wisely calls forth two of the great gods of ghostly storytelling here, both H.P. LOVECRAFT and ARTHUR MACHEN are given nods, and you can almost sense them looking down upon the proceedings with approval. CARPENTER’s impeccable use of shadow and the widescreen frame are present throughout and there’s a keen sense of place that is uncanny and rare. If it only existed, who amongst you wouldn’t want to take a trip to Antonio Bay?
To me, THE FOG shimmers and glows on all fronts but during a recent viewing, I was particularly impressed by the respectful way it treats its multitude of characters. As written by one of the greatest collaborative horror teams of all time, JOHN CARPENTER and the late great DEBRA HILL, we are shown a symbiotic multi-generational community of equals who all play a believable part in overthrowing a supernatural menace. No character is ever shown as being of lesser value than another and even though one might want to automatically cram TOM ATKINS into the role of “hero,” the truth is, his actions and screen time are comparable to nearly everybody else around him.
If you think about it, this approach is rather unusual in the world of horror. Usually you’ll find some kind of forced drama or conflict between the characters and almost always some folks are presented as “good” and other folks (usually those who are killed) are presented as “bad.” In 1980, while everyone was busy trying to duplicate CARPENTER and HILL’s previous theatrical horror effort HALLOWEEN, JOHN and DEBRA seemed to have been making a great effort to work against their earlier, now more common design. Hell, we’re even given some elbow room to sympathize with the vengeful zombie ghosts causing all the ruckus. You have to admit, the betrayed, leprous crew of the “Elizabeth Dane” do have a valid, honest to goodness beef. Yes, they mean to kill six people but from what we’re shown in the movie, it’s nothing personal.
There is much to be found in THE FOG, I notice new things every time I watch it but what impresses me the most is what’s NOT in THE FOG, how it smoothly twists and snakes itself around genre clichés. This is my favorite type of film, its creators know what they are doing and are committed to telling a story rather than randomly stitching together scenes designed to appeal to its target audience’s base expectations. Let’s say we turn on the lighthouse and take a closer look at what’s NOT in THE FOG:
Young Andy is NOT shown as a precocious brat with his head hypnotized by the latest gadget. He is NOT shown as incapable of sitting still long enough to listen to a story.
Mr. Machen, an older gentleman, is NOT shown as an object of ridicule and scorn. He is NOT presented as crazy or suffering from dementia.
Stevie Wayne is a single mother who is NOT shown as harried or incomplete. She is NOT shown longing for a male suitor.
Dan has a thing for Stevie. He is NOT depicted as a sleazy stalker just because he knows a good thing when he hears one.
Elizabeth Solley is NOT judged for having sex. She is NOT depicted as someone without aspirations or an inner life. The camera does NOT linger on her famous boobage.
Nick is NOT in his early twenties. We are NOT awarded gratuitous visuals of his wash board abs. He is NOT wearing designer jeans. He is NOT a douche.
Kathy Williams is a woman of a certain age in a position of power. Miraculously, great effort is NOT made to depict her as a bitch.
Nancy is Kathy’s assistant, she is NOT shown as an incompetent moron.
Father Malone is a religious man who is NOT painted as corrupt, mustache twirling hypocrite.
Nick is NOT seen as soft just because he cares about the well being of his friends. Elizabeth is NOT shown to be unaffected by death.
This black guy is NOT used for comic relief.
Mrs. Kobritz is a babysitter, she is NOT sixteen years old.
These people are NOT shown to suddenly have incredible fighting skills when encountering zombie ghosts.
Our heroes are NOT depicted as unfazed by supernatural attack.
Blake does NOT talk your ear off.
Father Malone does NOT say things like, “Leper me entertain you bitch!” or, “Church is in session Blake, first sermon is your ass on the collection plate!” during the film’s finale.
The ending is NOT happy. (But it sure is awesome!)
People are NOT always important in horror movies but they’re always important in GOOD horror movies. Am I bonkers for thinking there is a correlation between a filmmaker’s understanding of the people they depict on screen and their level of understanding of those filling the chairs in the audience? THE FOG is laudable for its high regard towards its characters, regardless of age or sex. (Please notice that regard is NOT born from political correctness but from genuine interest.) I don’t mean to oversell you here. in a way, the characterizations I’ve mentioned are merely sketches but they are sketches without condescension or disdain and as far as I can see, that’s menthol fresh.
This FOG also pulsates with an exemplary awareness and reverence toward the past that is NOT hip by today’s standards. This FOG is also NOT too butch to ask its literary influences for directions.
I’ve heard some describe THE FOG as “dated” and perhaps they’re right. It certainly brings to my mind an approach to horror storytelling sadly left far behind (you need only watch the 2005 remake to get a crystal clear view of just how far we have NOT come.) Speaking for myself, I will never NOT love JOHN CARPENTER’s THE FOG, and it will never NOT rank high on my list of all time favorites. What’s in it is amazing and what’s NOT in it is even more so.