Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Film Review: THE FOG (1980, John Carpenter)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 89 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Tom Atkins (NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, HALLOWEEN III), Adrienne Barbeau (SWAMP THING, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK), Jamie Lee Curtis (PERFECT, HALLOWEEN), Janet Leigh (PSYCHO, TOUCH OF EVIL), Hal Holbrook (MAGNUM FORCE, THE FIRM), George 'Buck' Flower (THEY LIVE, COUNTRY CUZZINS), Charles Cyphers (BORDERLINE, HALLOWEEN), John Houseman (SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, ST. IVES).
Tag-line: "What you can't see won't hurt you... it'll kill you!"
Best one-liner: "There's something in the fog!"

In the wake of Carpenter's HALLOWEEN, a wave of dumbed-down, trashier, gorier slashers- led by FRIDAY THE 13TH- careened headlong into theaters. But in 1980, before it became basically 'unfashionable,' three of the most atmospheric, minimalist, and genuinely scary ghost stories were able to creep in: THE SHINING, THE CHANGELING, and...THE FOG. From its "old sea dog telling tales 'round the campfire" prologue (with the flawless theatricality of John Houseman):

to its ever-present, soothingly sultry D.J. voiceover (Adrienne Barbeau’s finest hour):

to the majestic, sumptuous seaside photography (worthy of RYAN'S DAUGHTER):

to its Carpy meets Bach soundtrack, THE FOG's scares seem grounded in simpler comforts and nostalgia. But Carpy's film (unlike something actually meant for children, like THE GOONIES) takes its spooky fireside frights very seriously: it's an ornately crafted tale with a genuinely troubling mystique. Released a mere 4 years after America’s bicentennial, THE FOG raises uncomfortable questions of what exactly we celebrate when we memorialize our ancestors- Will nature afford us our selective memories? Our buried secrets? Let us wash our hands of the things we’d rather forget? Well, the residents of Antonio Bay are about to find out.


We have George ‘Buck’ Flower as the same old sleazy drunk he always is, Hal Holbrook as a wino priest (and the only resident burdened by the weight of the past),

Janet Leigh embodying the ‘show must go on’ mentality, her daughter Jamie Lee as a hitchhikin’ non-objectified babe, and Tom Atkins as the magnet for said babe (yeah, I’m as confused as the rest of you).

There are a couple of in-jokes (characters named Dan O’Bannon and Dr. Phibes) and silly exchanges (Atkins is talking about fishing and drinking, Jamie Lee says “What’s it like?”- in regard to fishing- and Atkins replies, “It’s always the same. The room starts spinning…”), but, on the whole this thing is grim, pensive, and, most importantly, smart. Five stars.

-Sean Gill


4 comments:

HK Fanatic said...

Wow, I need to watch this again. I saw it about 5 years ago but wasn't nearly as taken by it. Then again, Carpenter's "Price of Darkness" is probably one of the few movies I'd say we both strongly disagree on. I usually find that Carpenter's apocalyptic films are hampered by their low 80's-budgets and heavily-mustached protagonists.

On the other hand, I agree with every word you said about "They Live." Hmmm...

Also, noticed that your "Hero and the Terror" review popped up at Netflx today. Awesome. I never would have expected you to review that one, but, well, I didn't know it was a Golan-Globus title. And, hey, I never thought I myself would review the Richard Grieco-vehicle "If Looks Could Kill."

I haven't seen "Hero and the Terror" yet but I do think "Silent Rage" is one of Chuck's best flicks.

J.D. said...

I like this film and its holds up well despite the reshoots Carpenter made, adding more gore, etc. There is an undeniably creepy mood the pervades the entire film and I love the slow burn -- something that JC is the master at. And you're so right about Adrienne Barbeau... definitely her finest film. Damn, I really need to pick up her memoirs and see if she dishes about all the cool Carpenter films she was in.

Sean Gill said...

HK,

I'd say that THE FOG grows on me a little every time I see it, it's got that great M.R. James/seaside atmosphere, and, for some reason I possess a great deal of childlike nostalgia for small fishing towns, despite never having lived in one (or even visited one!) in my childhood. Weird. Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if you liked it more on a second viewing.

I can see why PRINCE OF DARKNESS would be divisive- in fact, Jameson Parker's ginormous 'stache might be enough to turn off some viewers (not to mention his basic lack of charisma), but for me it's Carpenter's slow build (and pounding soundtrack), the whacky shit (from the green goo to the maggots to Alice Cooper), and the Dan O'Bannon-style existentially horrific ending. So, even if the execution isn't Carpenter's best, it still has a special place in my heart. Plus, I love the TWILIGHT ZONE ep "The Howling Man," which it's loosely based on.

Glad you can appreciate HERO AND THE TERROR, I hope to post a longer review here -and with eye-popping screengrabs- within the week. I mean, when I give a Golan/Globus film three stars, it's kind of like with pursed lips and arched eyebrows, "Alllllll right, three stars....now gedoutta here." I firmly stand behind SILENT RAGE, though.
And I actually have IF LOOKS COULD KILL in my instant queue- I think I stuck it there because Fred Dekker wrote the story, but who knows if I'll get to it before they take it down. Nice review of EVIL FACE. And to think I was toying with renting it!
By the way, how's your FWWM paper coming along?


JD,

I agree about the mood- it goes even beyond superficial elements like 'the glowing fog' itself, and the wonderfully Baroque Carpy soundtrack.

Barbeau somehow possesses just the perfect voice for a sultry, small-town DJ, and I certainly wouldn't have expected it before seeing this. Kind of like how Clint Eastwood makes for a perfect low-key, jazzy DJ in PLAY MISTY FOR ME. I will now promise to never again compare Adrienne Barbeau to Clint Eastwood.

I wouldn't mind hearing Barbeau divulging behind the scenes 80's horror secrets, either... let me know if it's worth it if you manage to get your hands on a copy!

Sean

J.D. said...

Good call on the Eastwood/PLAY MISTY FOR ME comparison... heh! I do know what you mean, though. Yeah, I'm hoping to get her memoirs of Xmas...