John Carpenter's The Fog

Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh and John Houseman
RRP: £5.99
821 0033
Certificate: 15
Available now

The little town of Antonio Bay is preparing for its centenary celebrations, but it has a dark secret. 100 years before, the Elizabeth Dane ship, lost in a thick bank of fog, crashed on the rocks at Spivey Point, misdirected by a campfire intended to ground the vessel. The vicar of the church discovers the diary of Father Patrick Malone, when a brick falls from the wall of his vestry. The writings give credence to the possibility of the fog returning, bringing back the dead crewmen seeking revenge for cold-hearted betrayal ("Midnight till one belongs to the dead."). Stevie Wayne is a single mother who runs a radio station from the lighthouse at Antonio Bay. Kathy Williams learns from the vicar about the town's curse and considers the celebrations a sham. However, for the sake of the people she is persuaded to go through with them regardless. The fishing trawler, The Sea Grass is the first subject of retribution, when an ancient ship emerges from a ghostly glowing fog and barely seen figures butcher the handful of men. During a candlelit vigil held by the town, the fog rolls in along the coastline. Stevie Wayne warns the people via her radio station, and stays at her post to report on its curiously purposeful direction ("There's something in the fog!"). She tell the fleeing people to congregate at the church, but is besieged herself at the lighthouse. The church proves to be the focal point, as the stolen gold being transported by the Elizabeth Dane was forged into the large cross which adorns the church. Then the figures emerge from the fog...

This was John Carpenter's next film following the phenomenal success of Halloween. Although The Fog proved to be less of a milestone, it is an extremely effective film simply told. Writer/producer/director/composer, John Carpenter is in my opinion the master of the small budget film, having released gems such as Assault On Precinct 13, Escape From New York, They Live, and Prince of Darkness, to name but a few. But he's obviously philosophical about his track record, quoted as saying, "In France I'm known as an auteur, in England I'm a horror director, and in America I'm a bum." Indeed, many of his films at best made little or no impact at the time of their first outing, but subsequently gained huge followers. Carpenter wryly attributes this to his being constantly ahead of the times. So, at the time that this film was in production he would only be beginning to realise Halloween's impact.

Being a huge appreciator of the man's work I could quite easily spout off until the cows come home (do cows ever go away?) about the life and times of John Carpenter (I feel a book coming on!). Instead, here are a few interesting facts about The Fog. When Carpenter and producer partner Debra Hill watched the rushes they felt the finished product was not frightening enough, and so several additional scenes were shot, including the supernatural occurrences which take place at the witching hour. Many times Carpenter has enjoyed Hitchcock-like cameos is his movies. In The Fog he has a brief talking part as the church handyman. Some music introduced by Stevie Wayne as The Coupe de Villes is in reality a jamming band formed by Carpenter, of which he is a part.

Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the Carpenter fold after her film debut in Halloween; this time she plays an older character and shares the credits with her mother Janet Leigh of Psycho fame. Oscar winner John Houseman is also on the cast, but the biggest plaudits should go to Adrienne Barbeau as the sultry-voiced Stevie Wayne, who manages just the right balance of calmness and urgency. In fact, there are very few weak female characters in Carpenter films, which is something he respected from the product of his hero, Howard Hawks. Aside from Curtis, a couple of other actors from Halloween return here: Nick Castle (who played Michael Myers/the Shape) is Tom Atkins, and Nancy Loomis (killed in her own bed) is Sandy Fadel. Dan O'Bannon, who collaborated with Carpenter on the black comedy science fiction Dark Star, appears as Charles Cyphers.

The pacing of this movie is spot on, with early shocks and scares being only part of the steady build-up to the church siege conclusion. The dead mariners from the Elizabeth Dane are kept in darkness or backlit in the fog so that they are nearly always seen in silhouette, the active principle being that less is more. John Carpenter has recorded many memorable soundtracks for his movies, but never before has a score lifted and enhanced the effect to this degree; it is almost as good as the film itself.

Obviously, this is not the first time The Fog has been released on video; however, like before, it is still inexplicably being put out under a 15 certificate with nearly five minutes of original footage cut. The film can still be enjoyed easily enough, but why settle for this when you can buy the currently available region 1 dvd special edition, featuring standard and widescreen formats, as well as a digitally enhanced 5.1 sound and a host of other extras? That format deserves a 10, but the marks for this video are for the film and music composition only, because nothing more has been attempted with this release.

Ty Power

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