Made just two years after Halloween, The Fog finds director John Carpenter high on confidence and full of the strut that classic film would bring to any up and coming director. The Fog is John Carpenter’s fourth feature-length film and sees the director not only learning his craft quickly, but also learning how to navigate the Hollywood studio system. Having his name above the title may seem like cocky arrogance, but instead is the stroke of man who wants people to know exactly who made this film.
Not only does Carpenter direct but, as with Halloween, he also wrote the screenplay and composed the music. While lacking an iconic score like the one that thrusts us straight into Haddonfield, Illinois The Fog instead features a much more low-key tempo. Playing to the films ghost stories around the campfire aesthetic, the music that accompanies The Fog feels like a much creepier affair, building tension in a similar way to that of Carpenter’s 1978 classic. Where Halloween had Michael Myers stalking Laurie Strode over the course of several days, what we get here is a film about sailors who were massacred at the hands of Antonio Bays founding fathers.
Featuring a more supernatural element than Carpenter had played with before, The Fog’s “big bad” turn up slowly. The first suggestion that things are about to go bump in the night is shown early on. As the small seaside town, that very much feels like the last inhabited place known to man, looks to celebrate its 100th anniversary and car alarms going off in the middle of the night, glass breaks without warning and alarms are set off at the local garage. It’s an effecting set-up made all the more impressive when you begin to think about the work that must have gone into the opening 15 minutes alone.
As events unfold we are guided through by the inimitable voice of Adrienne Barbeau as a local radio DJ who conveniently operates her station from the town’s lighthouse. Here she keeps the townsfolk rolling over into the witching hour, while getting random weather updates from the weatherman who works late into the night and likes to keep our narrator company. It may be a not so coy way of making sure the audience knows what is going on, but Barbeau’s smoky voice advances the story & the atmosphere and further serves the idea that the audience is being told the ultimate ghost story.
The Fog is very much an ensemble piece. Casting Jamie Lee Curtis after her star turn in Halloween and not making her the main character was a bold move. Instead, Barbeau is given the lead while supporting members like Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, Nancy Kyes (another Halloween alum) and Hal Holbrook enable Carpenter to almost let the camera run and walk away – trusting his cast would not let him down. Far be it from me to speculate on how a director of Carpenter’s calibre would choose to do his job, rather the point here is there is so much talent on show he has done half the job in just assembling them.
Whereas Halloween had Michael Myers stalking middle America, the pirates who lay siege to Antonio Bay are rarely seen. As the fog sets in, we see glimpses of what lies behind it. The shadow of a man who knocks at your door, the peek we get of the crew boarding a local fishing vessel and murdering its entire crew, or the brilliant church set finale where the cursed lepers of the Elizabeth Dane lurk mysteriously – waiting for their moment to strike down their sixth and final victim.
Simple in its premise, but unparalleled in its execution The Fog is a masterful horror film. Appreciated more now than it was upon its release in 1980, The Fog has grown into a more accomplished film with Carpenter further cementing himself as a master of the genre. It’s possible to pin it as simple, throwaway nonsense, but to deride it would be to overlook an essential piece of horror cinema from a director poising himself for a long and highly respected career.