Monday, February 8, 2010

Thirty years later, 'The Fog' remains scary

While I had intended to post a review to mark the 30th anniversary of the release of John Carpenter's masterful horror film "The Fog," it is pure coincidence that I managed to post it on the very day that the film was released in 1980!

"The Fog" ranks among the all-time great horror movies, and it is ten times the film that the 2005 remake was. I doubt anyone will be writing reviews of that remake in 2035, but I wouldn't be suprised to see Carpenter's film still being watched and written about.

The Fog (1980)
Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, and Hal Holbrook
Director: John Carpenter
Rating: Nine of Ten

As the tiny coastal town of Antonio Bay prepares for its 100th anniversary celebration, the dark secret of its founding comes back to haunt it in the form of a strangely luminecent fog that carries within it angry, murderous ghosts.

"The Fog" is near-perfect ghost movie. It establishes the isolated setting carefully, it introduces us to the cast of characters, it builds tension slowly, gives us a good reason for why the ghosts are angry and why they've chosen this particular moment to return and claim revenge, and it gives us several poetic reasons for why the current citizens of the town deserve to suffer the wrath for something that happened a century ago. This separate the film from the vast majority of ghost and monster movies where the filmmakers either don't bother thinking through the "why" of the events and instead offer weak or illogical explanations (if they bother putting any thought into that question at all) and as a result end up with a badly composed story that also feels weak and illogical.

From a technical point of view, Carpenter deploys every weapon in his filmmaking arsenal with perfect precison and timing. Imagery, special effects, sound effects, and the musical score all mesh with great effect, lifting the performances by the excellent cast to heights of excellence rarely seen in horror movies. Adrienne Barbeau is especially excellent as a DJ who watches the fog roll in and tries to use her vantage point above the city in an old lighthouse to warn the citizens of the danger.

"The Fog" also proves time and again that the scariest films embody the addage "less is more" in every way. The fact that the monsters and the kills are nearly always shrouded in the fog makes them even more horrendous, because the imagination fills in the details. Even the finale, which would have been a splatter-fest in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, is subject to the minimalist approach seen throughout the film and it is far more suspenseful for it.

1 comment:

  1. I agree: a model little film of its kind; just about perfect.