I know in the years that I have been writing this blog, I have endlessly bemoaned the notion of the "seminal classic" one that has gained a unquestioned reputation and has become hailed as the be all and end all of a certain type of film, this often holds most true in the realm of the horror film, wherein works like The Exorcist and Psycho remain standards, the veritable Beatles or Rolling Stones of the genre. Indeed, these works deserve such praise for their continual ability to captivate and challenge cinema goes despite being decades old. Indeed, I would even argue that these works, much like King Kong or Singin' in the Rain suffer from over-hyping to the point where people thing they have already seen a film through some cultural referencing. However, for todays film I am not particularly interested in these films, but instead ones that were quite evocative for their time, either for reconstituting the genre or for adding a fresh perspective to its possibilities. Indeed, John Carpenter did just this when he released Halloween in two years prior to The Fog. Halloween, a film I reviewed last year during this same marathon, stands up and indeed offers itself as a textbook on how to make a proper thriller heavy slasher film. So when two years later the now well-regarded director offered The Fog it seems as though people consumed it gladly almost as though it were inseparable from its predecessor. This is all not to say that The Fog is a terrible movie, indeed, it has some quite moody moments and the special effects are beyond stellar. However, the film is undeniably dated, particularly in its dry sense of comedy a thing still attempting to navigate itself from the seventies minimalism to the overly done style of the eighties. The tragedy of this film is that it seems to play it same on certain themes or stylistic choices, perhaps signs of budgeting choices, or s simple fact that producers, and probably Carpenter felt more safe going with methodologies that already proved successful. There is a trajectory about Carpenter's films, at least this is clearly the case in Halloween and The Thing, wherein things start a bit weird and end up in a state of absolute insanity, this same methodology is at work in The Fog, but the attempt and resolution and, subsequent, undermining of this sense of safety is so wrought with heavy-handed nonsensical elements as to make the movie fall short of its assumed cult status.
The Fog focuses on the town of Antonio Bay in California, who are on the precipice of celebrating their towns centennial, despite a night of bizarre events in the town including objects moving about inexplicably and glass shattering. The towns folk react in various manners, whether it be Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) a late night radio disc jockey whose only concern is the safety of her son, or hitchhiker Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis) whose happenstance wandering into Antonio Bay seems to be far from lucky. It is not, however, until a local clipper ship goes off the radar for an entire night and is rediscovered in a state that would suggest it had been underwater for months that people begin to get truly suspicious, particularly local politician Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh) and her assistant Sandy (Nancy Kyes) who take it upon themselves to track down the local priest Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) whose has gone into hiding upon a discovery of a journal from a century ago that explains the manner with which the early settlers of Antonio Bay purposefully banished a group of lepers from their community for their disease, completely ignoring the willingness of the lepers to live on the outskirts of the town in the first place. Paired with this history of oppression and a constantly moving fog through the town, it is revealed that this glowing spectral fog entity carries with it a group of undead killers, who strike during the witching hour. The town afforded this information, or a degree of it at least, manages to spend a day undertaking preventative measures to deny a larger attack, whether it be Stevie moving her son away from a piece of possessed wood he found while walking about the shore, or for Father Malone to attempt and quell the understandably disgruntled spirits of years gone by. Needless to say, the preparation, while beneficial still does not stifle an attack completely and the various skeptics remaining in the town fall victim to the ghost attacks, most notably Stevie's romantic love interest a local meteorologist, thus leading to a near fulfillment of the late leper's prophecy that six individuals must die to make the initial loss complete. However, those with a passion for living and a purpose manage to survive accordingly, although in the closing moments of the film it is made rather clear that not all who thought themselves save actually find this to be true.
As I write the somewhat vague synopsis, I am realizing one of the other elements of this particular Carpenter film that made it one of my less exciting viewing experiences. Having seen Halloween, Dark Star and The Thing, I recall them all centering their narratives either in specifically personal or decidedly confined spaces. For example, what makes Halloween work so well is that it is almost entirely a confrontation between Michael Myers and Laurie, who is the primary focus of the film. Sure this film does branch out and show other characters meeting their demise and includes shots of what viewers presume to be Myers following her, but the narrative always returns to her experiences. In a slightly similar sense, the narratives of Dark Star and The Thing work because they happen in a very small, almost claustrophobic space. The former, existing in a state of paranoia predicated upon a spaceship that is both a source of constant protection, while also threatening to fall part (indeed as it does) at any moment. The Thing is scary, precisely because it takes place in the confines of the Arctic, proving, yet again confining, and the horror of every person involved becoming a point of paranoia due to a quickly spreading only adds to this inescapability. Sure, The Fog is situated within a singular community, but the manner with which Carpenter brings outsiders into this space, or branches out to the very limits of this space become somewhat frustrating to a film that possesses a feeling of frustrating disjointed narratives. I would posit that to a considerable degree The Fog is at least three different films that were forced together around the premise of one idea of horror, making the impending fog mean different things for the persons involved, none of which carry enough weigh to make the larger film work. If I did, however, have to chose one for which I wished Carpenter had solely pursued, it would, undoubtedly, be that of Stevie and her son, particularly the sort of anxiety surrounding the discovery of the plank of wood. Without the excessive narratives of the clipper ship and Father Malone, the impending fog as being solely attached to this wood and thus extending as a metaphor to Stevie's anxiety as a single mother would become brilliant. Indeed, it would even help to explain some of her dialogue throughout the film. Unfortunately, this is not the film made available and as such it lacks a high degree of cohesion.
Key Scene: There are some shots of the fog approaching that work on a great special effects level visually, even for the outdated technology at play. The soundtrack is also quite nice.
I would watch this purely in terms of becoming a horror classics completist, hopefully, it will prove a far less disappointing experience than I had.