The Fog (1980)

The Fog (1980)

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Today’s feature is one of John Carpenter’s many cult classic films: 1980’s The Fog.

The Fog was co-written, directed, and scored by horror master John Carpenter as his follow-up to the smash hit Halloween, and was  co-written and produced by his frequent collaborator Debra Hill.

The cinematographer for the film was Dean Cundey, and accomplished shooter who has worked on such movies as Jurassic Park, Garfield, Flubber, Apollo 13, Hook, Road House, Back To The Future, Big Trouble In Little China, Halloween, Escape From New York, and many more.

The Fog featured work by two credited editors: production designer Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween, It, Fright Night 2) and Charles Bornstein (Halloween, Critters 2, Howling 2, Return of the Living Dead 2).

The distinctive musical score for The Fog was provided by director John Carpenter, something he often did for films he was involved with.

The team of producers for the movie included co-writer Debra Hill, Pegi Brotman (The Philadelphia Experiment), and Barry Bernardi (The Punisher, Christine, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Pixels, The Devil’s Advocate, Click).

The special effects team for The Fog included Rob Bottin (The Thing, Fight Club, RoboCop, Legend, Piranha, RoboCop 3), Edward Ternes (Clue, Wonder Woman), Erica Ueland (Children of the Corn, Halloween), Richard Albain Jr. (Assault on Precinct 13, Malcolm in the Middle), and James Liles (1941, Logan’s Run).

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The cast for The Fog included Tom Atkins (Maniac Cop, Halloween III, Creepshow), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, Prom Night, Trading Places), Janet Leigh (Psycho, Touch of Evil, The Manchurian Candidate, Night of the Lepus), Adrienne Barbeau (Creepshow, Swamp Thing, Escape From New York), John Houseman (Rollerball, The Paper Chase), and Hal Holbrook (Capricorn One, Creepshow, Wall Street).

The Fog notably featured the mother and daughter acting combo of Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis, who have both had highly acclaimed acting careers. However, they only appeared in one other movie together: Halloween H20.

Special effects worker Rob Bottin plays the role of Blake, the lead ghost, in The Fog. He wound up being cast specifically because of his size after he expressed interest in taking an on-screen role in a John Carpenter movie. He would later famously head the effects team for John Carpenter’s memorable take on The Thing.

Director and co-writer John Carpenter was married to lead actress Adrienne Barbeau at the time The Fog was filmed, and the lead role was apparently written specifically for her from the outset. They divorced only a few years after the film’s release, in 1984.

In order the achieve the desired, surreal effect for the fog retreat sequences in the movie, the film had to be run backwards. This means that Adrienne Barbeau had to act in reverse for these sequences, a notable feat.

Reportedly, horror legend Christopher Lee was initially intended for Hal Holbrook’s character, but had a scheduling conflict that prevented him from taking it up.

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The Fog received a 2005 remake directed by Rupert Wainwright, but it was very poorly received by audiences and critics alike. Ultimately, it racked up an astonishing 4% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, along with an abysmal 3.6 rating on IMDb.

The Fog had a reported budget of just $1 million, and in total grossed over $21 million domestically in its theatrical run, making the movie significantly profitable.

While The Fog was not nearly as profitable or well loved by audiences or critics as Halloween, it is certainly a cult favorite for many. Currently, it holds a 6.8 rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 69% from critics and 63% from audiences.

First and foremost, The Fog has an excellently constructed, creepy atmosphere, which is effectively emphasized by Carpenter’s eerie score. Personally, I think that the music is an improvement on Carpenter’s previous work on Halloween, though that is a point that is certainly up for debate.

With the ghostly sequences, Carpenter makes very interesting use of light in conjunction with the eponymous fog, creating a lot of back-lighting, imposing shadows, and halo effects over the monsters. The obscured vision also keeps the tension high, as both the audience and the characters are never quite sure where in the fog the monsters are.

In his review, Roger Ebert pointed out a significant issue with The Fog: that “it needs a better villain”.

The problem is with the fog. It must have seemed like an inspired idea to make a horror movie in which clouds of fog would be the menace, but the idea just doesn’t work out in “The Fog,” …The movie’s made with style and energy, but it needs a better villain.

In general, I agree with this overall sentiment. Horror movies are almost always defined by the threat, and while the image of “The Fog” itself is menacing, the figures within it just aren’t quite scary or imposing enough. The fog effects certainly allow for a lot of horror ambiance, but it doesn’t feel to me like it ever really pays off.  The story is a bit too slowly paced to begin with, which certainly doesn’t help with the lack of viewer satisfaction, particularly in the minds of 1980 theater audiences expecting to see another Halloween.

Overall, The Fog is a solid atmospheric horror movie that has been perhaps unjustly buried in John Carpenter’s body of work. It may not be his best film (or even one of his best films), but it is fantastic on its own, assuming you can divorce it from the reputations of its predecessors and descendants in the Carpenter filmography. If you dig horror movies, you certainly owe it to yourself to give it a watch.

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