The Fog (1979)

Directed by John Carpenter

This movie is a mix of good things and bad. Sadly, from a story point of view, the bad aspects are the prominent ones.

The story: one hundred years after a ship is deliberately misdirected so it will sink (and kill all the crew), its victims return to the village of Antonio Bay looking for revenge. Shunning contemporary modes of transportation, they choose to travel by fog. Bad luck for the folks of Antonio Bay!

The problem with The Fog is that while it centres on an interesting idea, and certainly a great visual notion, everything hangs on a pretty pedestrian story. While this type of movie requires the recapitulation of certain essential ghost story elements, good ghost stories work by refashioning those elements somewhat. The Fog is utterly dependent on clichés and stereotypes, beginning with the John Houseman crusty-old-sailor opening (which might have worked better if the story that followed hadn’t been so hackneyed). In other words, use the traditional opening to set up expectations and then start deviating from it to create surprise etc.

I suppose one of the other problems the film encountered in the making of it (revealed through the special features), was the confusion over purpose. It sounds like the film was almost intended to be a kind of Roman Polanski type of film.

In other words, mood and atmosphere were everything. But testing later showed poor audience response and so more violent and shocking elements were added. Thus, the film has a lot of unnecessary shots and scenes, some of which impede the film.

The real problem, however, is it simply wasn’t an interesting enough story. And with some very good actors in the film, it’s too bad they had so little to work with. (For instance, John Houseman and Hal Holbrook … yet what are they working with? Essentially nothing.)

But on the upside … John Carpenter is such a good director. A kind of Howard Hawks type of director, the movies aren’t about his skills, every shot is about moving the story forward. (I really wish he’d choose better stories.)

And no one shoots widescreen better than Carpenter. There are some wonderfully framed images in this movie, from close-ups to long shots. Again … if only it had been a better story.

Two and a half stars out of four.

(Originally posted in 2002.)

2 Responses

  1. Tony says:

    I personally disagree!
    I would give this film 5/4 Stars. Yes 5/4!

    I do like what you say about his filming ws!

  2. Alison says:

    The Fog is a classic. I would say better than ‘The Thing’

Leave a Reply