Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Fog (1980)

Exactly 100 years after the town was founded by six men who murdered a colony of lepers and stole their gold, the people of seaside Antonio Bay, California are being wiped out during a celebration led by the town’s mayor (Janet Leigh, the star of PSYCHO). A mysterious glowing fog envelops the town, resulting in the disappearance of the three occupants of a fishing boat.

Blue collar Tom Atkins (later in HALLOWEEN III) investigates the boat with Jamie Lee Curtis (also in TERROR TRAIN that year), a young hitchhiker with whom he had a one-night stand, and discovers one of the bodies with its eyes gouged out. Other murders plague the town—disc jockey Adrienne Barbeau’s son’s babysitter is another victim, as is an employee of the local weather station. Alcoholic priest Hal Holbrook (RITUALS) discovers the victims are the descendants of the six original town founders—of which his grandfather was the leader!

What could have been a horror classic is marred by an illogical and hokey script, which distracts with too many plotholes (Why do the victims appear to have been immersed in salt water for weeks rather than hours? Why does one of the victims briefly return to life long enough to stagger across the morgue? Why is it warm at night and cold during the daytime?). Director John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN) builds a lot of suspense and atmosphere—the radio station is located in a spooky lighthouse, which makes for an excellent location—and some of the scares will definitely make you bolt in your seat.

The veteran cast does a good job (Curtis fans will be disappointed by her relatively small and indifferently scripted role), and Carpenter’s musical score is one of his best. The killers, who have glowing eyes and drip with seaweed, are well-photographed by Dean Cundey. Despite the body count and frequent glimpses of sharp killing objects, not a drop of blood is spilled. Despite the weakness of the screenplay by Carpenter and producer Debra Hill, THE FOG remains one of Carpenter’s best horrors.

John Houseman cleverly introduces the movie as an old man telling a ghost story to a group of children around a campfire, a terrific scene-setter for the terror that follows. Special makeup artist Rob Bottin and production designer/editor Tommy Lee Wallace have cameos, and Carpenter appears as a church caretaker. Many of the character names are in-jokey references to cast and crew members from HALLOWEEN, and the coroner is named after Vincent Price’s notorious early-’70s villain Dr. Phibes!

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