Monday Morning Movie Review: The Fog (1980)

Regular readers will know I am a big fan of John Carpenter.  He is, perhaps, my favorite director, and one of my favorite film composers and musicians as well.  Big Trouble in Little China (1986) was my #2 pick for the best flick ever, and would have likely been #1 if I weren’t had I not been trying to troll Ponty.  My #3 pick was 1982’s The Thing, which is actually better than Big Trouble objectively, although that’s the definition of comparing whiskey to wantons.

Naturally, readers would be correct in thinking that my assessment of his 1980 release The Fog would be similarly rosy (and rose-tinted, perhaps).  While I don’t think it’s a masterpiece like the other two films—not the lightning-in-a-bottle amalgam of genres that make Big Trouble more than the sum of its parts, nor the nihilistic and terrifying, claustrophobic experience of The Thing—it is quite good.  It’s not particularly scary for a horror film, but it is quintessential Carpenter.

The Fog takes place on the centennial celebration of the small town of Antonio Bay, a tiny fishing village in Northern California.  The major architectural feature of the town is its lighthouse, which houses a radio station owned and operated by Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau).  Wayne broadcasts in the wee hours—the best time for radio—of the night and early morning, her sultry voice and slick commentary interspersed with old jazz and big band tunes.  The idea of a single mother making a living running a jazz radio station from an abandoned lighthouse is one of the more fantastical elements of this flick’s script, but it sets the Romantic flavor for the story to come.

Wayne has a flirtatious but professional telephone-only relationship with the local meteorologist (Charles Cyphers), who tells her of a fog bank rolling into the coast.  Wayne notifies the crew of a fishing vessel of the incoming fog over her broadcast, who are initially skeptical—until things take a turn for the supernatural.

The film opens with an old man telling young children around a campfire of a local legend:  a vessel mistaking a campfire on the beach for the lighthouse, causing them to run aground and drown.  Meanwhile, Father Malone, the descendant of one of the town’s six founders, finds his grandfather’s diary in a bit of broken masonry, and discovers that his grandfather and the other founders deliberately tricked the vessel—the Elizabeth Dane—which contained a group of wealthy lepers looking to establish a lepers colony near Antonio Bay.  Malone’s grandfather and the others took a large payment from the lepers in exchange for allowing the colony to relocate near their town, but deceived the group out of a combination of fear and greed.

Not surprisingly, these are the denizens of the titular fog, an eerie fog that glows malevolently.  In its midst are revenants—revived corpses or ghosts, essentially—of the crew, who take lethal revenge on the people of the town from midnight to 1 AM.  It’s soon clear through a series of supernatural messages that the revenants demand six lives, one for each of the town’s six founders.  The revenants don’t discriminate; it seems that any six lives will do, not just direct descendants of the founders.

What I find so compelling about The Fog (which I’ve only seen twice now, the second time very recently) is its setting.  The town of Antonio Bay is a fascinating little burg, one with a dark, buried secret.  That secret causes the current, innocent residents of the town to suffer dearly.  It demonstrates the heavy price of ancestral sins and deception, and while the innocent descendants should probably not pay such a high price for their ancestors’ iniquity, they face the arbitrary vengeance of the leprous ghosts nonetheless.  It doesn’t matter that the townspeople are ignorant of these past indiscretions; their entire town is built upon them, and they must grapple with this dark legacy.

The concept is also quite spooky:  a menacing fog containing within it ghostly (and heavily armed) sailors, wreaking havoc on a small town.  The fog rolling into the town is a stunning visual, one that holds up (at least to my eye) to this day.

As I noted, though, the film isn’t particularly scary.  There are some suspenseful moments—one of the main characters, Nick Castle (Tom Atkins), having just bedded a hitchhiking Jamie Lee Curtis (portraying Elizabeth Solley here), goes to answer a knock on his door, only for the clock to strike 1 just as he opens it, sparing him a hook to the face.  But beyond that, the end of the film is somewhat forgettable, which is a shame—that’s when all the ghosts are running amok!

For me, at least, I find the setting and the concept more compelling than the overall execution.  Antonio Bay has an authentic, lived-in feel, and the presence of the lighthouse radio station appeal to my sense of whimsy.  Carpenter’s synth-heavy score is perfect for the film, and sets an eerie sense of foreboding.

Overall, I really like The Fog for its atmosphere and setting.  The plot is intriguing, but, again, doesn’t always work in the execution.  The elements are all there:  a small dark with a dark secret; an alcoholic priest who finds his grandfather’s diary in the walls of the crumbling old church; the cool lighthouse radio station; the great score.  Somehow, all those elements don’t quite add up to the sum of their parts.

Regardless, The Fog is worth your time.  It’s best watched on a dark, quiet night.


21 thoughts on “Monday Morning Movie Review: The Fog (1980)

  1. Like Carnival of Souls, The Fog is just plain creepy – in my (ahem…) humble opinion, creepy can be a whole lot more effective than scary – it stays with you longer.

    But I always laugh at the thought of The Fog. My brother, may he rest in peace, was a breast man – and we’re not talking chicken here, lol. He had quite a ‘thing’ for Adrienne Barbeau. Of should I say two things?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Jamie Lee wasn’t easy in Halloween but man did she make up for that in The Fog. Thumb out, bloke picks her up and in bed, all on the same night. Crikey!

    Great film pick. So was The Haunting from the previous week. That’s one of Tina’s favourite films.

    If you’re wondering why I’m typing here and not elsewhere, our anniversary doesn’t end until our joint gift to each other arrives and that will be tomorrow. We’re both mega excited. We finally get to see what the remake of Resident Evil 4 looks like on the PS5. Woo hoo! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      • I will. If they remake it in the way they did Resident Evil 1 and 2, it should be great. Nemesis (3) wasn’t an overly good play but the first two were like the originals, bar better graphics and some fun new additions. I’ll be happy with additions but I hope the sub games aren’t DLCs. Considering what you pay for it, you should get all of it.

        Personally though, I’m looking forward to the remake of Silent Hill 2. The original is such an excellent game, full of subtext and mystery. And it’s scary. If they get the fog in the town right, it’ll look stunning.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Yeah, there’s a major trend now to release the vanilla game and then have a massive day one patch… then add essential core functionality in the DLCs/expansions. Yeesh!

        Remind me again: what’s the name of the piano piece you’ve been wanting me to learn from SH?

        Liked by 2 people

  3. The worst book I ever read was Burnt Offerings. It had a good story, it was told fairly well, easy page turner but somehow, for reasons passing understanding, come to the big ‘pay off’, the author had no idea how to end it or thought not ending it ended it – I can’t figure it out but I remember being so angry at the let down, I threw the book across the room. I had to tell you that story to tell you this … in 1976, they made a movie (!) of the book and did a far better job than the author had done. It’s not ‘the biggest’, the ‘best’ or anything of that nature but it was a good, solid, horror movie that kept to its own lane. So … challenge to Port: would you do a review of Burnt Offerings??? Here’s the Wiki page for it:

    Liked by 2 people

  4. There are 3, mate. 2 for me – Pianissimo epilogue and True and one for Tina – Promise. The original composer, Akira Yamaoka, is back for the remake so we’ll hear that music again plus more. If you haven’t seen the trailer, pop over to YT. Audre would probably love it too. It’s a really deep emotional story.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Three great pieces!

    But what I found most interesting about The Fog was that, though there was no relationship in any way, it was very Steven King-esque. The setting, the dark, twisted, history and nature of the town, and the vengeful nature of the spirits ticked all the classic King boxes.

    Liked by 3 people

    • No Indian burial ground though. 😉

      I’m very much glad that King remained predominantly behind his typewriter. He and Kubrick were at loggerheads over the latter’s direction of The Shining, mainly because King wanted it to be more literal than it was. Kubrick was happy with the ideas in the book but not with all the parp King wrote at the end.

      As it is, I’ve watched and rewatched Kubrick’s classic. I’ve heard King did his own version and I’m happy for that to stay off my watchlist.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Hahaha, yep, and not a gang of misfit kids riding around on their bikes.

        Yeah, King would have, ironically, ruined _The Shining_. I think he has come around to Kubrick’s version over the years, though.

        Liked by 2 people

      • The original It movie was alright, Christine was ok, The Stand was probably better than the other two, maybe Carrie was the best of them. But there’s something very ‘internal’ about King’s stories and that’s why they’re not quite what you want them to be.

        I found the same thing in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. I complained to my sil (son-in-law) that they weren’t as good as the books and he, having no fear of ticking off his mil, told me there’s no way anyone can present what YOU saw in your head, what YOU felt at different stops along the story, what was most meaningful to YOU. He said, watch them again and this time forget you ever read the books. And he was right. Now I love those movies.

        I guess that’s apropos of nothing; I suspect I just wanted to share it.

        Liked by 2 people

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