JOHN CARPENTER’S “THE FOG”

THREE GUYS AND… A MOVIE

series created by Marvin Mercer and Nick Stephenson

“THE FOG”

written by Dominick Cappello

DR JELLY

POSITIVE:

“Is all that we see or seem but a dream within dream?” — Edgar Allan Poe. Sure, like most horror film enthusiasts, the first time I saw John Carpenter’s “The Fog” (1981), I was a bit disappointed because it wasn’t quite as scary as “Halloween” (1978). But, after time passed by, I learned to appreciate this film on its own merits and no longer make the mistake of comparing it to “Halloween” even though it was the same creative team. Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, produced by Debra Hill, and directed by John Carpenter.

John Carpenter also scored the film. Again, when compared to “Halloween,” the music isn’t as iconic, but that doesn’t mean that the quality wasn’t there. Listen to the score on its own and you’ll realize that it’s amazingly spooky. The film opens with John Houseman telling campfire stories. The Elizabeth Dane was a clipper ship which sunk off the coast of Antonio Bay, the setting of the film. There were no survivors. He ends his story at the stroke of midnight. It is now April 21st, the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the Elizabeth Dane and the founding of Antonio Bay. Hal Holbrook plays Father Malone, who is a bit quirky and may have a drinking problem. There are many strange occurrences between midnight and 1AM. The witching hour. Father Malone discovers his grandfather’s journal hidden inside of a wall. Elsewhere in Antonio Bay, phones ring by themselves and car alarms sound for no apparent reason.

Tom Atkins plays Nick Castle (Yes, named after the actor who portrayed Michael Myers in “Halloween”). He picks up a hitchhiking Jamie Lee Curtis. Her character’s name is a Elizabeth, but the film never make any correlation between her and the Elizabeth Dane. Adrienne Barbeau plays Stevie Wayne, the owner and disc jockey of the local radio station. She operates out of a lighthouse, which seems like a cool way to make a living. She doesn’t interact with any of the other main characters save for phone calls. The crew of the Sea Grass, a fishing trawler, are the first to encounter the titular fog, which pulses in an unearthly manner. On board the Sea Grass is Buck Flower, who’ll recognize as the hobo from the “Back to the Future” films. The Sea Grass is passed by a ghost ship, then all three men on board are killed by what appear to be undead pirates. Back on land, Nick and Elizabeth are in bed together. Wow, that was fast. A ghost pirate is lingering outside of Nick’s house, but when the clock strikes 1AM, it disappears. The witching hour is over and so is act one of the film.

Act two begins with Stevie Wayne’s son, Andy, playing on the beach. He sees a gold coin which magically transforms into driftwood, wreckage from the Elizabeth Dane. Nick realizes that his buddies from the Sea Grass are missing, so he and Elizabeth go out a boat, searching for them. Janet Leigh plays Mrs. Williams, the wife of one of the missing men and the organizer of 100 year anniversary celebration. Her assistant is played by Nancy Loomis. They visit with Father Malone, who reads to them from his grandfather’s journal. His grandfather and five other conspirators lured a ship full of men plagued with leprosy with bonfires, so that they would crash into rocks and sink. This ship was the Elizabeth Dane. The six conspirators did this so to steal the fortune of Blake, the leader of the leper colony. They used his fortune to found Antonio Bay. Father Malone now believes that this upcoming celebration is a travesty. Nick and Elizabeth discover the Sea Grass and a dead body below deck. During this scene, Jamie Lee Curtis reminds us why she is a celebrated scream queen. Man, does she have a set of lungs on her or what?

Meanwhile, Stevie Wayne is back at the lighthouse. For some strange reason, she brought the driftwood with her. It bleeds sea water, then bursts into flames, but not before Stevie sees the foreboding message “6 Must Die” etched on the wood. A coroner examines the dead body found on the Sea Grass. He deduces that even though the man died yesterday, it appears as if he was underwater for a month. The dead body rises and stalks Elizabeth. It collapses and the number 3 has been carved into the floor beside him. Mrs. Williams is informed that her husband is still missing, but she continues with the anniversary celebration as a distraction. Nick phones Stevie after he hears her report on the approaching fog bank. Stevie then phones a local weatherman, played by Charles Cyphers, who is soon killed by the ghosts who emerge from the fog. The fog causes a blackout and heads towards Stevie Wayne’s house. This puts her in an awkward position since there is no way than she could make it back home in time to save her son. So, because the lighthouse has a generator, she opts to stay on the air and plead for anyone listening to go to her house and save Andy. For me, one of the creepiest scenes is when the ghosts come for Andy’s elderly babysitter. Luckily for him though, Nick and Elizabeth are in area and come to his rescue. This is what I would qualify as the end of act two.

In act three, Stevie stays on the air and reports on the movement of the fog, advising everyone to head for the old church. Only the main characters arrive, so you don’t know what happens to anyone else in town. I guess it would have been too confusing if a character the audience didn’t know showed up. They come to the conclusion that the ghosts want to take six souls to represent the six conspirators. They’ve already killed the three fishermen, the weatherman, and the babysitter, so that’s five. One more soul must be sacrificed for the greater good. Father Malone finds the gold cross which his grandfather forged from what was left Blake’s fortune and leaves to confront the ghosts. Back at the lighthouse, Stevie is chased up onto the roof. The ghosts are just about to kill her when Father Malone returns the cross to Blake and the ghosts all disappear as the fog retreats. Stevie goes back on the air and warns all of the ships at sea to look for the fog. Father Malone seems almost disappointed that his life was spared, but Blake and his crew return for the sixth conspirator and the film ends with an apparent decapitation.

This is the perfect movie to watch with someone who isn’t a huge horror movie fan or is a bit skittish. It’s not too scary, but just scary enough to make them jump once or twice. That is if you enjoy scaring people as much as I do. Also, the notion that the ghosts can only appear during the witching hour is brilliant and I’m surprised that more screenwriters haven’t stolen it as a plot device. Remember, good writers borrow, while great writers steal.

– Dr. Jelly

DR FRISBEE

NEGATIVE:

If anyone was at all surprised that famed director John Carpenter started making crappy movies in the 1990s, they shouldn’t have been since he gave us all fair warning a decade prior with this flick about evil smoke. I keep being told that this is a good horror movie despite it not being scary. What kind of bullshit is that? What else does a horror movie need to be other than scary?

America’s favorite old fart, John Houseman (I’m quoting Bill Murray’s character from “Scrooged” (1988)), tells a bunch of kids some boring campfire stories. Who the hell would leave their children alone all night with this guy? Then, the paranormal activity begins. Bottles rattle inside of a convenience store. You know, a horror movie needs to adhere to its own reality. The ghosts haven’t even arrived yet, so how are inanimate objects moving all by themselves? The character played by Nancy Loomis even sees a chair move by itself, but then she seems pretty damn nonchalant for the rest of the film even though she should know that something supernatural is happening.

Tom Atkins is the film’s hero? Really? This guy is a total waste of space. Jamie Lee Curtis was great in “Halloween” (1978), but she served absolutely no purpose in this film other than to sleep with a guy who she’s known for less than an hour. I’m serious. Act one takes place in between midnight and 1AM. The witching hour. So, that means she met the guy a little after midnight and was already done banging him before 1AM. What a whore. Also, her character does nothing at all in the climax. You barely even see her after a cliché car stuck in the mud scene. Elizabeth Solley was a far cry from Laurie Strode. As far as the other female lead, Adrienne Barbeau, goes, she was sultry, but I’m sure the fact that she was married to John Carpenter at the time had nothing to do with why she was cast… Am I laying on the sarcasm thick enough?

Hal Holbrook actually looks depressed to be in this movie. You may say that it’s his character who is gloomy, but John Carpenter admitted on the DVD audio commentary that Hal Holbrook was not a fan of the finished product. So, he and I have something in common. Sure, Janet Leigh is a Hollywood legend and all, but she didn’t really add much to the film. I mean, her character cared more about a candlelight vigil for some random historical figures than she did about her missing husband. And this after she learned that these historical figures were murderers. This lady really needed to get her priorities in order.

John Carpenter tried to fix this film with re-shoots. I cannot imagine how awful the first cut must have been if this lousy theatrical release was an improvement. Would it have been too much to ask to show a little more of the actual fog attacking Antonio Bay? What the hell happened to all of the people in the town square? They just disappeared. At least show them all hiding inside of the bar that was right by the square. How about a cool scene where the ghosts go after the coroner? He could hide inside one of the freezers where they keep the dead bodies. That’s the sort of shit I want to see in a horror movie. “The Fog” wasn’t meant to be a s claustrophobic as “Halloween,” so the audience should have been given a grander climax.

I can actually understand why this film was remade. Rob Zombie, a renowned hack, remade “Halloween” for no apparent reason. That’s a complete waste of time. Don’t remake good movies. Remake mediocre films and improve upon them. But, guess what? The remake of “The Fog” was even worse than the original, so there goes my theory.

– Dr. Frisbee

DR ROCHESTER

INDIFFERENT:

Okay, am I the only who ever noticed the freaky similarities between John Carpenter’s “The Fog” and “Garfield’s Halloween Adventure” (1985)? The chubby feline, who loves him some lasagna, but hates Mondays, also encounters ghost pirates who have returned from the grave after 100 years to reclaim their lost treasure. Also, these ghost pirates appear at midnight, the same as in “The Fog.” That’s just crazy. I’m not sure if the Garfield special was meant as a parody of “The Fog” or if the similar plots were a mere coincidence.

Not counting “Elvis” (1979), a made-for-TV film starring Kurt Russell as the King of Rock & Roll, this was John Carpenter’s follow up to his undisputed classic, “Halloween” (1978). Jamie Lee Curtis once again stars, even though top billing goes to Adrienne Barbeau, John Carpenter’s then wife, who had previously starred in a made-for-TV film written by John Carpenter entitled “Someone’s Watching Me” (1978). Jamie Lee Curtis isn’t quite as memorable in this film as she was in “Halloween.” There just wasn’t much to her character this time around. Her mother, Janet Leigh, co-stars, but the two share little screentime. The mother / daughter scream queen combo would work together again in “Halloween: H20” (1998).

Other John Carpenter mainstays to appear are Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis, both of whom had supporting roles in “Assault on Precinct 13” (1976) and “Halloween.” Tom Atkins would star in “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” (1982), which was produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Ty Mitchell, the child actor who played Adrienne Barbeau’s son, would cameo in “Halloween II” (1980) as a child who cut his tongue on a razor blade hidden in candy. He is dressed as a pirate, which I must assume that was a nod to “The Fog.” Adrienne Barbeau would co-star in the greatest movie of all time, John Carpenter’s “Escape from New York” (1981). Buck Flower also appeared in “Escape from New York” as well John Carpenter’s “They Live” (1987).

Blake, the captain of the ghost pirates, was played by Rob Bottin, the film’s makeup effects artist. He was big fan of “Halloween” and sought out John Carpenter, hoping that his new film had a character similar to Michael Myers that he could portray. Unfortunately, Blake is not as iconic as Michael Myers. After “The Fog,” Rob Bottin would replace Rick Baker on “The Howling” (1981) since Rick Baker was busy working with John Landis on “An American Werewolf in London” (1981), then Rob Bottin re-teamed with John Carpenter for “The Thing” (1982), where arguably he did his best work as a makeup artist and creature designer. He also worked on “Total Recall” (1990).

John Carpenter actually plays a small role, working in the church with Hal Holbrook. John Carpenter is one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, but acting is not exactly is forte. That is accept for his role as The Coroner in “Body Bags” (1993). Another cool thing about John Carpenter is that he perfects his scares. There was scene in “The Fog,” where a corpse rises up behind Jamie Lee Curtis. You get the feeling that this body twitching underneath a death shroud could have been scarier, so John Carpenter repeated the moment in “The Thing” and it was a lot creepier and overall more effective the second time around.

The first cut of “The Fog” was not a success, so re-shoots were required. The paranormal activity montage at the opening of the film, close-ups of stab wounds when the fishermen were killed, the dead body sneaking up on Jamie Lee Curtis, and the ghosts chasing Adrienne Barbeau to the top of the lighthouse were all added. Overall, these additions made the film more suspenseful even if the paranormal activity montage is somewhat confusing.

As with all of the great and gory horror films of the late 1970s and early 1980s, “The Fog” received the new millennium obligatory makeover treatment. Released in 2005, the abysmal remake of “The Fog” starred Tom Welling from “Smallville” (2001- 2011) and Maggie Grace from “Lost” (2004 – 2010). The only decent aspect of the remake was altering the story slightly, so that all of the main characters were descendents of the conspirators who killed Blake and his crew. Other than that, the film was a real stinker. Stick with the original, folks. Trust me.

– Dr. Rochester

Author: Dominick

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