Screen gems...with M.V. Moorhead
DVD: The Fog
Here's an obscure movie anniversary for you: April 21 is the 25th anniversary of the completely fictitious events in John Carpenter's 1980 ghost story The Fog.
On April 21, 100 years before that, the citizens of the pretty northern California seacoast town of Antonio Bay deliberately led a shipful of lepers to wreck in a fog bank in order to steal their gold.
So says old salt John Houseman, anyway, spinning the yarn at a campfire in the film's prologue. Could any self-respecting leperous ghosts fail to return a hundred years later, to wreak revenge and mess up the town's centennial festivities? Of course not.
For the rest of the film, the fog bank keeps rolling, and from it issue the shadowy-but-deadly specters of the crew, taking swords and hooks and the like to a series of six victims, one for each of the
conspirators that did them wrong a century earlier.
A handful of townies, including Janet Leigh and her real-life daughter Jamie Leigh Curtis (not playing mother and daughter here) take refuge in a church presided over by an alcoholic priest (Hal Holbrook) who knows the sordid truth.
Some of the ghosts lay siege to the church, while others close in on a purring radio hostess (Adrienne Barbeau) who broadcasts from a lighthouse. This character is new in town, so you may wonder what the ghosts have against her, but maybe they're steamed that she's been using the airwaves to warn people of their approach.
This was Carpenter's follow-up to his 1978 slasher hit Halloween, and it's clear that he was trying for a more old-fashioned horror movie feel, something a little less generically nasty than that terror classic.
As a result, The Fog is, almost inevitably, a lesser work—less scary, less haunting. Most of the dialogue, and some of the acting, is insipid.
The special effects, though ingeniously executed, have a low-budget tackiness. But the upside of all this is that it's probably also a more likable movie—taking its cue from Houseman's prologue, it has the corny, companionable spookiness of a good campfire tale.
The DVD: Should you wish to give The Fog a nostalgic screening on April 21, you'll find it very affordably available on a disc nicely loaded with fun extras. These include two documentaries, a vintage one from 1980 and a new one in which Carpenter and the cast reminisce about making the film. Both are enjoyable, but especially the new one, which offers some interesting details--for instance, that the first cut was so obviously un-scary that Carpenter and company were obliged to return to the set and reshoot some scenes with more graphic gruesomeness.
There are also storyboards, bloopers—it's startling to hear the dignified Houseman blurt an obscenity when he forgets his lines—and a collection of early TV ads and trailers, several of which close with the announcer intoning the amusingly irritable line, “The Fog--What in the living hell is out there?"
The Fog is rated R. It's definitely not for little kids, but there's only a little (hokey) on-screen gore, so preteens and up may find it quite mild by the standards of current horror films.