Insomuch as that my last name is "Ponder", I feel it is my birthright to think...to ruminate, to mull, to dwell, and to philosophize. It then follows that I spend a good amount of time staring at the wall, asking myself such questions as "What is the nature of man?"..."What is art?"..."What time is it?"...and "If I were to be executed, what what would I request for a last meal?". Then I ponder, I stroke my metaphorical goatee, and I try to answer myself: "The nature of man is to be good and productive, free to act according to himself"..."Art is intent"..."It's 7:42" (or, if I'm feeling sassy, "Time to buy a new watch!")...and "Hmm, let's see...pizza from Adriatico's, Rachael's lasagna, malai kofta from that place on 27th & Lex, Nutter Butters with Nutella on top, and mint chocolate chip ice cream". Sometimes I also think "Given the seriousness with which I take the meaning of my surname, the world should be thankful that my name is not Stacie Killandeatallbabies". My rivers run deep, you see. Deep.
Folks, I promise...I'm only a little drunk and I will get to a point eventually. Wait, I think it's coming...ah yes, here it is.
I was watching The Fog (the 1980 version, of course) recently, and a few minutes into it- during the credits- I thought "Wow. The Fog is so awesome. In fact, there are so many of my favorite people in it and so many kickass elements throughout, it just may be my perfect dream movie. It is totally exactly like what my last meal before my execution would be- made up of a little bit of everything I love. OH MY GOD THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A BETTER METAPHOR FOR ANYTHING IN THE HISTORY OF EVER!"
In case you don't know what I'm talking about (since that metaphor doesn't seem so great after the crack high wears off), I'm talking about all these ingredients that make The Fog like a spicy jambalaya from heaven:
*The writing/producing/directing wonder twins John Carpenter and Debra Hill doing their thing!
*Oh, honey, the cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook, Nancy Loomis, John Houseman, Janet Leigh, Charles Cyphers, and...Adrienne Barbeau!
*ghost ships and drippy dead sailors that come out of...the fog !
100 years ago, the elders of the coastal fishing village Antonio Bay sent out a false light signal on a foggy night, sealing the fate of the sailing vessel Elizabeth Dane and the merry band of lepers she carried. As Antonio Bay celebrates its centennial, the long-dead Captain Blake and his crew from the Elizabeth Dane emerge from an otherworldly fog to claim their vengeance by taking six lives.
John Carpenter has stated that The Fog is his attempt at telling an old-fashioned EC Comics-style ghost story, plain and simple. While it certainly gives off a sweet let's huddle together under a blanket near the campfire for a scary story vibe, the movie is also undoubtedly 100% USDA prime John Carpenter.
Carpenter's earliest works, such as Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing, and The Fog are a slow, slow burn. As a filmmaker, he is (or is that was?) a man of patience, unafraid to give audiences a slow and steady climb to the film's climax. Rather than being hit head-on with bombast from the get-go, Carpenter's audiences need to settle in for a long drive, and the resulting effect is simple: dread. Simple, I say, yet it's an element largely absent from most modern horror films. I don't know if audiences have changed over the last 25 years or if Hollywood has simply convinced audiences that they've changed, but horror is all jump cuts and gore now. Halloween went on for about an hour before the action really started- an hour that slowly filled audiences with tension as Michael Myers stalked Laurie Strode on the streets of Haddonfieldto the tune of Carpenter's haunting score. I'd hazard a guess that that patience on Carpenter's part is what you can expect to be missing from Rob Zombie's upcoming Halloween revamp. Instant gratification doesn't leave the viewer drowning in fear, but anticipation surely does. What I consider to be some of the finer modern horror films (The Blair Witch Project, Session 9, The Ring, and yes, The Descent) use this same slow approach to great effect.
However, this reliance on mood and atmosphere doesn't mean that The Fog is lacking in visceral thrills. While there's nothing explicitly shown in the movie, the ghostly crew of the Elizabeth Dane are a vicious lot. The crew of The Sea Grass are dispatched in short order by knives and hooks, and the fact that the audience sees virtually nothing doesn't make the scene any less brutal. The same can be said for the scene where poor Mrs. Kobritz answers the tap tap tap at her front door as the fog rolls in...the eerie black figures raise their weapons and it's bye bye Mrs. Kobritz! I tell ya, that sequence filled me with absolute terror when I was younger and it still gets under my skin now.
Visually, The Fog is a Carpenter masterpiece. Using his trademark anamorphic widescreen Panavision, Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundey immerse and surround the viewer in Antonio Bay. Whether it's a sweeping shot of the coastline, a wide shot of Stevie Wayne (Barbeau) driving her righteous VW Thing, the glowing fog rolling into town, or the lighthouse where WKAB is located, the movie is simply beautiful to behold.
Is The Fog a perfect movie? Certainly not. There's some major plot holes and general "What the-?" moments that can only be explained away by cries of "It's supernatural, dammit!" But the movie does have style, and it works for me. I could go on and on about The Fog and all the reasons I love it, from Nancy Loomis's typically smartass turn as Sandy to Hal Holbrook's turn as the drunken Father Malone to the final showdown between Father Malone and Captain Blake over the bling.
I don't know what happened to Antonio Bay tonight. Something came out of the fog and tried to destroy us. In one moment, it vanished. But if this has been anything but a nightmare, and if we don't wake up to find ourselves safe in our beds, it could come again. To the ships at sea who can hear my voice, look across the water, into the darkness. Look for the fog.