The Fog (1980)

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*. It’s not that John Carpenter doesn’t take pride in his films. At the end of the commentary for this one he even says he’s “extremely proud” of it. But what sort of pride is it? “We did good. It was a million dollar movie.” That kind of pride.
*. Carpenter is an unabashed hack, who I think gets more credit for being an accomplished director of thrillers than he deserves. He seems to me to be an idea guy. A lot of his movies have very good (read: original and highly commercial) concepts that are produced in a mostly perfunctory and ineffective way.
*. This was a big let down after Halloween (and I didn’t much care for that movie either). Carpenter wanted to make something more like “an old-fashioned ghost story.” Apparently the first cut was a disaster (Carpenter: “it sucked”) and new material had to be added in post-production to liven it up a bit and pad it out to ninety minutes. That rarely works, and it doesn’t here.
*. Some of the additions, like the close-up to the Fulci-esque worm-faced zombie, seem particularly out of place to me. But the desperate salvage operation does make you wonder how anyone looking at the shooting script (assuming they had a shooting script) thought there was a movie here. Then again, if anyone had looked at the shooting script for Halloween . . .
*. As usual, the whole thing is stuffed with in jokes. I didn’t find these interesting.

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*. Scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis wasn’t considered a big draw at the time and wasn’t billed as a star. It was only after the success of Halloween that she got the upgrade, and this despite the fact that she has little to do here. Janet Leigh is also wasted, and John Houseman must have thought this a very easy way to pick up a paycheque.
*. I like how Barbeau’s character apologizes to her son for the fact that she didn’t bother going to save him but instead made an address over the radio for help. Why? Because she was needed on air to deliver public service announcements, like the one sending the heroes to the old church, which turns out to be in fact the one place they will not be safe.
*. The script is full of moments like this that don’t make a lot of sense but just have to play out the way they do to keep the movie going. Like Holbrook deciding to stop reading the book when he does, so that the mystery of the gold can wait to be revealed at the end.
*. As another example, it’s hard to understand why Carpenter would saddle the script with an insistence on six victims. Will the zombies kill any six townspeople? Would they have quit if they’d managed to kill Andy?
*. I know Carpenter idolizes Howard Hawks, but making Barbeau a smoker just because Hawks’s women smoked? That’s taking homage too strictly.
*. I do give Carpenter credit for making good use of the anamorphic widescreen here. He was aware of its ability to conceal a cheap budget by making everything look a little grander. “More bang for the buck,” in Carpenter’s words (producer Hill mentions “a bigger reality to the whole thing”). And this is a terribly cheap movie (budget of $1.1M). Plus widescreen works well when shooting locations like beaches with long shorelines.

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*. Barbeau twigs remarkably quickly to how the fog is somehow behind all of the strange events going on. Why she would come to that conclusion is less clear.
*. The vapid epigraph from Poe is never explained. I suspect E. A. P. was just a name to conjure with.
*. The monitory “Keep watching the skies” l’envoi is absurd. Another stretch to rope in an homage to Hawks.
*. The fog looks good, but it doesn’t look like fog. It looks like dry ice.
*. It’s funny to listen to Carpenter, producer Debra Hill, and Janet Leigh talking about what a “classic” this movie has become. I don’t think it has. Unlike a classic, it disappoints with every re-viewing.

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