The Fog (1980 version)


Rating *5*

Directed by John Carpenter

Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis,
Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Lee, Tom Atkins and John Houseman

It hardly needs to be said that this original is vastly superior to the later remake in every single way. The cast here is so much more memorable; as are the characters they are playing. The fact that most of these characters remain identifiable in the remake is telling. John Carpenter’s direction, his pacing of the story as it unfolds and his use of light and visuals, cannot help but to put the remake to shame. Watching the film is a object lesson in a golden era of horror film making and film making in general –- and a reminder of the changes that have taken place in the approach to film-making in Hollywood: the increased pursuit of teen audiences and of financial profit above all else.

Having said this, it hasn’t put me off the remake. I still like it and I am sure I will enjoy it as much as ever the next time I watch it.

John Carpenter’s best films, and we all have our own favourites, are, I think, the work of one of the great American film directors. His legacy as one of the great horror film directors is secured, but I think it goes beyond that. I am reluctant to say he is as illustrious as John Ford, but when I watch films like ‘Halloween’ and ‘Starman’ I see the same understanding of the landscape as a form of visual poetry. This is never more present than in ‘The Fog’.

It also occurs to me that in successive films John Carpenter introduced us to two of the most memorable female film characters of the period – Laurie Strode in ‘Halloween’ and Stevie Wayne in ‘The Fog’. Oddly enough, elsewhere his films are usually very focused on male characters and masculinity (the likes of ‘Escape From New York’, ‘The Thing’ and ‘They Live’) and this again is reminiscent of John Ford. The one exception, not counting the surprisingly gentle ‘Starman’, is ‘Christine’. But Christine is a car - and an evil car at that.

I don’t know if this means anything, but in the meantime, Adrienne Barbeau’s peerless portrayal of Stevie Wayne makes her an iconic figure in horror film lore – and we also get the great Jamie Lee Curtis in one of her best roles as Elizabeth Solley.

‘The Fog’ is, strangely, I think, not universally regarded to be one of John Carpenter’s best films, although its reputation has certainly increased over the years. At the time, back in 1980, it was considered by many critics to be a disappointment, coming on the back of ‘Halloween’ and his TV movie ‘Elvis’. Roger Ebert wrote:

“The movie’s made with style and energy, but it needs a better villain.”

Ebert spends the rest of his review explaining precisely what he means, comparing the film unfavourably with ‘Halloween’, but the very thing that leads to his disappointment with the film is one of the things that helps to pull me into it. I really like the fact that the “villain”, the thing that menaces the small and isolated fishing community, is, well, a fog – something shadowy and incorporeal and mysterious. When we do see the ghosts of the leper ship they are shadows and blurry silhouettes engulfed in this supernatural fog. And when they are finally gone it is as if they were never here in the first place.

The film’s celebrated closing scene, Stevie’s impassioned warning given out across the airwaves, was done in homage to Carpenter’s favourite film director, Howard Hawks, and the cult 1950s sci-fi film he produced, ‘The Thing From Another World’, which Carpenter would go on to memorably remake in 1982.

‘The Fog’ grossed a little over $21 million at the American box office, making it the 31st highest grossing film that year. ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ was in the top spot with a gross of $209 million and the Jane Fonda / Dolly Parton comedy ‘9 to 5’ occupied the second slot with $103 million. One horror film was higher than ‘The Fog’ – ‘The Shining’ in 14th place with a gross of $44 million.


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