THE FOG (1980) Reviews and overview

 

‘Lock your doors. Bolt your windows. There’s something in…’

The Fog is a 1980 American horror film about an unearthly fog that rolls into a small coastal town exactly 100 years after a ship mysteriously sank.

Directed by John Carpenter (The Ward; Ghosts of Mars; The Thing; Escape from New York; Halloween; et al), from a screenplay co-written with producer Debra Hill. Carpenter also composed the soundtrack score for the film. The movie stars Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins and Janet Leigh.

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The Fog was Carpenter’s first film after the success of his 1978 seminal slasher classic Halloween, which also starred Jamie Lee Curtis. Though not as big a success as Halloween, the film received generally favourable reviews and was also a commercial success. A critically-panned remake of The Fog was made in 2005.

Plot:

A strange, glowing fog that sweeps in over a small coastal town in California, bringing with it the vengeful ghosts of mariners who were killed in a shipwreck there exactly 100 years earlier.

The fishing town of Antonio Bay in California is about to celebrate its centennial. With preparations for the celebration underway, the centennial is also marked by a series of ominous events; as the witching hour strikes and the date of the town’s centennial begins, various odd phenomena begin to happen all over the sleeping town – objects move by themselves, television sets turn themselves on, gas stations seemingly come to life, and all the public payphones ring simultaneously.

That same night, Father Malone, the town’s alcoholic priest, is in his study in the church when a large piece of stone falls from the wall revealing a cavity. Inside is an old journal, his grandfather’s diary from a hundred years earlier.

Father Malone removes the book from the wall and begins to read. The diary reveals that in 1880, six of the founders of Antonio Bay (including Malone’s grandfather) deliberately sank and plundered a clipper ship named the Elizabeth Dane. The ship was owned by Blake, a wealthy man with leprosy who wanted to establish a colony near Antonio Bay.

During a foggy night, the six conspirators lit a fire on the beach near treacherous rocks, and the crew of the ship, deceived by the false beacon, crashed into them. Everyone aboard the ship perished. The six conspirators were motivated both by greed and disgust at the notion of having a leper colony nearby. Antonio Bay and its church were then founded with the gold plundered from the ship.

A supernaturally glowing fog appears, spreading over the sea and moving against the wind…

Review:

Fog of a different sort seems to have muddled the shapeless script, co-written by director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill. Though The Fog has a few bona fide jump-out-of-your-seat moments, it also has ridiculous and logic-defying details that viewers of any age should see right through. Sometimes the living dead materialize wherever the fog seeps in, sometimes a locked door or window stops them, and there are more silly things.

In-joke character names are derived from horror movies/literature and John Carpenter’s moviemaking associates (Arthur Machen, Doctor Phibes, Dan O’Bannon), but the talented cast, in thinly sketched roles, plays things entirely straight-faced, unlike later horror movies where dark humour was abundantly added to the terror.

The movie ends on a rather grim note of inevitable fate that’s like the slam of a coffin lid. If it had a little less mature content, The Fog could pass for a Goosebumps-style chiller strictly for youngsters, like the campfire ghost story that opens the narrative.

Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES and MANIA

Other reviews:

” …while The Fog’s a simple ghost story, there’s nothing simple about its structure or its aims. References to H.P. Lovecraft, Doctor Phibes, The Thing From Another World, The Crawling Eye, and The Birds almost make the film feel like a giant in-joke, or an English crossword clue. Watching its characters struggle like flies trapped in amber, my mind wondered off and I wondered “Is this thing just one big joke?” And You Thought It Was… Safe(?)

The Fog is a wonderfully atmospheric and creepily ominous supernatural horror which gradually builds up a palpable air of tension and terror. An impressive cast is bolstered by a clever script, which by following a number of characters allows the plot to nicely come together. Carpenter uses every cent of the budget brilliantly, using light and shadow to optimum effect…” Backseat Mafia

The Fog despite its flaws is a watchable movie. It just has a nice style to it that almost makes you forget the story (almost…not quite). Take The Fog for what it is…a creepy ghost story that isn’t scary enough. There is a bit of a fun precursor to John Carpenter’s future in Barbeau’s warning at the end of the film, she tells the sailors to watch for the fog… which echoes The Thing from Another World.” Basement Rejects

“There’s a karmic element to The Fog that actually provides at least as much suspense as the “who’s going to die next?” subtext does. The Fog is probably a tad cheesier than Halloween, which may account for its less lustrous reputation, but it’s a fun ride nonetheless, one that weaves a well-wrought story out of a moment’s observation.” Blu-ray.com

” …often Carpenter thrives on not showing us something, making it all the more frightening. When The Fog sticks with that philosophy it succeeds and when it strays and attempts to shock the audience it falls short, making it one of Carpenter’s most argued about films between those who love it and those who see it as his weakest film.” Cinema Blend

The Fog has a few wrinkles here and there with occasional plot holes. If Hal Holbrook’s grandfather was a priest, how did he have children? I was also never sure why the ghosts could suddenly re-animate a corpse, if even momentarily. That said, The Fog is still an eerie and wonderful tale of revenge and merciless ghosts from the past, and it’s a definite top ten holder for me.” Cinema Crazed

“Carpenter’s excellent use of widescreen comes in handy here, perfectly capturing the empty spaces of small-town life. When the fog, backlit in an eerie green, enters the frame, you see the way it moves, filling the scene from back to front. And, as usual, Carpenter provides the movie’s creepy score, similar to his classic Halloween music.” Combustible Celluloid

“Dialogue is cheesy and forced, some of the performances are quite shonky, subplots go nowhere and elements are thrown in with little use or linkage aside from providing one or two scenes of action. Yet for all the ‘bad’ qualities of it, there’s a lot to admire here. The atmosphere of not only terror, but isolation is effectively established and maintained throughout.” Dark Horizons

“The concept is old-fashioned and no amount of second-guessing is going to make the characters more involving or the fog more frightening. For such a simple director – and by that I mean a director who favors the concise and sublimates motive to the exigency of the action on-screen – the fog as a villain is almost too easy. It’s not terribly thought through.” Exploded Goat

“It makes some good use of sound and silence, and there are some creative moments, but it never got my pulse racing, and there are moments I found myself waiting for the movie to just get on with going where I knew it was going. And as far as horror movie cliches go, there’s really not a whole lot of difference between not being able to turn over an engine and being stuck in the mud.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

“Superbly crafted by Carpenter, the movie succeeds in making the audience jump when they are meant to and the living dead, which appear to owe something to Amando de Ossorio’s ghostly Knights Templars, are genuinely horrifying.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook

The Fog is an incredibly atmospheric horror flick that takes the technical expertise of Halloween and adds more obvious supernatural elements. Carpenter pick and chooses what to show and what not to show opting that more is less. It is impressive the way they seem to have complete control over the actual fog giving it an other-worldly, sentient feel.” House of Geekery

the fog 1980 hal holbrook

“The problem is with the fog. It must have seemed like an inspired idea to make a horror movie in which clouds of fog would be the menace, but the idea just doesn’t work out in The Fog, John Carpenter’s first thriller since Halloween. The movie’s made with style and energy, but it needs a better villain.” Roger Ebert

“Carpenter’s use of 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen is beyond legendary and his compositions evoke a town that may as well be the last remaining one on the face of the earth. Adrienne Barbeau’s radio host makes for a fascinating heroine.” Slant magazine

“Story exposition and setting are well-established before the opening titles are over, and The Fog proceeds to layer one fright atop another […] Thesping is okay in all departments although Janet Leigh isn’t given much to do, nor is daughter Jamie Lee Curtis.” Variety, December 31, 1979

2018 Re-release:

New York-based Rialto Pictures re-released The Fog on October 26, 2018, in its first-ever major restoration.

A full 4K restoration by Studiocanal, played limited runs at the Metrograph, in New York, Landmark’s Nuart in Los Angeles, and The Music Box Theatre in Chicago. Additional screenings also occurred during the week of Halloween throughout the Alamo Drafthouse circuit and other speciality movie houses.

“Out of theatrical release for years due to faded, unplayable prints, The Fog can now be viewed again as it was intended, with the restoration of its breathtaking colour cinematography by Dean Cundey, who deftly captured both the daylight beauty of the Point Reyes shore and the ghostly goings-on in the dark, eerie night.”

The Fog has been our most requested title for as long as we have handled the Studiocanal library here,” according to Eric Di Bernardo, Rialto’s director of sales. “It is Carpenter’s most visually alluring film and we think it’s been worth the wait.”

Cast and characters:

Adrienne Barbeau … Stevie Wayne
Jamie Lee Curtis … Elizabeth Solley
Janet Leigh … Kathy Williams
John Houseman … Mr. Machen
Tom Atkins … Nick Castle
James Canning … Dick Baxter
Charles Cyphers … Dan O’Bannon
Nancy Kyes … Sandy Fadel (as Nancy Loomis)
Ty Mitchell … Andy Wayne
Hal Holbrook … Father Malone
John F. Goff … Al Williams (as John Goff)
George ‘Buck’ Flower … Tommy Wallace
Regina Waldon … Mrs. Kobritz
Jim Haynie … Dockmaster
Darrow Igus … Mel
John Vick … Sheriff David Simms (as John Vic)
Jim Jacobus … Mayor (as Jay Jacobs)
Fred Franklyn … Ashcroft
Ric Moreno … Ghost
Lee Socks … Ghost (as Lee Sacks)
Tommy Lee Wallace … Ghost (as Tommy Wallace)
Bill Taylor … Bartender
Rob Bottin … Blake
Charles Nicklin … Blake (voice)
Darwin Joston … Doctor Phibes
Laurie Arent … Child
Lindsey Arent … Child
Shari Jacoby … Child
Christopher Cundey … Child
John Strobel … Grocery Clerk
John Carpenter … Bennett (uncredited)
Debra Hill … Extra (uncredited)

Filming locations:

Inverness, California
Point Reyes Station, California

Filming dates:

April 1979  to May 1979

Technical details:

89 minutes
Metrocolor
Aspect ratio: 2.35: 1 Panavision
Audio: Mono

Budget:

$1.1 million

Worldwide box office:

$21,448,782

Trailer:

YouTube reviews and overviews:

New and future releases