Coming off of day 18 I really wanted to ensure I didn’t just plummet off the high of such a great movie like Jacob’s Ladder back into something dismal like the swill I’d been consuming for the days leading up to that. So tonight I figured playing it somewhat safe with a John Carpenter classic would be the way to go. I should be up front because there are two versions of this movie. There is The Fog from 1980 and there was a remake in 2005. I watched the older of the two, helmed by one of the masters of horror, John Carpenter. From the stills I had seen on streaming platforms advertising this movie, the cast also looked quite competent so I figured that those two elements would hopefully allow things to play out my way in the end and I will say up front that I definitely feel like they did. Spoiler alert, I really enjoyed this movie.
I think one of the bits of trivia that I enjoyed the most as I delved into this murky classic was that this was another low budget film early on in Carpenter’s resume but his selection of filming it on anamorphiic widescreen Panavision provided the feeling that it was far more professionally tailored than one would assume. I think having watched some low budget films over the last three weeks I really appreciate this move on his part. By providing a visual environment that rivaled other Hollywood productions, it gave this film a firm foundation. I know that’s one of the things that can instantly take me out of a movie, at least partially, when I can tell that the movie was filmed in an inferior capacity. Now when I say that, I’m not talking about people taking out their iPhones and editing together shoddy clips over a weekend. Some of the cheaper independent films I’ve seen as of late still look quite nice. They aren’t hard to watch because the quality is low, it’s just a clear distinction. There is a difference between a name brand and an off brand product. It doesn’t mean the generic is automatically lesser or has no value to itself. There are many instances where you might prefer a lesser name when it comes to a product. In my house we exclusively eat Great Value (Walmart brand) shells and cheese. We’ve had Velveeta but the three of us prefer the former to the latter. It’s really just the taste. So I don’t want it to seem like this difference is tantamount to snobbery of some variety. What I appreciate is the foresight on Carpenter’s point that it was important to him to attempt to deliver what he believed to be the greatest quality presentation he could with the resources afforded to him. And I think it paid off. The movie really does look superior for it being a 1980 production. One of the things we’ve covered many times on the Cinemasters podcast is that despite the fact that you’ve technically turned another decade over and 1980 is now firmly out of the 70’s, there’s a bit of a transitionary period where things still have that 70’s feel to them. This movie does not “feel” like an 80’s movie but something more like a 70’s adjacent film. The aesthetic still very much makes it feel like it could have been filmed a week after Carpenter wrapped on Halloween. Escape from New York, The Thing and Christine all have that 80’s nostalgia to them. I was happy to see a lingering 70’s element to this film.
Another really pleasant aspect of this film is it had a very familiar feel to it. Carpenter is not unlike many other directors who have developed strong working relationships with a stable of actors over the years. Being able to pick out a number of Halloween alum in the cast along with other staples of the horror world gave the film a very welcoming sort of tone to it. Characters and actors you care about from the onset really add to what’s at stake when the danger starts to really present itself. Many times I find it hard to really connect with horror movies when I don’t have at least one character I really enjoy. I’d love to have a few members of the cast that I resonate with or at least cheer for to stay in the story as it unfolds. But when the principal and supporting cast are made up of actors you don’t know and characters you just find wholly unlikable, you begin to root for the killer which is rarely the director’s intent. At least in this era of scary movies, I feel. I’m sure there are plenty of films along the way where the audience is intended to actually play devil’s advocate and root for the bad guys, but I feel like that’s become far more of a modern motif than it was the drive of filmmakers back in this age of cinema. So being able to aptly recognize names and faces and immediately connect with the people on screen was a sizable boon for The Fog’s credibility as well. Certainly once Jamie Lee Curtis entered the film and had immediate chemistry with Tom Atkins (of Halloween 3 fame), I knew things were on solid footing. I will say I found it quite entertaining that even after addressing whether or not Atkin’s “Nick Castle” (also the real name of the actor who played the Presence aka Michael Myers in the original Halloween) was weird or not by the young and vibrant Curtis, the two made it into bed rather quickly. No judgement. Just entertaining that 1970’s hitchhiking gets you some bedtime company and 2023 hitchhiking gets you your own episode of Dateline.
The story of this film was fun too. Due to the fact that the film was lacking in longevity with early cuts of the film barely making it to 80 minutes, there was additional footage added to stretch it out a bit. Because of this, the film opens with an ominous but fun tale of the sea. A salty old captain tells a group of eager children around a midnight bonfire a twisted tale of horrible fate. 6 souls lost at sea would have their revenge one day. To me it had much more likability as a plot line than something from say an “Urban Legends” sort of film. It’s an old wives tale meant to frighten children around a flickering fire pit in the dark. But in this case, the story is not just the ramblings of an aged seadog. There’s some real truth to the story. Adrienne Barbeau lends her sultry narration as the DJ Stevie Wayne welcomes listeners into the witching hour from midnight to one in the morning while fog rolls in across the entire area. Strange things begin happening as the ghostly sailors begin their rampage of revenge. I did read that Carpenter was hoping for a PG rating instead of an R initially so he scaled back the violence and gore of any on screen attacks or death. While the film still did earn the R rating, I have to say that I found less to be more in these instances. Much like our most recent episode of the Spooktacular for the Cinemasters Podcase where we reviewed Friday the 13th IV: The Final Chapter, I enjoyed that the carnage did not revel in gore. Personally I’m not a huge fan of it and in this film I felt like the practical effects of the fog and the lighting effects that presented more silhouetted versions of the reanimated sailors made it more impending to me. In the opening scenes of the attack on the ship being able to see the final assailant get closer to his kill in the dark with flashes of light highlighting his drawing nearer with each moment really helped to build the tension for me. Only being able to see the face of the live sailor while his departed counterpart inched closer combined with the musical stylings of a score by Carpenter himself really brought the whole scene together for me. All throughout the movie I appreciated the seeping dread that lurked closer and closer as the fog came in tighter and tighter. It presented a sort of inescapable quality to it all that heightened the overall fright without relying on giving away the “monster” at any point. Seeing an outline or a shadow preserved the mystery for me. There was just enough revelation at different junctures and then at the end for me to appreciate what they were doing.
This movie was a perfect transition back down to maybe a more mainline expectation for horror movies. The Fog is by no means some elevated piece of art but I did genuinely feel like it was executed quite well. The nostalgia of the time period combined with the notoriety of the director and the ability of the actors all the way down to the effects and the score came together so well for me. All of the elements were hitting on all cylinders and cohesively the film is most enjoyable. Its a good little haunt with a nice story, solid acting and good scares. I hesitate to water it down by classifying it as a palette cleanser but it’s just middle of the road enough for me that it does that. I’d be tempted to go a little higher than a 6 out of 10 but it feels like a fitting evaluation of the film. Maybe I’m not being generous enough because I only went to 7.5 on Jacob’s Ladder or because I dipped so low on both Monster Inside and Slotherhouse but 6 feels right where this one should be at. It’s streaming in a number of places, unfortunately they are all free. It’s on Tubi, Pluto and Freevee, through Amazon Prime video. The thing I don’t care for in these venues is I have no control over the fact that ads are inserted into the movie. I just don’t care for that. I’d honestly rather you make me sit through ten minutes of ads up front and have nothing throughout the movie so I’m not taken out of the environment by some silly commercial either right before or right after a poignant moment in the movie. Ads don’t overtly hurt this movie but they certainly don’t help it either. So if anything, that was an annoying part of it all. And clear evidence for why physical media still wins out. I do tend to typically pay the extra on my streaming services I do pay for to avoid ads like in productions like this. Unfortunately it’s not always avoidable. Having the film on disc to watch whenever I want is always preferrable. And for a number of the movies on this list I do either already own them but haven’t watched them yet or I’ve added them to my list to purchase to in the future I don’t need to worry about their availability on any streaming platform because I’ll simply have them on hand myself. I received my copy of C.H.U.D. in the mail today and I’m ready to dive into some of the special features, not to mention a separate whole cut of the film, that I can enjoy whenever I like. Jacob’s Ladder is in my Amazon cart as we speak. I’m weighing out and leaning towards adding The Fog to my catalog as well. Perhaps even a few more of Carpenter’s films I don’t own just yet. There aren’t many but in searching his filmography, I did notice I don’t have everything I may have intended to own of his. But that is definitely a hallmark I take away from not only this experience but in general. When I watch a movie that leaves me wanting to add it to the shelf with the rest of the collection, I can revel in the fact that I’ve just enjoyed a truly fun experience. And that’s why I watch movies. The experience and my ability to hopefully recreate it at my leisure. So if you’ve not caught this particular Carpenter classic or maybe you’re just more accustomed to surveying his array of Michael Myers flicks this time of year, break out of that mold a bit and include this one in your repertoire. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. That being said, until the next time our paths cross I’ll catch you on the flip side.