I usually like to watch this one around October, because it has some of the best atmosphere of any horror movie I have ever seen. And yes, "Atmosphere" is a punny word for The Fog, because it's a weather condition, but it applies in both senses of the word. This may be one of the best movies of John Carpenter's career, and is chock full of the actors and actresses that show up in many of his other films.
The Fog (1980) is a creepy horror movie with a unique backstory. One hundred years ago, the founders of Antonio Bay made a deal with a colony of lepers to allow the lepers to settle up the coast from the village. In exchange, the rich leader of the leper colony would provide enough gold to build a church and found the township of Antonio Bay. The founders of Antonio Bay, however, couldn't stomach the idea of a Leper Colony just a mile distant, and conspired to murder the lepers and take their gold. On the night of April 21st, between the hours of midnight and 1 am, they built a roaring fire on the shore. A thick fog blanketed the shoreline, and the ship carrying the lepers to shore steered towards the fire, aiming for safety. The cargo ship, the Elizabeth Dane, assumed the fire had been set to show them the way to safe moorings. It was not. The Dane smashed upon the rocks and was wrecked. All passengers and crew were drowned, and the gold was later recovered, and used to build the church and found Antonio Bay. One hundred years later, The Fog has returned to Antonio Bay, on the eve of its centennial celebration. In the fog is the crew of the Elizabeth Dane, returned to exact their vengeance upon the descendants of the town's founders. Six must die, six descendants of the founders, six deaths to pay for the betrayal of one hundred years ago...
Let me just break down the obscene number of veteran actors and actresses in this movie. John Houseman plays old Mr. Machen, who spends the first 5 minutes of the story doing a cameo appearance (he doesn't show up anywhere else in the entire film), while he tells a ghost story to a bunch of kids around a campfire that explains most of the backstory that happened 100 years ago. One of the kids by the fire belongs to Stevie Wayne, the owner of the local radio station, KAB, who is played by Adrienne Barbeau. Adrienne Barbeau was actually married to John Carpenter for a while, and is gorgeous in this movie. Tom Atkins plays Nick Castle, one of the crew of the Seagrass, returning from a trip up the coast. Tom Atkins also played the hero in Halloween 3, a couple years after he appeared in The Fog, and was also the Detective in Night of the Creeps (another of my personal favorites) some years after that. One of the other crew members of the Seagrass is Tommy Wallace, played by George "Buck" Flower, who has probably played an extra in every horror movie ever made, since the beginning of time (along with Dick Miller, who does not appear in the Fog, as far as I know). Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) picks up a hitchhiker named Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis, of Halloween fame, another John Carpenter horror movie favorite) on his way back into Antonio Bay. Janet Leigh (of Psycho shower scene fame) plays Kathy Williams, a member of the town council organizing the 100-year celebration for Antonio Bay, and the wife of one of the crew of the Seagrass (probably George "Buck" Flower, from how old they both appear to be). The Fog, as far as I know, is the only movie in which Jamie Lee Curtis appeared with her real-life mother, Janet Leigh. The Medical Examiner is played by Darwin "Got a Smoke?" Jostin, of Assault on Precinct 13 fame, also made by John Carpenter. The weatherman that Stevie Wayne talks to through part of the movie is played by Charles Cyphers, who was also Sheriff Brackett in the first two Halloween movies. Sandy Fadel is Kathy Williams' (Janet Leigh's) assistant, played by Nancy Loomis/Kyes, also known as "Annie," Laurie Strode's babysitter friend from the Halloween movies. Jim Haynie (the sheriff from Sleepwalkers) plays the unconcerned Dockmaster who Nick Castle goes to, to elucidate his worries about the missing Seagrass. And of course, Hal Holbrook plays Father Malone, one of the final descendants of the original conspirators. Is that a crazy number of veteran horror actors, or what? :-o
Usually, such a phenomenal cast of veteran actors results in the most-godawful movie ever made, because they spend all the money on the actors, and not enough on the screen-writing. In this case, the exact opposite is true. All the actors are just perfect for their roles, making the overall atmosphere of the movie just drip with the blood of the six victims that the crew of the Elizabeth Dane has come to claim. The music is excellent, the cast is perfect, and the special effects may be dated, but most of the movie happens in the dark, so it's hard to tell. Interesting twist to the ending, Stevie Wayne broadcasts a warning to beware of the Fog, similar to the radio warning at the end of The Thing from Another World (1954), which John Carpenter would remake into The Thing (1982), just two years later.
Sure, this is essentially just a ghost/zombie tale, depending on how you think of the leprous spirits of the Elizabeth Dane, but it's also a Flying Dutchman reference, and damned if it doesn't just work together perfectly! Just about everything that happens in this movie is creepy, from the town falling apart at the "Witching Hour" between 12 midnight and 1 am, to the washed up boards of the Elizabeth Dane dripping seawater and bursting into flame, to the slain corpse of one of the Seagrass rising from the dead to mark down the number of people already dead, or those left to die. Even the daylight hours are creepy. In one scene, Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) drives along the coast on her way to work, passing an old steel washtub in a field of grass, sitting behind a barbed-wire fence. There's nothing particularly spooky about this scene or the washtub, and the view of the landscape and the coast are beautiful. I can't quite recall where the movie was filmed right now, but I was looking at pictures of the area on the internet years later (just for the scenic beauty and the views of the lighthouse, featured in the movie as the radio station KAB), and damned if that old steel washtub wasn't still there, sitting behind the barbed-wire fence in a field of grass. Looking at the pictures decades after the movie was filmed, I thought I was having flashbacks to The Fog, and was totally creeped out! By an old washtub! Crazy shit. I caught The Fog on Sundance Channel, but I'm sure it's available in other places too, if you want to be creeped out by an old washtub that hasn't moved in a hundred years.
That's it for throwback Thursday! Catch you guys soon for another review, but if I don't post before December, enjoy the crisp autumn weather, the smell of drying fallen leaves, and enjoy your turkey. Thanksgiving is only two short weeks away, and they are already playing Xmas music on the radio, which is fine. After the last two years of election coverage spamming every TV network on the air, a little levity and peace on earth is a welcome change. And one I am eternally thankful for. :-)