Ah, John Carpenter’s The Fog: spooky, sure, but also a cinematic warm hug. If you’re a horror fan, and particularly a Carpenter fan, this is like a generous serving of comfort food. It’s not a masterpiece, and it’s far from Carpenter’s best, but it’s just so pleasant to watch. Even if you haven’t seen it, it already feels familiar, but not in a tired, done-to-death way. It just feels archetypal, like Carpenter set out to create the most 1980 horror movie to ever 1980 horror movie, and he succeeded.
It’s full of old friends, including horror icons and Carpenter alums: Jamie Lee Curtis, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh, Buck Flower, Charles Cyphers (also known as “Hey, it’s the sheriff from Halloween!”), and Nancy Loomis (a.k.a. “Hey, it’s the sheriff’s daughter from Halloween!”). The character names are full of horror Easter eggs: Machen, Nick Castle, Dan O’Bannon, Dr. Phibes. Carpenter’s score is, as ever, iconic and untouchably, unimpeachably cool.
But most of all, what The Fog has is atmosphere. It doesn’t shy away from indulging in storytelling and cinematic devices that, while often overused, are popular for a reason: the campfire tale o’ backstory, the thick fog and eerie lights, the glowing eyes of the dead, the long-buried journal of historical sins. Not to mention the chummy small town, half-Amity and half-Castle Rock. Like a lot of paperback horror from the era, The Fog takes a kind of disaster-movie perspective, giving us a town ensemble–Adrienne Barbeau is very good as velvety-voiced local DJ Stevie Wayne, but top-billed or not, she feels more like an anchor than a true lead; she has her starring role in part because her job makes her literally act as the voice of the town.
I haven’t talked about the plot, and that’s because it’s not what sticks out to me, despite being an enjoyable old-fashioned ghost story. Antonio Bay is getting ready to celebrate its centennial, but strange things are afoot: a priest has just discovered the town’s ghastly original sin, tainting the celebration, and a thick, soupy fog is sweeping in off the water. It’s bringing all kinds of things with it, from shattered glass to magical driftwood to, of course, the vengeful dead–the people whose lives, a hundred years ago, were sacrificed to Antonio Bay’s sense of cozy peace. (Local community says NIMBY to leper colony.) It’s a simple, straightforward story, and Carpenter makes it the foundation of a Halloween season funhouse: scary enough to give kids an enjoyable fright, and lovingly crafted enough to give all the adults a smile.
The Fog is streaming on Amazon Prime.