John Carpenter assembled 3 different scream queens to fear The Fog
Adrienne Barbeau in the mist
Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own unfathomable whims. Because it's horror week at A.V. Club, we highlight films with big stars of the genre.
The Fog (1980)
John Carpenter never directed a sequel to Halloween, although he contributed to Halloween II and Halloween III as a producer, writer, and / or composer. But he followed up on his slasher masterpiece by reuniting with high-ranking final girl Jamie Lee Curtis for The Fog, another film about a silent, sinister force that creeps through a small town over the course of a few days. In this way, Carpenter increased his commitment as a scream queen: He not only shaped another genre star in Adrienne Barbeau (later Creepshow, Swamp Thing and Carpenter's Escape From New York), but also called back to a proto-slasher from Casting Psycho Star (and Curtis' mother) Janet Leigh in a supporting role.
The Fog's mood is even quieter than the slow development of Halloween, right up to the introduction of its main character. Barbeau's soft voice precedes her and flows over a few scenes before it becomes clear that the disc jockey she plays, who broadcasts local weather information from a lighthouse, is one of the main characters in the film. Carpenter's meticulous scene settings also include beautiful nighttime cinematography by Dean Cundey and an opening story by the campfire which, along with a quick, elegant introduction to what is supposed to lurk in this fog, provides context for the style of the film.
The supernatural threat coincides with the centenary of the California coast of Antonio Bay. As townspeople prepare to celebrate, the mist brings in the spirits of the sailors who were murdered a century earlier by the town's founders to bring the blood of the descendants of their oppressors. Although the ghost story is well thought out and the characters make a striking figure in all the eerie, glowing fog, they can't help but look a little nebulous compared to the original Michael Myers recipe. These creepy ghost-zombie hybrids lack the sense of imminent physical danger it provoked. Even so, the film's subtext has aged well. Scenes of city officials proudly recall a legacy that is more bloody and vicious than anyone would like to admit.
Curtis, in just her second film, is graduating from responsible babysitter to fearless hitchhiker. She brings an instant sense of personality to her first scene with Tom Atkins, who plays the Antonio Bay local she deals with on her way around town, and a lot of vulnerability when reacting to a corpse while, for example her time temporarily ascends autopsy. Barbeau also exudes a slight authority and clarity that makes her later expressions of terror more effective. As always, Carpenter and longtime associate Debra Hill distract their female characters from simple exploitation. Curtis literally takes over the steering wheel during a climate sequence.
The Fog almost feels like an alternate Halloween sequel to the universe after Carpenter abandoned the idea of steering the franchise in an anthology direction. The director even has Atkins investigate a creepy riddle with a younger woman who, inexplicably, immediately becomes sexually interested in him, two years before Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Compared to Michael Myers' many pedestrian returnees, the film makes a strong case that charismatic professionals like Curtis and Barbeau (and masters like Carpenter, Hill and Cundey) could be more valuable assets to the genre than any famous bogeyman.
Availability: The fog can be rented or purchased from Amazon, Google Play, YouTube and Microsoft.
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