The Fog (1980)
★★ / ★★★★
When a strange fog appeared off the coast of San Antonio, a sleepy town about to celebrate its one hundredth year of existence, people started to die in gruesome ways. Ghosts with hooks and swords hid in the fog and murdered seemingly indiscriminately. With the help of the voice from a local radio (Adrienne Barbeau), a hitchhiker (Jamie Lee Curtis), the man who kindly gave her a ride (Tom Atkins), a councilwoman (Janet Leigh), and her assistant (Nancy Kyes) tried to make their way out of town. Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, it was difficult not to admire the film’s attempt to make the most of what little it had. A fog that glowed wasn’t very scary even if had murderous ghosts hidden inside. But the reason why the picture was bearable was because of the way Carpenter, the director, played with its mood. The first fifteen minutes were engaging. The man who told local children ghost stories around a campfire elevated the creepiness that complemented objects suddenly moving on their own, pay phones ringing simultaneously, and car alarms going off for no reason. Not only did it inspire me to ask questions about the setting’s history, I got the sense that the seaside town was really isolated. I wouldn’t want to live there. However, the execution of scary or shocking moments felt uninspired. Take the scene in which the hitchhiker, Elizabeth, and her new boyfriend, Nick, conversed inside an abandoned ship. Instead of allowing the cabinet to open up in the middle of their tiresome conversation and maximizing the element of surprise, Carpenter warned us of what was about to happen when he focused the camera on the cabinet too often and too long. When Elizabeth jumped, I didn’t. Instead, I snickered because of how silly it was. Stevie, the raspy voice on the radio, could have been a more complete leading character. She wasn’t given much to do other than to be stuck in a lighthouse and watch the fog draw near. She had a young son–an excellent reason to fight for her own survival so she could protect him. But she wasn’t even given the chance. Furthermore, the background story involving the ghosts was as vague as reading a small sign silhouetted in fog from a few feet away. Their motivations were shrouded for too long. When unveiled, it didn’t make much sense. What was more important to them: an eye for an eye or the gold hidden from plain sight? They could have been much scarier. They moved quite slow and it appeared easy to outrun them. “The Fog” is very light entertainment at best. It was plagued with clichés like a person actually choosing to answer a door when he or she already suspected that something might be seriously wrong. Don’t get me started with the wheels of a car being stuck in mud when characters desperately needed to get away. Despite the characters’ frustratingly unrealistic decisions, at least its mood kept my attention.