American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
The problem is with the fog. It must have seemed like an inspired idea to make a horror movie in which clouds of fog would be the menace, but the idea just doesn't work out in "The Fog," John Carpenter's first thriller since "Halloween." The movie's made with style and energy, but it needs a better villain.
And it also needs a slightly more plausible plot. We don't really care about the logic of the plot in horror movies, of course, but there has to be some plausibility, just so we know what the rules are. Carpenter's fog - which contains the ghosts of murdered sailors - is too unpredictable. When it rolls in, it's likely to kill anyone, no matter whether or not their ancestors were responsible for killing the sailors 100 years ago.
It's easy to see, though, why this project must have been appealing to Carpenter, a talented 31-year-old film maker who built a cult audience with the low-budget genre films "Dark Star" and "Assault on Precinct 13" before breaking through to enormous ratings with the made-for-TV "Elvis." Carpenter's "Halloween" was one of the major box office successes of 1979 (Variety calls it the most profitable independent film ever made) and it demonstrated his favorite approach: He likes films that manipulate audiences, films designed, quite simply, to cause emotions - and his favorite response is shock.
"The Fog" basically has the same structure as "Halloween." It gives us a small American town. It introduces a few of its inhabitants, especially isolated women. It establishes a threat. And then the rest of the movie is devoted to scenes in which the threat either does or does not destroy its intended victims.