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.
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.
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
simple. The threat need not even be believable; "Halloween's"
psychotic killer, wrapped in sheets and apparently invulnerable, just kept on
coming while a platoon of baby-sitters bit the dust.
"Halloween's" killer was a person, and had at least a bit of personal
background (we saw a traumatic scene from his childhood and heard a
psychiatrist describe him as evil incarnate).
narrative background in "The Fog" is presented stylishly - John
Houseman of "The Paper Chase" tells a ghost story around a campfire
on the beach, little kids listen with their mouths hanging open, we learn that
shipwrecked sailors were murdered near this town a century ago, and that they
vowed to return 100 years later. And, of course, tonight's the night.
when the sailors' ghosts return, wrapped in fog, we can't figure out what their
motives are. Do they want to kill the descendants of their murderers? Are they
angry at the town itself? Are they indeed there in the fog, or are their
let's face it, we wouldn't care about the answers to these questions if
"The Fog" were as scary as "Halloween." But because
"The Fog" has a historical plot, because its events are inspired by
the past, it should make more sense. A sentient fog may be photogenic (and this
is a good-looking movie), but can we identify with it? Is it the kind of
villain we love to hate? Not really.
"The Fog" is encouraging, all the same, because it contains another
demonstration of Carpenter's considerable directing talents. He picked the
wrong story, I think, but he directs it with a flourish. This isn't a great
movie but it does show great promise from Carpenter - whose psychotic killer in
"Halloween," you may recall, was missing at the end of the film and
may be haunting a sequel any day now.