Terrifying Tuesday :The Fog (1980)

Welcome to April 21st, a special day around the Lair. It’s the 11th Anniversary of my marriage to the ravishing Ms. Directed. I love her as much today as when we met, and what better way is there to celebrate our love than with a film about ghost sailors? Plus they know a good date when they hear it. Ladies and Gents, I’m going to turn this one over to John Houseman…..
The Fog (1980) starring Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Hal Holbrook. Directed by John Carpenter. 

“11:55, almost midnight. Enough time for one more story. One more story before 12:00, just to keep us warm. In five minutes, it will be the 21st of April. One hundred years ago on the 21st of April, out in the waters around Spivey Point, a small clipper ship drew toward land. Suddenly, out of the night, the fog rolled in. For a moment, they could see nothing, not a foot in front of them. Then, they saw a light. By God, it was a fire burning on the shore, strong enough to penetrate the swirling mist. They steered a course toward the light. But it was a campfire, like this one. The ship crashed against the rocks, the hull sheared in two, mars snapped like a twig. The wreckage sank, with all the men aboard. At the bottom of the sea, lay the Elizabeth Dane, with her crew, their lungs filled with salt water, their eyes open, staring to the darkness. And above, as suddenly as it come, the fog lifted, receded back across the ocean and never came again. But it is told by the fishermen, and their fathers and grandfathers, that when the fog returns to Antonio Bay, the men at the bottom of the sea, out in the water by Spivey Point will rise up and search for the campfire that led them to their dark, icy death.” -Mr. Machen

The Bugg Picture

Choosing to start this film with the scene of Houseman as Mr. Machen telling his story to a group of campers, John Carpenter sets the tone for the entire film. There are two things at work here, a variation on the ghost story set against a local backdrop and the imagination of pre-adolescent boys. Everything that follows plays into one of these two categories. After all, at its core, this is a film that relies on the glowing red eyes of ghost pirates and the menace of eerie weather. 

The greatest strength of the film is the script written by Carpenter and his producing partner Debra Hill. The dynamic of the story and the interlocking storylines are deftly crafted. The most interesting choice has to be the arc of Adrienne Barbeau’s character. As the narrative unfolds, Barbeau as lighthouse based DJ Stevie Wayne, remains isolated as Antonio Bay is attacked by the vengeful sailors, and she only has a singular scene of face to face interaction with another character in the film. To segregate your top billed actress from the main story is daring, and makes the climax of her storyline all the more harrowing. 

There are many other good performances as both Jamie Lee Curtis and her mom Janet Leigh (in their first on screen pairing) each impressed. The young Jamie Lee is paired up with one of my favorite genre film favorites, Tom Atkins, and every scene they were in was highly entertaining. The always enjoyable Hal Holbrook stars here as a priest that knows exactly why the ghost sailors are so mad. 

Carpenter of course makes the most of his film, and shot the whole affair in the same anamorphic widescreen that he used for Assault on Precinct 13. Once again he worked with cinematographer Dean Cundey who would join him for many of his greatest features including Halloween, Big Trouble in Little China, and The Thing. Cundey had a long history in genre films which include Black Shampoo , an Ilsa flick, and Rock ’n’ Roll High School. Cunday still maintains a busy schedule today, but his choice in films has become decidedly more mainstream. 

This review may be a little light on delving into the plot, but The Fog is one of the few films that I feel greatly improves if one goes into it without a ton of prior knowledge. While it still manages to excite and thrill me after many viewings. I still remember the first time I saw the flick. Like the boys in the beginning of the film, I was in my early teens, and The Fog took me on a pretty scary ride. There’s a good reason the films of John Carpenter are generally acknowledged to be some of the greatest in the modern history of genre films, and The Fog is no exception. So if you haven’t seen this one in a while, check it out again, and if you’re getting ready for a first viewing, sit back and enjoy. 

Bugg Rating


  1. Although I like The Fog, it's one of the films that is much better if you don't think too much about the particulars, since much of it doesn't make any sense. There are too many cases of "Why did that just happen?" going on, and consistency isn't one of attacking ghost's strong point. Nonetheless, it's early Carpenter, the fog FX are extremely cool-looking, and the scene atop the lighthouse is great.

  2. I love this movie - yeah, maybe it settles on the mind better in memory, but this film scared the living crap out of me when I was a kid. Plus, it introduced me to the wonder that is Adrienne Barbeau (still super hot and awesome today - see Carnivale).

    I like your plot-light review - lots of neat trivia for me to absorb. Thanks!

  3. I'm a big fan of this movie. I really loved it when I first saw it. Not seen it in years though.

  4. the sneering (homo-phobic) snobApril 23, 2009 at 5:37 PM

    this is a perfect film to watch on a cold winters evening with a nice cup of cocoa and some biscuits, its a superbly cosy and soothing film and a cult item par-excellence (like all of john carpenters films). by the way, congratulations on the anniversary.

  5. I actually that this is Carpenter's scariest film. Not, in my opinion, his best. And not my favorite (I'm personally EXTREMELY partial to the "apocalypse trilogy," and I think In The Mouth Of Madness and Prince Of Darkness are both drastically underrated). But The Fog, I feel, is just the downright scariest. I think the overall atmosphere of impending doom is just so incredibly palpable, the pacing is perfectly methodical, and he generates suspense in tight little waves that rise up more and more over time until you're smothering in tense anticipation. For instance, take the scene with Adrienne Barbeau on the roof of the lighthouse. Could you possibly milk that scene for suspension any more than Carpenter does? I think not. He takes us right to the edge. Great stuff. And a great, classic Carpenter ending, too. Love it.


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