A couple of days ago, I realized, It’s going to be February next week, and I haven’t watched a single horror film yet. Shame on you, Carlie. Shame!
After feeling shameful for a proper period of time, I looked on my Netflix to see what was available. There were about seven films to pick from, but considering the heavy fog that’d infiltrated the city I live in . . . well, there was really only one proper course of action, obviously.
It’s better than the remake. But really, almost anything would have been.
Antonio Bay is a small, fishing town in Northern California that’s about to celebrate its centennial. Party time? Well, perhaps not. Antonio Bay has a few skeletons hidden away in its closet, and this year the ghosts of Christmas past have come to wreak vengeance upon the town. Also: glowy fog.
1. The Fog was remade in 2005 with Maggie Grace and Tom Welling. I watched it a few years ago. It was terrible. I’d like to detail how terrible it was and describe each and every variation from the original film, but other than the ending—which was significantly different—I remember nothing about the movie except for the fact that it was a really and truly awful film. I easily prefer the original movie . . .
2 . . . however, I don’t love this movie. The Fog has a number of things going for it initially, and I was enjoying myself right up until the end . . . but then it did end, and I was forced to conclude that a lot of things never really came together in a very cohesive manner. The movie has decent acting, some creepy scenes, and a ton of atmosphere . . . but the story is a little weak, and there are a lot of plot threads left dangling. Some of them?
A. Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis) says that she’s followed around by bad luck. Significant? You’d think so, but you’d be wrong.
B. Nick (Tom Atkins) tells a random story about his father and a ghost coin that just feels badly forced into the dialogue. It’s not horrible, I guess, but it does feel unbalanced with the rest of the movie. (Unless it’s supposed to somehow tie into the ghost coin that changes into ghost driftwood? But that makes absolutely no sense at all, so . . . probably not.)
C. The ghosts come back on the centennial to exact their revenge. They also come the night before . . . cause . . . they need a dress rehearsal? Maybe? They also sometimes take the bodies of their victims for some nefarious purpose or other. But then they also sometimes leave the bodies behind to become, like, really short-term zombies? The ghosts have a very strange modus operandi.
D. Also, their basic motivation (REVENGE!) seems simple enough. But when you look closer at their actions—discussed in more detail in the Spoiler Section—their actual goals seem a little less clear.
E. It’s natural for a story to focus on the main characters. That’s why they are the main characters. But The Fog weirdly ignores the rest of the inhabitants in Antonio Bay like they don’t even exist. I mean, you see them in one scene, so you know that, theoretically, they’re in danger too. But then you never see them again, and due to the nature of this particular ghost story—well, I find it problematic.
3. The whole movie isn’t a wash, though. While it’s hard to be scared of special effects and makeup from the early 1980’s, there are some genuinely creepy scenes that I enjoyed a lot on their own. A few of them take place on this fishing boat. Another scene takes place in a morgue. John Carpenter seems to like ghostly figures that loom behind unsuspecting victims, and you know what? It’s effective. The Fog has a certain eerieness that many modern ghost stories are, sadly, lacking in.
4. I also very much like how sounds are used in this film. Everyone’s used to seeing a light bulb flicker or burst when a ghost appears on screen, but John Carpenter manages to create almost a symphony out of tech malfunctions. Car alarms never sounded so ominous as they do in this movie. (Side note: I didn’t even know cars had alarms in 1980.) And as this is a John Carpenter movie, after all, the theme song is made of win.
5. The Fog isn’t the kind of movie that showcases Oscar-caliber acting, but I enjoy all of the main actors in this film. Briefly going over a few of them:
Can I just say, it is weird to see this guy without his mustache. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Mr. Atkins without the ‘stache before. It’s unsettling.
I actually don’t have much to say about Atkins’s performance here. He does a serviceable job as Nick, who tries to figure out what’s going on in this town. Most of his scenes are with Jamie Lee Curtis, and they work fine together. Otherwise . . . yeah. He’s good.
Jamie Lee Curtis
I miss seeing Jamie Lee Curtis in things that I actually enjoy. Hell, I miss seeing Jamie Lee Curtis in things that aren’t Activia commercials. She doesn’t have a ton to do in The Fog other than follow Tom Atkins around, but I like her reactions to certain events, and it’s nice to see her playing someone a little less wholesome.
The only thing I really know Janet Leigh from is Psycho, so seeing her in The Fog was just a lot of fun. Her character is just so very vivid—you know what kind of woman she is immediately. And her relationship with her assistant, Sandy, is hilarious.
Nancy Kyes (aka Nancy Loomis)
And speaking of Sandy . . . Nancy Kyes does not have a huge part in this movie, but I thought she was funny as hell. She had some of my favorite quotes, and I like how she interacted with Janet Leigh’s character, sometimes snarky, sometimes surprisingly sympathetic.
While I didn’t care for her in Escape for New York, I enjoyed Adrienne Barbeau here. There’s a secret part of me that’s always wanted to be a late night DJ . . . I suspect I don’t exactly have the silky smooth voice for it, sadly. Barbeau has the least people to actually interact with on screen, but she does a fair job with her one-woman show, and I like the idea of her character a lot—the lighthouse keeper responsible for watching over the entire town. (I don’t know that the execution always works, but the problems I have can’t be blamed on Barbeau. Her character, on the other hand . . . well, she makes some questionable decisions.)
6. A few quotes for you:
Kathy: “Sandy, you’re the only person I know who can make ‘yes, ma’am’ sound like ‘screw you’.”
Sandy: “Yes, ma’am.”
Tommy: “There’s no fog bank out there . . . there’s no fog bank out there . . . hey, there’s a fog bank out there.”
Kathy: “Are you going to give the benediction tonight, Father?”
Father Malone: “Antonio Bay has a curse on it.”
Sandy: “Do we take that as a no?”
It’s always funny when characters literally take the words right of your mouth. No sooner had Mek and I simultaneously said, “So, is that a no?” than Sandy spoke up. God bless you, Sandy.
7. Finally, eating dinner while watching a movie is a time-honored tradition, well, pretty much everywhere. But if you haven’t eaten all day, there could be dire consequences concerning your attention span. The Fog begins with a craggy old fisherman telling the local children a spooky ghost story, and even though I knew the ghost story was rife with important background exposition, I could not focus on it. He was yammering on about boats and ghosts, and all I could think was Tamale! Tamale needs to be eaten now!
Nom nom nom.
Now for some Spoilers, where I talk about exactly what I liked and didn’t like in greater detail . . .
So, The Fog begins with this guy.
Actually, The Fog begins with an Edgar Allan Poe quote, “Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?” prompting me to have two simultaneous reactions. (This is going to be something of a pattern in this review).
A: Hey, I can recite that poem by memory. (Because that’s what you do when you’re thirteen years old and miserable. You memorize Edgar Allan Poe poems.)
B. No. No, it’s really not.
Also, wouldn’t this be a more appropriate—if hideously literal—quote for Inception? I think so. Anyway, so the old man tells the wide-eyed children one last ghost story. A hundred years ago on a foggy night, a ship called the Elizabeth Dane crashed into the rocks when the men aboard mistook a campfire for a lighthouse. The ship sank and everybody onboard died . . . but it is foretold (by fishermen, who know these kinds of things) that when the ghostly fog rolls back into the town, the dead men will rise, searching for the campfire that led them to their doom.
And a few things about that:
A. Seriously, who starts these legends? It had to be one of the original six guys who actually set the fire, right? Otherwise, how would the legend be able to account for specific details, like the ship’s name? If you committed a cold-blooded mass murder, would you be spreading around the story? This isn’t really a serious problem I have with the film, but it is kind of a pet peeve of mine, stories that start with some ghostly legend or other that everyone just knows—even though there’s no earthly reason that they would.
B. I’ve mentioned before that my parents were fairly lax about certain things when I was a child—like what kind of movies I was allowed to watch at a young age—but I’m fairly certain that my mom would never have allowed me to hang out with some creepy old fisherman dude by the ocean at five to midnight without any parental supervision. Er . . . simpler times?
C. This is the Netflix summary for this movie: While an old, weather-beaten fisherman tells a ghost story to fascinated children huddled by a campfire, a piece of driftwood in a child’s hands begins to glow, and an eerie fog envelops the seaside community of Antonio Bay. I have now watched this scene twice and . . . this doesn’t happen. At all. Is there a special edition or something that I didn’t see? And if not . . . who writes these things? Can you get fired? Can I have your job?
Okay, fine. Back to the actual movie. The ominous glowy fog rolls in during the witching hour—for the purposes of this film, the witching hour appears to be 12:00-1:00 am, although I’ve also read in other stories that it takes place at two in the morning, three in the morning, and perplexingly, twelve to three in the morning—and the town’s electronic equipment starts going apeshit. Also, some ghost-zombie things kill these three fishermen dudes out on their boat. (The Sea Grass just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as the Elizabeth Dane. Just throwing that out there.)
The murder of the fisherman is one of the creepier scenes in this movie. Two of the guys go on deck—I think to investigate some spooky sounds or something—and they see the ghostly dudes lurking ominously across from them. Then one of the ghosts sneaks up from behind and stabs one of the fishermen in the back. It’s very sudden and surprising. You just don’t expect the ghost to attack from behind, which is cool. Also: this movie makes a nice use of hooks.
The third guy on the ship is also killed—stabbed straight through the eyes, which, not nice. This is another pretty creepy moment, not just for the eye-stabbing (which you don’t really see) but because of how the ghost lurks behind the dude for a few minutes and slowly approaches. It’s a very good shot. Like I said before, I have problems with this movie, but atmosphere isn’t one of them.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth is hitchhiking her way to Vancouver. Nick picks her up on the side of the road. They get into a car accident, but no one is injured. So they have sex. It seems like a natural reaction.
The fog rolls into the town, and the ghosts knock on Nick’s door with their big, metal hook hands. (Yes, the ghosts knock. It seems a touch silly—especially when they don’t have to knock to get in, as they’re quite capable of busting through doors or windows later in the film—but ghostly knocking is classic, and the thudding sounds are effectively ominous.) Nick goes to answer the door, but the clock strikes 1:00 am just as he does so, and the ghosts have disappeared by the time he opens the door.
. . . which is interesting, now that I think about. Earlier in the review, I complained that the ghosts arbitrarily attacked on the night before the anniversary as well as on the anniversary night itself. But of course that’s not true . . . it’s after midnight, so it technically is the anniversary. That’s good, at least. But why are the ghosts restricted to the witching hour now, when later they roll in at whatever time they feel like it? Because the next time the ghosts come back, it’s certainly not at the witching hour. No one holds town birthday celebrations at 12:00 in the morning, and even if they did, it wouldn’t be April 21st anymore, anyway. It’d be April 22nd.
Well, puzzling chronology aside. Odd things continue happening the next day. Stevie’s kid finds a piece of driftwood on the beach that says DANE on it. He gives it to his mom because nothing says you’re an awesome mom like a hunk of dead wood. Stevie (Adrienne Barbeau) sets the driftwood on top of a tape player. The wood starts dripping water, causing the tape player to short circuit. A small fire breaks out. A man’s voice is heard through the tape player. And the word DANE vanishes—in its place are the words “6 Must Die”. Stevie extinguishes the fire, and everything goes back to normal. She seems appropriately freaked out . . . but she does not toss the haunted piece of driftwood out the door. Hell, she doesn’t even move it away from the electronics. Stevie, this is no bueno.
In the meantime, Nick and Elizabeth have gone out looking for the missing Sea Grass. They find the boat, and at first, it appears to have been abandoned. Nick tells Elizabeth about that time his dad found a ghost coin, and it’s not a bad story, but I don’t see how it relates to this one. You can’t just pile elements of every old mariner tale you can find into one narrative and go, “Ha! That’s spooky!” These things need to be woven together a little better than this.
For that matter, Elizabeth herself is particularly vexing. Not only is she named Elizabeth—I refuse to believe that’s a coincidence, Elizabeth and the Elizabeth Dane—but bad luck and strange things seem to happen wherever she goes . . . according to her, anyway, not that she or anyone else will ever make mention of this statement again. The Fog has all these plot threads that are just left dangling, and I didn’t mind at first because I assumed they would be resolved by the end . . . only that never actually happens, and it’s incredibly frustrating.
Anyhow, Elizabeth is all, “You know, I think I’m ready to move on to Vancouver now,” when one of the dead fisherman falls on her. (They only find the one. I’m going to assume the other two were eaten. Just cause.) Weirdly, she doesn’t mention Vancouver again after this point in the film. You’d think the second she was back on dry land, she’d be like, You know, Nick, hitchhiking and having sex and finding dead bodies on fishing boats was fun for awhile, but . . . well . . . seeya!
Instead, Elizabeth accompanies Nick to the morgue, where Dr. Phibes (in a shout-out to Vincent Price and The Abominable Dr. Phibes, which I’ll be watching sometime later this year) performs an autopsy on the dead fisherman. According to the good doctor, the dead guy appears to have been killed in the water, not on the boat. Furthermore, the damage and decomposition is only consistent with a man who has been underwater for a whole lot longer than one night. None of this is highly plot relevant—it’s just another spooky detail that, while kind of cool, goes nowhere.
While Nick and Dr. Phibes are discussing all this out in the hallway, Elizabeth is alone with her back to the dead body. The body rises behind her. It’s an absolutely classic kind of scene, and easily one of the creepiest moments in the whole movie . . . it just doesn’t make a lot of sense. The undead fisherman creeps up behind Elizabeth (behind you, Jamie, behind you!), and grabs at her. Elizabeth screams, but by the time Nick and Dr. Phibes have come back into the room, the undead fisherman is just dead again and lying at her feet. He’s written the number three on the floor—presumably because three people have been killed, or maybe because three more people must die? I’m not sure.
Meanwhile (well, actually, the night before) Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) discovers a journal written by his grandfather which details how he and five other men murdered a ship full of lepers. (They lit the campfire that the old craggy fisherman was talking about in the beginning of the movie.) The men also robbed the lepers and used their blood money to build up Antonio Bay. Father Malone is understandably—if a bit dramatically—distraught by these circumstances. In fact, he is too distraught to continue reading the journal any further, which . . . oy . . . but we’ll come back to that later.
Despite his serious misgivings, Kathy (Janet Leigh) and her assistant Sandy decide to go ahead with the centennial celebration anyway. Most of the town is there when the deadly fog starts rolling in. Stevie, who listened to her schmuck phone-boyfriend get killed, is terrified when the fog begins to envelop her home. (She’s not there herself. She’s still at work in the lighthouse.) She goes on the radio begging someone to save her boy. Nick and Elizabeth do, while the kid’s elderly babysitter is left dead on the porch. Poor old lady. But then, maybe we should ask who it is before we just open the door to some random stranger. Why does no one do that in this movie? I mean, if I can’t see who’s outside on the front step, I’ve been known to not answer my door at all—although, admittedly, I’m usually just trying to avoid salesmen, not homicidal zombie-ghosts.
You might wonder why Stevie didn’t leave the lighthouse and go save her son herself. I just assumed she wouldn’t be able to make it in time, that the distance was too great . . . until she says something like, “I’m sorry I didn’t come for you, that I wasn’t there. Please understand. I have to stay here. The fog is moving inland, away from the beach, towards Antonio Bay.” Stevie, did you really just choose your figurative lighthouse keeper role over trying to save your own son? Unacceptable. You know what that gets you?
Stevie starts warning people to get back inside, that there’s something in the fog. She actually starts naming streets, you know, “It’s moving down tenth street,” like, how ridiculously good are your eyes, woman? Aren’t those street signs, like, tiny? She warns people on the road that their only safe option is to drive up to the church, which is what Nick, Elizabeth, Kid, Sandy, and Kathy all do.
I have thoughts about this too:
A. A few minutes ago, there were still a bunch of people out because of the centennial celebration, but we never see what happens to any of them. Presumably, they survive because the ghosts only need to kill one more person to complete their goal of six, but it bothers me that we don’t even get a reaction shot of someone running or locking themselves inside a bakery or something.
B. Plus, I just don’t buy it. I know the ghosts are headed towards the church for a reason, but the whole town is enveloped in fog . . . are we really saying that the ghosts couldn’t manage to kill one measly townsperson before all this nonsense happens at the church?
C. I also don’t buy that everyone in the town would believe the crazy lady on the radio talking about monsters in the fog. Nick and Elizabeth have seen these guys, so at least they have some knowledge of what they’re dealing with. Sandy and Kathy, on the other hand, only know that a horrible atrocity happened in the town a hundred years ago, and that a boozy priest was muttering something about a curse—which, likely, they did not take literally. I’m not saying the two would park the car and start skipping through the fog or anything, but I don’t really believe that they would drive up to the church just because some DJ told them to, either. (And that extends to the rest of the town as well. If you followed every command you heard on talk radio . . . well, you’d probably be a very scary person.)
Well, regardless. Everyone meets up with Father Malone at the church. As the zombie-ghosts attack, Nick looks at the journal, the one Father Malone couldn’t bear to finish reading (pussy), and they find a gigantic gold cross hidden in the church that the founders had stolen from the lepers. And two notes on that:
A. Did these guys really melt down all the lepers gold to make a gaudy cross that they hid inside the walls of the church? WHY? If you’re not going to display it—and wow, even if you did, that’s such a waste of money—why didn’t you just use go use that money to party it up and buy some fancy swag or something? And for God’s sake, how rich were these lepers? The founders stole enough riches to build a church, change a tiny settlement into a thriving town, and make that ugly monstrosity of a cross? Damn.
B. The giant gold cross really is one of the more ridiculous looking things I’ve ever seen in my life.
Father Malone attempts to sacrifice himself, holding out the super glowy cross in both hands. The ghosts take the cross from him and disappear. Everyone is saved! Yay! (Although Stevie ominously warns everyone that the fog could come again, which . . . Barbeau does what she can with the speech, but it’s a dumb speech. I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe that waxing sinister and vaguely poetic warnings is anyone’s immediate reaction to surviving ghost-pirates trying to kill you on top of a lighthouse. For Christ’s sake.)
Of course, she proves to be right. Sometime later (presumably that night), Father Malone is alone in the church, wondering why the ghosts didn’t go six for six and kill him too. And then the fog is back—like instantly—and Father Malone turns around to run into Captain Ghost Blake, who draws his sword and swings, presumably decapitating the priest. Which, thank God. I still think the “ghosts want to kill six random people as representatives of the six founding fathers who slaughtered them” could have been written so much better, but at least it didn’t become “actually, while we like killing people, we can’t lie: we’re really just here for the giant, ugly cross that didn’t come up until the last ten minutes of the movie.”
That would have been much, much worse.
Highly atmospheric horror film with a sloppy story. Decent acting. Good scares. Pretty enjoyable for the most part, but falls apart at the end. Probably a better movie to watch if you don’t give the plot much serious consideration—or any consideration at all.
Er, don’t be a schmuck who kills people for having the audacity to be diseased, rich, and in your general proximity? Also, find out what your ancestors were up to, because apparently ghosts have no problem punishing people up to the third generation. Or punishing people who just happen to live next to the guy whose grandaddy was a gigantic, murderous tool. Somehow, that seems spectacularly unfair.