GUEST MOVIE REVIEW: The Fog

This is the first in a five-part series by author CM Saunders where he discusses with us his top five 80s horror picks. I hope it encourages you to either watch (or maybe re-watch) some old classics. I know it really helped me to get some of my Halloween spirit back this year, and since Halloween isn’t over until I say it’s over, you’ve got plenty more time to sit back and enjoy these.

Top 5 Eighties Horror Flicks #5

Title: The Fog
Year of Release: 1980
Director: John Carpenter
Length: 89 minutes
Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh

Any horror movie aficionado of a certain age will tell you that the eighties were a special time. Yes, some of the music was questionable and the fashion sense largely atrocious. Plus, there was no internet meaning that you had to physically go to shops to buy things. There were no cellphones, either, so you usually had to go by yourself. Crazy, I know. But the movies were something else. What they lacked in special effects and CGI they more than made up for in wit and atmosphere. That’s why I’ve decided to mark this Halloween spooktacular with a rundown of the top 5 horror flicks of the decade. You’ll probably be familiar with most of them. If not, seek them out immediately. Despite the big shoulder pads and spiky hair, you won’t be sorry.

One more thing before we get started; this list, as with most lists, is entirely subjective. If you don’t like it, make your own damn list.

Following the success of Halloween two years earlier, John Carpenter was considered hot shit in Hollywood and virtually given free license to do what he wanted on the Fog, albeit on a modest budget. He didn’t disappoint. Being sandwiched between Halloween and Escape from New York the Fog is often overlooked, but remains one of the jewels in carpenter’s crown. 

As the Californian coastal town of Antonio Bay nears its hundredth anniversary, paranormal activity begins to rocket. When a huge chunk of masonry falls out of a wall in his church, town priest Father Malone (Holbrook) finds his grandfather’s journal hidden in the alcove. When he reads it, he uncovers a terrible secret. The original townsfolk, led by Malone’s grandfather, deliberately sank a clipper ship, the Elizabeth Dane, and plundered it for gold, which was then used to establish the town and build the church. Cut to the present day, and a fishing boat is out at sea when it is engulfed by a mysterious glowing fog. You guessed it, there’s something in there. Specifically, it’s the Elizabeth Dane, and her very angry (and very dead) crew.

The heart and soul of San Antonio is the local radio station, seemingly managed by Stevie Wayne (Barbeau) all on her lonesome. The radio station is set up in an old lighthouse, meaning Stevie is in pole position to see the glowing fog, which suspiciously moves against the wind, approach the town. Weatherman Dan helpfully calls to tell her about it, but unfortunately, Weatherman Dan could make a strong case for being the stupidest man in the world and he is dead moments later. Instead of just calling it a night and going home, Stevie then takes to the airwaves to implore any passing strangers to go to her house, address provided, to save her son who is stuck there with the soon-to-be-dead babysitter. A short time later, she apparently gives up on him altogether and shifts her attention to saving the villagers instead who have gathered for a Centenary celebration. In an apparent attempt to help the crew of the Elizabeth Dane find them quicker, she tells them all to gather in the church where an epic showdown takes place.  

As well as writing, directing, and even pulling off a brief cameo role, John Carpenter also composed the musical score. I didn’t notice the significance until I sat down and actually listened to it. It consists of the usual deep, ominous, brooding tones, which are then mimicked by lighter tones. Same chords, different tones. When I thought about it, that effect conjured up the notion of being stalked or followed, which I imagine to be an effective tool to use on the subconscious whether intentional or otherwise. The music is instrumental (boom!) in making the Fog such an atmospheric, satisfying, well-made chiller. The plot is ultimately a tad predictable, but there’s just enough gore and jump scares to keep things interesting.

The fate of the Elizabeth Dane is said to be based on that of an actual wrecking which took place off the coast of California near the town of Goleta in the 19th century. This particular kind of skulduggery appears to have been mercifully rare in America. However, it was a lot more prevalent in Britain (LINK). John Carpenter also claimed to be partly inspired by a visit to Stonehenge with his co-writer/producer (and then-girlfriend), Debra Hill while in England promoting Assault on Precinct 13 in 1977. They visited the site in the late afternoon, and saw an eerie fog in the distance. Though carpenter and Hill worked together on The Fog, Halloween and several other projects, by the time the Fog came to be filmed Carpenter was married to Adrienne Barbeau. Unusually, both Carpenter and Hill were involved in the 2005 remake starring Selma Blair and Tom Welling, which managed to stay more-or-less faithful to the original.  

Trivia Corner:

Worried the film might flop, the distribution company, AVCO Embassy Pictures, spent around $3 million on advertising and promotion, mostly on expensive TV, radio and print ads. They also spent a considerable amount installing fog machines in the lobbies of cinemas where the film was showing. That was almost three times the amount the film cost to make. However, the gamble paid off as it generated over $21 million at the Box Office.

On the 13th of every month I put a fresh spin on a classic movie in my RetView series over at my blog. Go here for the archive.

Boo-graphy: Christian Saunders, a constant reader who writes fiction as C.M. Saunders, is a freelance journalist and editor from south Wales. His work has appeared in almost 100 magazines, ezines and anthologies worldwide including Fortean Times, the Literary Hatchet, ParABnormal, Fantastic Horror, Haunted MTL, Feverish Fiction and Crimson Streets, and he has held staff positions at several leading UK magazines ranging from Staff Writer to Associate Editor. His books have been both traditionally and independently published.

The fifth volume in my X series featuring ten (X, geddit?) slices of twisted horror and dark fiction plucked from the blood-soaked pages of ParABnormal magazine, Demonic Tome, Haunted MTL, Fantasia Diversity, and industry-defining anthologies including 100 Word Horrors, The Corona Book of Ghost Stories, DOA 3, and Trigger Warning: Body Horror.

Meet the local reporter on an assignment which takes him far beyond the realms of reality, join the fishing trip that goes sideways when a fish unlike any other is hooked, and find out the hidden cost of human trafficking in China. Along the way, meet the hiker who stumbles across something unexpected in the woods, the office worker who’s life is inexorably changed after a medical drug trial goes wrong, and many more.

Also features extensive notes, and original artwork by Stoker award-winning Greg Chapman.

Table of Contents:
Demon Tree
Revenge of the Toothfish
Surzhai
The Sharpest Tool
Something Bad
Down the Road
Coming Around
Where a Town Once Stood
The Last Night Shift
Subject #270374
Afterword

X X2 X3 X4 X5

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