The Fog (1980)

Directed by John Carpenter

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It’s a simple story.  In a small coastal town it’s the 100th year to the day that the town was born and something spooky once happened.  As a result there is a ghostly curse which calls for six people to die, and the quickly established cast of characters must buck the odds and the fog and try to avoid dying at the hands of silhouetted ghost pirates.

The story is similar to other John Carpenter horror/slashers, with the cast slowly picked off one at a time.  Several of them, in unknown preparation for their murder scenes, demonstrate some quality that suggests they deserve what’s coming.

At the heart of it, as usual, is someone pure, whether a child or a kind, helpful adult.  They are close enough to the horror to eventually see it coming and to survive it in the end.  Their journey is about coming close to the edge but living long enough to find meaning in the terror, or something along those lines.  They are some kind of biblical figure, meant to observe and to learn in order to tell the tale to future generations.

In The Fog it’s Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), a radio DJ with as much influence in the small town as the Wolfman in American Graffiti.  Her voice resonates through town where everyone seems tuned in, at first for the comfort of her voice on cold nights and later on for important information about the imminent danger.

Two other main characters are a trucker and a young hitchhiker (Charles Cyphers, Jamie Lee Curtis) who meet, survive a scare, sleep together and then work together to save Stevie’s young son in the third act climax.  They are the soldiers on the front lines, so to speak, while Stevie is something like a military general, barking orders (or pleading for help) over the radio.

Antonio Bay, where the story takes place, seems like a pleasant home were it not for the suddenly vengeful spirits.  It bears some similarities to Bodega Bay where Hitchcock’s The Birds took place, and it seems that the horror of these two films is meant to be amplified by the contrasting serenity normally associated with such seaside villages.

The characters of The Fog can in no way suspect what is about to happen.  If you’re looking for causality between the threat and the world of this story, it might have something to do with man’s greed and takeover of the natural world.  Or maybe it doesn’t.  All I know is that the threat is made to have been in place going back 100 years, making it all feel predetermined.  There is no cabin in the woods, no group of drinking, partying teenagers who do something to cosmically earn their gruesome deaths.  Instead it’s just a few wholesome enough people who are unlucky to live in a particular time and place that demands the lives of six people.

Maybe it’s a form of natural selection because once the spirits get what they want, they retreat back out to sea (save for a final, exciting and jarring image to close the film), like the calming of a destructive storm.  All will be quiet for now, but the characters know that such a thing could strike again.  It’s no different then hurricane season or a particularly deadly heat wave.

The hope within this film comes from the ways the disparate characters work together.  Strangers become friends (or more), and characters who have never shared any screen time collaborate to save the life of a child, which, well isn’t that the ultimate form of cinematic purity, to save a child’s life?  It’s at least a short cut to saying “look, they’re heroes.”

The town of Antonio Bay will live to see another 100 years, it seems, and the characters are now all the wiser, prepared for the next time there’s a storm on the horizon.  Right?  Or did I miss something about this otherwise silly B-horror movie?

Up Next: The Ritual (2017), The Rover (2014), Poltergeist (1982)

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