John Carpenter had a tough act to follow when he set out to followup his 1978 slasher flick Halloween. I may not be a fan of Halloween, but even I can recognize the impact the film had, becoming a big grossing genre flick and an influential piece of pop genre work. Carpenter became a cult hero overnight, and following that kind of success the first time out was a challenge.
I happen to think that Carpenter more than met that challenge with The Fog: An eerie, creepy, zombie flick about a town that built itself from the bones and riches of the dead, forced to reconcile its past on its 100 year anniversary, when a deathly fall befalls the coastal town accompanied by the reanimated corpses of the dead that the townspeople had plundered.
Adrienne Barbeau stars in The Fog as Stevie Wayne, a DJ and harbormaster who spins the hits from inside a working lighthouse. Stevie is listened to by everyone in town, but when she receives a piece of a legendary deadman's ship and begins to see visions of death, the town doesn't exactly take her seriously—at least not right away.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis) is new in the town of Antonio Bay. She's just hitched a ride from Nick (Tom Atkins), and along the way, the two are menaced by an eerie presence that blows out the windows of Tom's truck. Investigating nearby, Elizabeth and Nick discover the body of one of three fisherman who died in the midst of the same sinister fog that may be attacking them. Notably, this corpse is missing its eyes.
For reasons, Nick and Elizabeth accompany the body of the dead fisherman to the coroner's office where it suddenly appears to reanimate in front of a terrified Elizabeth. It falls dead when Nick and the coroner return, but with a terrifying warning inscribed on it. Eventually, the town cannot deny that Stevie is right and the town is being menaced by the sins of the past: The dead that they'd hoped would have stayed dead.
For me, and I know this is a minority opinion, The Fog is even better than Halloween in the oeuvre of John Carpenter. The Fog has more care to it, more skilled filmmaking, more detail. Halloween is littered with questionable continuity. While on the other hand, The Fog is a much tighter 89 minutes, filled with fewer legitimate continuity gripes than Halloween.
The Fog has a tension and suspense similar to what George Romero brought to his seminal horror classic Night of the Living Dead. The Fog is similarly a film about the dead rising and Carpenter lovingly lifts touches from Romero's playbook for zombie movies. Carpenter is smart about what he shows the audience and what he implies. Like Romero, he knows that our imaginations are as powerful as his special effects, and he splits the story well between us imagining the horror inside The Fog and the ugliness we actually see outside of it.
The cast of The Fog is also uniformly better than that of Halloween. That's not fair on my part as Halloween earned Carpenter the cache to cast actual recognizable actors where Halloween had to settle for what a low budget could withstand, but nevertheless... Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Adrienne Barbeau, and Hal Holbrook are all terrific in selling the goofy notion of a zombie fog.
It's great that someone thought to do a restoration of The Fog as it is a film greatly overshadowed by the movie that came before it, Halloween, and the hits that followed it, Escape from New York and the legit terror classic The Thing. It's no surprise that in that foursome of movies, The Fog was the forgotten film, but it deserved better.
Here's hoping the 4K restoration revives The Fog among fans of John Carpenter as the cult-classic of genre filmmaking it truly is. This is horror filmmaking of a high order, a tense and scary homage to classic zombie movies and a film that can stand on its own as a delightfully terrifying genre classic.