The Fog (1980)

In a horror movie, if we open up with a ghost story, you know that at some point, it’ll come true. That’s the general rule, anyway, and it’s also what happens here in The Fog. There were a few people who forced a ship to crash, took the gold aboard, and then funded the town of Antonio Bay. The story tells us that those killed in the crash will come back 100 years later and start killing. This was 99 years and 364 days ago when we join, a day before the town’s centennial.

We meet our characters, although none of them are all that interesting or memorable. One’s the local nighttime radio DJ, one’s a hitchhiker, one’s a priest, one picks up the hitchhiker and they end up becoming friends, while another is a child. That night, directly after the stroke of midnight, things start to happen. Objects move around, car alarms go off, power cuts in and out, and so on. Oh, and a few murders take place on a ship, although we’re the only people to know about that. These disturbances freak people out, but they kind of just move on with their celebration plans. It becomes local gossip, but nothing much more.

And then the fog starts rolling in. It glows too, which tells us that it must be evil. The ghost story, which only we and a few children were told, is coming true. Inside the fog are a bunch of people/zombies/whatever who are out for revenge/fun/murder/whatever. It doesn’t really matter what they really are, or what they’re after, it just matters that they are here, and they have begun killing people. Director John Carpenter seems to think their motivations do matter though, because the final few scenes are spent not in wrapping up the characters’ lives, but in explaining why the fog is there in the first place. Too bad I didn’t care.

What didn’t make sense to me is why the fog didn’t come inland the first time we see it. All it does is kill three people aboard a ship. It’s still the right day, technically, because it was past midnight. So why wait until everyone’s awake? It’s clear that the fog can defy nature, because a point is made about it moving against the wind. Surely it wouldn’t have a problem with daylight. And why is the fog needed anyway? If these things are the undead, surely they don’t need cover to protect them from unarmed civilians.

But then again, these zombies/people/whatever are very polite, knocking on doors before bursting through them. If the people they target wanted to, they could probably run away. They usually don’t though, instead opting for the “let’s open the door because nothing bad can happen” route, with mixed results. Why knocking occurs at all is another thing I don’t really understand, but I’m thinking that I over-think these horror movies far too much, especially when their primary purpose is to scare the audience, something that The Fog succeeds at quite admirably.

This is a movie that works almost entirely because of the atmosphere that is built, in that the fog can show up at any moment, and with it comes people who just want to chop your head off. Maybe they only knock on doors when they know that the people won’t be able to escape anyway. Or maybe it’s done because we know what’s coming, but the characters don’t, and it gives us reason to shout at them not to open the door, as we bite our fingernails in suspense. No, I didn’t actually end up that frightened, but I’ll admit that the atmosphere and mood set work greatly to The Fog‘s advantage.

There are, however, a lot of things that don’t work all that well, and stop The Fog from being anything other than a descent horror film. The characters are all forgettable and moronic, the scares come and go as the please, just like the creatures in the fog, and the explanation as to why they’re here in the first place is completely unnecessary. There’s something to be said about ambiguity, especially when a great deal of time is spent hiding the creatures from the audience, so telling us their motives detracts more than it helps.

I also didn’t care about any of these characters, or hope that they would make it to the end. This isn’t a make or break point, but in this case, it would have been nice. Make some of them endearing so that we want to see them overcome the fog. As it turned out, I just watched them on-screen, and they were like hollow bodies with no real personality or reason to care. It’s not that I wanted to see them die, as it isn’t like I hated them, there just wasn’t anything to them. I couldn’t dislike them because there was nothing to hate, just as there was nothing to like. They were simply there.

It still felt like a lot more could have been done with this premise. For instance, why not just remove the back story and just have killer fog? We learn that it can do some damage, as we watch it destroy generators and power lines. Since that effectively renders the people within it pointless, remove them and just have fog going around killing it, all while trying to figure out how to stop it. That might have worked better, or at least, it would have in my eyes. Maybe I’m wrong, and I guess we’ll never know. (I’m sure there’s a movie out there like that somewhere, but I’m specifically talking this crew and this cast in this location making that movie.)

The Fog suffers from too many problems for it to be considered all that great, but for what it is, it has some good scare moments and a very promising premise. Unfortunately, the characters, logical issues and needless exposition end up taking it from “great” territory and ultimately rendering it simply as “good.” Still worth a watch, especially if you, for some reason, are scared of fog, but not a movie you must rush out and watch.

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