Friday, October 24, 2014

Festival Of Fear: Day 24: Friday Flashback ~ The Fog (1980): The Curse Of Antonio Bay

I can't believe after all these years of writing this blog I've never actually written anything about John Carpenter's The Fog.  It's one of my favorite 80's films, with atmosphere galore, nasty deaths, and Adrienne Barbeau, people!

(If you stare at this picture long enough, the ocean will appear to move...)
Antonio Bay is a gorgeous yet sleepy seaside village in California that is about to celebrate its centennial with several planned festivities. But just as plans are being finalized and last minute details are being discussed, strange things start to occur.   Local priest Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) notices a piece of stone falling from the old church in town, and in the gaping hole he discovers a journal written by his own grandfather a hundred years ago.  It tells of the six founders of the town and the plot they had to prevent a leper colony from putting down roots nearby.  They lit a fire on the beach, causing the clipper ship The Elizabeth Dane to crash into the rocks and sink, sending all the crew on board to a watery grave. As if that wasn't enough, the founders then stole the gold from the ship to fortify Antonio Bay's existence.

The film opened with the token curmudgeon (John Houseman, used to his full cantankerous potential here) telling an old ghost story to a bunch of little kids around a campfire, in fact telling this exact tale and adding that the six founders' descendants would have to pay the ultimate price when they came back 100 years later. Which is of course, that very night.

Meanwhile, resident Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) picks up a hitchhiker, Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis) and heads for town for some late night fun.  They are shocked when driving into town, the windows in the car suddenly all shatter. All across town, weird things begin to happen.  Electronics go haywire.  Pay phones all ring at the same time. Windows fracture and break out. 

As a disc jockey set up in the town's lighthouse, Stevie Wayne (Barbeau) brings news and jazzy tunes to the inhabitants of the small fishing community by night and tries to keep her son out of trouble by day. On this ill-fated day, her son wakes her by delivering an old piece of wood with the word "DANE" on it to her while she is sleeping.  She drags it along to work with her and is startled when the words 'six must die' appear on the piece of driftwood before it bursts into flames.

Nick and Elizabeth have been helping look for a trio of missing fisherman and soon find the trawler stranded out on the sea with one of the fishermen dead inside with his eyes gouged out.  He has apparently scratched the number "3" in the wood of the deck.  (This indicates to us that he is the third of the six to die.) The boat and the victim also look as though they've been lost at sea for years. The boat is a rusted mess and the victim has decomposed far beyond the effects that just a day or so would produce.

As the town's special evening draws near, Father Malone corners the event coordinator Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh) and explains to her that they can't possibly continue with their plans, as they are celebrating the origins of a town founded on the murders of the doomed sailors.  He shows her the journal and tells her that the crew of the Elizabeth Dane intends to come back and seek vengeance for their murders.

Stevie begins to warn both sailors on the sea and residents of Antonio Bay alike that the inexplicable and strange fog is beginning to roll in and envelope the town.  Homeowners are greeted with a foreboding three-rap knock to their doors and if they dare answer, the ghosts of the crew of the Elizabeth Dane make them answer for the sins of their forefathers.

While not a big-budget horror movie, The Fog still manages to evoke an extremely creepy vibe.  Carpenter knows just when to pounce on wary viewers, and builds the suspense to a fever pitch here.  At once a sinister film, it produces the desired "ghosts-from-the-sea" effect by having glowing eyes and seaweed-draped clothing as they ramble, zombie-like, from place to place looking for their 20th century victims to seek retribution on.

Nowhere near as effective as Carpenter's Halloween (1978), it still branded him as a leading talent in the horror genre, a title he would keep for years to come.  The Fog  feels basic at best, but if there is a better tale of vengeful ghostly sailors out for blood, I need someone to let me know right away, because as much as I enjoy this take on it, I'd be sure to love anything else that seemingly betters it.   My favorite place in the world to vacation is the ocean, and I love horror movies with my entire heart, so the combination of the two makes me a very happy camper.

[Oh, and FORGET the 2005 remake, it's a lousy shell of the original, even though Carpenter and his producing partner, the late Debra Hill, had a hand in it.  Stick to the authentic Fog, and let it roll in and wrap you in its blanket of creepy goodness.]

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