Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Fog

It's shortly before the Witching Hour (read: midnight) as a group of wide-eyed children gather around a campfire on a California beach. Enrapt, they've been listening to ghostly tales by an old seafarer (John Houseman) who looks kind of like a cross between Donald Pleasence and Mickey Rooney. He's got one more tale to tell, and it's about an unfortunate shipwreck that occurred exactly one hundred years ago that evening -- at midnight. A clipper ship which mistook a beachside campfire as the OK signal from the nearby lighthouse perished when it ran across a reef concealed by a fog which was rolling in. There were no survivors. A midnight's tale....the old seafarer tells his tale... After this decently-rendered opening, John Carpenter's 1980 The Fog picks up with genre favorite Adrienne Barbeau as Stevie Wayne, the local radio station's microphone-jockey, delivering her late-night jazz music broadcast (you'd think these people had never heard of The J. Geils Band, The Tubes, or even Stevie Nicks!) on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the founding of Antonio Bay, California. Apparently it's the same locale that what's-his-name on the beach was talking about.
Stevie also happens to own (and broadcast from) the lighthouse-in-residence. And when a sudden fog happens upon the township, some sort of preternatural havoc ensues with various mechanical and electrical appliances in various Antonio Bay homes, shops and vehicles. Good for them they weren't on the sea, where the vengeful ghosts make short work of the three-man crew on a local schooner. During the minor chaos onland, a hitchhiker named Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis) is picked up by a motorist (Tom Atkins). Meanwhile, the local meteorologist (Charles Cyphers) phones in weather reports to Stevie about this mysterious fog. On an editorial note, if these names sound familiar, it's because they're Carpenter alumni. Both Curtis and Cyphers were in the first two Halloween films, and Atkins headlined in the non-Myers third one; Cyphers' weatherman character is named Dan O'Bannon while Atkins portrays one Nick Castle -- a kewpie doll to anyone who can ID those names! She ain't singing a song, if that's what you're thinking. Stevie uses her broadcast microphone to summon help... Local priest Father Malone (Hal Holbrook), in the midst of sipping from his flask of liquor-du-jour, has stumbled upon a diary from his late grandfather, who was also a priest and a founding father of Antonio Bay. It seems that a hundred years ago this very evening, the "accidental" shipwreck that the old Paper Chase codger was talking about during the prologue was no accident at all. Rather, the clipper ship was manned by a group of lepers from a nearby leprosy colony, led by one Blake (Rob Bottin), and the founding fathers conspired to deceive them with the campfire light and allow them to perish on the reefs rather than allow lepers into their midst. And the gold aboard the doomed vessel? The founding fathers recovered that, of course, and funded the chartering of the township with it the next day. Sounds like it's time for another drink, Father Malone. Morning eventually falls, and Antonio Bay is gearing up for its Centennial festivities, with chairperson Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh) and her assistant Sandy (Nancy Loomis) putting together the specifics. Nick and Elizabeth, who've taken a liking to one another on a single night's acquaintance, find the aforementioned schooner adrift on the sea, and the remaining corpse appears quite waterlogged, like he's been underwater for a month and not stuffed in a closet aboard the boat. Stevie's still manning the microphone and the annoying jazz records when night falls again, the fog rolls around for a second go-round, and Blake's got more on his mind than honking some car horns this time. And Drunk Boy--whoops, I mean Father Malone--must finally acknowledge the sins of his forefathers and endeavor to make restitution....which may require his own life. Reckoning time for Father Malone. The vengeful ghosts reveal themselves during the finale. So is The Fog a good film? You bet. Carpenter's follow-up to Halloween from two years prior, it uses the haunted seascape and the remarkable "drifting fog" visual effects to great advantage, especially in 2.35:1 widescreen. Had Carpenter set the tale on October 31st and changed the festivities a bit, this would have been a Halloween II that he would look back upon with fondness.

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