Welcome back faithful reader, tonight’s offering is a ghost story. Something a little different from all that hacking and slashing we’ve been seeing recently.
What’s that? These ghosts hack and slash too? Great.
There was a run of films that John Carpenter released that probably ranks up there with the all time greats. He released, in order, Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing, wavered slightly with Christine and Starman before bouncing back with Big Trouble In Little China, Prince of Darkness and They Live. He stopped in the meantime to release a couple of TV movies (Including the excellent Elvis starring Kurt Russell), but all in all that’s a pretty great career.
It’s telling that after releasing Halloween Carpenter would stray far away from Haddonfield and to the sleepy seaside town of Antonio Bay. Gone are the oppressive shots of suburban life and instead we welcome the grand vista of the California coast. Right away we feature economic storytelling at it’s finest (I use that term a lot – I’m quite the fan) as an old man tells a ghost story around a campfire one evening. He tells of sailors who crashed into the rocks just off the bay, and who can be seen coming back in the cover of the fog.
This film is unashamedly old fashioned, and barring a couple of (bloodless) close ups it could easily get shown on a Saturday afternoon on TV. I can’t help but feel that was a deliberate choice by Carpenter, as was moving out of the suburbs, to distance himself from what he’d done before. Look at those movies I listed above: Carpenter doesn’t repeat himself once (The closest he comes is writing the screenplay for Halloween II).
It’s also somewhat of a ensemble film, with three separate plot strands. In one, a local DJ spins some smooth jazz early into ‘The witching hour’ but begins to notice strange things about the fog outside, and in the other a hitchhiker (Played by Jamie Lee Curtis) meets up with a local man and get drawn into events happening in the town. Finally, a local priest discovers a secret about his ancestor that ties it all together.
Carpenter weaves in and out of these three stories at his own pace, never rushing to the next kill or scare, and allowing his story to flow naturally. It’s refreshing that it’s not a film for or about teens, hell I don’t even know if teens exist in the world of The Fog. Maybe it’s just Friday The 13th fatigue but it’s great to not have to spend time with some broad caricatures of people. No practical jokers, no stuck up teenagers. Just adults, doing adult things like having sex and drinking beer (Amusingly, Jamie Lee is picked up and jumps straight into the guys bed. But when the guy is played by Tom Atkins you can’t really blame her).
What The Fog has going for it more than anything is atmosphere. Carpenter is a master at creating it, his moving camera seeks it out and captures it. He lets the atmosphere do the work for him, building the joke until he can get to the punchline. It’s a remarkable show of restraint that I don’t think people really have the patience for now, but it makes the payoff all the greater.
I love a good ghost story, sadly they’re few and far between (Or they’re of the SCARY FACE variety) but I hope I get to experience more in the days to come.