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The Past Comes Alive with Frightening Results in John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’

Peter Rugh Oct 25

Antonio Bay is a small town with a big problem. It seems the California fishing village was founded on treachery and murder. Now its past is coming back to haunt it in the form of a mayhem-inducing, killer fog that threatens to engulf everything in its sights.

“Sounds like America,” a friend remarked when I described the plot of this John Carpenter re-release to him the other day.

I’m generally not one for reducing movies solely to their immediate political relevance, but yeah, he has a point. We committed a genocide not so long ago that we tend to overlook in favor of neatly rhyming nursery narratives about how “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.” Now the marauders wear red MAGA hats and cheer on a president who has to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before he can condemn the carving up of journalists with bone saws. Meanwhile, global warming has been wreaking havoc on Florida this hurricane season where it is illegal for state workers to say “climate change.”

Our country is a bit cloudy headed these days. But at least The Fog is here in pristine form, thanks to this 4k restoration of this four-decade-old classic.

The past is washing up on Antonio Bay. It’s sticking fish hooks in drunken sailors, horny weathermen and other upright citizens — not to mention screwing with the tape deck at the town’s only radio station, where a sultry-voiced disc jockey (Adrienne Barbeau) offers up smooth jazz, bizarrely numerous time updates (but hey, it pays to know when the witching hour comes around) and weather reports that grow increasingly terrifying.

Jamie Lee Curtis rushes on the scene as if still escaping Michael Myers — John Carpenter shot Halloween just prior to The Fog — and, perhaps to dispel more of the feminist criticism that Curtis’ virginal survival abilities in the slasher classic garnered the auteur, gets laid right away. That of course, doesn’t stop her from clinging to her man the rest of the film, a plaid- and leather-clad Tom Atkins, but in the 1980 horror universe where The Fog roves, a heroine reveling in casual sex was risky business.

“Things just seem to happen to me,” Curtis opines at one point. That’s got to be the understatement of the century, but I won’t spoil the fun and reveal whether she makes it to the credits.

The great Hal Holbrook plays a priest who is a little too fond of the sacramental wine. Owing to the sins of his grandfather, however, it’s not the blood of Christ the demons in the mist are after but his — that and their plundered booty. All of which is to say he is not in much of a mood for offering a benediction at the town’s scheduled 100-year anniversary celebration.

There’s a lot to the film’s plot that doesn’t quite add up or at least isn’t explained, but that’s as easily overlooked as a brine-soaked corpse stalking you in the thick of the brume — particularly when you factor in Carpenter’s creepy music and Dean Cundey’s eerie camera treatment of Point Reyes where The Fog was shot. The actors deliver their dialogue, written by Carpenter and his partner Debra Hill, with enough seriousness to make you care for the characters, even if the words they utter are dripping with an enjoyable dose of camp.

It is with clear heads and a heavy crucifix that Holbrook, Curtis and the rest of the cast must band together and confront Antonio Bay’s dark history before it lays them to waste.

America too has some confronting to do these days. Perhaps the witches of Bushwick can lift the curse. In the meantime, thanks to this restoration we can look back upon quainter times when all one had to worry about was the weather taking a turn for the murderous. Oh yeah, climate change. Yikes. So goes Antonio Bay, so goes the nation. Keep your eye on the fog.

The Fog (1980)
Directed by John Carpenter
Opens at the Metrograph and theaters nationwide on Oct. 26.


Photo: Tom Atkins, Ty Mitchell and Jamie Lee Curtis in John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980). Courtesy: Rialto Pictures/Studiocanal.