Wednesday, October 14, 2009

October Horror Fest #13: THE FOG

Sandwiched between the unprecedented success of Halloween cult classic Escape From New York, John Carpenter wrote and directed this excellent ghost story dealing with undead pirates haunting a sleepy north California coastal town. Despite a limited budget, Carpenter insisted on shooting The Fog in an anamorphic format. This adds to the feel and cinematography of the film considerably, and succeeds in making the movie "bigger" without the budget.

This is really where Carpenter hits his stride. He seems to be at his strongest when he takes on the writer/director/composer roles all at once. The cast is full of familiar faces from his previous films: Jamie Lee Curtis, Charles Cyphers, Tom Atkins, Adrienne Barbeau, and Nancy Loomis all make appearances, as well as screen legends Hal Holbrook and Janet Leigh. Rob Bottin lends his makeup effect wizardy to the ghost pirates, and turn them into something much more than floating apparitions. These are vengeful, murderous spirits than can't be bargained with or escaped from. The fact they are hidden by a glowing green fog much of the time adds to the tension, and when they are finally revealed, the scares pay off big time.

Some people wonder what makes the difference between a good horror film and a bad one. Whether it's Halloween, The Fog, The Thing or any of the others, the answer can be found in most Carpenter movies: character. When the audience can relate to what a person is going through on the screen, the story becomes much more personal. Carpenter's films are driven by strong, identifiable characters. The Fog succeeds in this regard tremendously. Whether it's the tortured soul of Father Malone, Stevie's frantic search for her son or Nick Castle determined to get to the bottom of what's going on, all the characters are well-defined and have a purpose. This is diametrically opposed to the 2005 remake, which should be avoided at all costs.

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