Sunday, October 7, 2012

31 Horrors: The Fog (#5)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

When finding films to watch this October, I scoured some friends' collections (as well as my own - a former habit of buying stuff sight unseen finally comes in handy!) and public libraries for some doozy titles. Along the way I became frightfully disappointed in myself that it had taken me so long to see some of these films (one upcoming title, however, I have deliberately been putting off, but I think maybe the time has come for it). In the case of The Fog I was triply upset with myself since a) I love Halloween, b) I've heard a lot of great things about it, and c) while I'd never seen the original I had in fact seen the dreadful remake from a few years back. I don't remember anything from it other that its complete awfulness and that it starred... I'm going to say Tom Welling, but I may be wrong.

Okay, a quick bit of research informs me that it was indeed Tom Welling. More research informs me that it was a disappointingly shirt-covered Tom Welling at that. What a jip.

So when I discovered my friend and neighbour had a copy of John Carpenter's 1980 original on Blu-ray, I jumped on it. Not literally, but you get the picture. Watching it right after the lacklustre French import, Livid (more on that on later in the week), I was so pleased. It's the best of the horror films I've watched this month so far and a very under-appreciated gem. Perhaps it's not spoken of much because Carpenter himself isn't overly pleased with it. The back story to this film is rather fascinating - a movie doing so many reshoots in today's day and age and the memory would haunt it, but did anybody going to see this effective horror thriller know anything of all that? Apparently a third of the finished product was reshot footage, amazingly, and Carpenter still thinks the film suffers from its low budget. I wonder if his opinion changed once he saw the remake he allowed to be made as a result. Yikes.

The story is particularly silly, but novel. Coming on the heals of the streamlined Halloween, The Fog actually does still feel like it's come from the mind of the same man. His way with a widescreen camera at the time for this genre was rather genius and gives the film such a grand scope when it otherwise mightn't have really warranted it. As a result, the beachside locals are gloriously filmed and I particularly adored that one shot of the lighthouse that I like to call a "Reverse Psycho" (below). Those opening shots - that seemingly go on for minutes - of the Californian coastal town of Antonio Bay look fabulous and do a wonderful job of setting up the story of a town that would justifiably be terrified of a rolling fog and who would spend their evenings listening to music that is best described as "smooth jazz muzak".

The original trailer doesn't make anything of a fuss about the film starring both Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh (something receated nearly 20 years later in Halloween H20), but I think it's pretty nifty. Curtis doesn't particularly do much, although hearing that famous scream again is wild, but Leigh is actually very impressive as a townslady intent on honouring a pack of murderous "patriots". Most impressive of all though is certainly Adrienne Barbeau as Stevie Wayne, Antonio Bay's answer to Rick Dees. She's a single mother (unexplained, thankfully, apart from a very minor reference to Antonio Bay being "better than Chicago") who uses her cosy radio-station-in-a-lighthouse set up to help her adopted town and especially her son. Although she foolishly sends the principal characters right up to the church on the edge of town where the fog is quite obviously heading. Silly Stevie!

Who would've thought that casting your wife in the plum role of your shoulda-been shlocky horror movie would pay such dividends. Barbeau, Carpenter's wife at the time, gives the role her all and gives the character such warmth and depth, without ever forgetting her place in a movie about a supernatural mist. I found myself watching this movie and wishing I lived in Antonio Bay where I could ask her to be on her radio program and play all the latest hits from 1980. She'd hire me, of course, because despite her preference for easy listening shite, she'd also be entirely hip and cool. Yes, these are the places my brain goes to. Also: I love how matter of factly Jamie Lee Curtis' hitchhiker falls into bed with Tom Atkins, the man who picked her up on the side of the road. That's love. And by "I love how..." I mean "I'm somewhat troubled by..." of course.

The Fog is certainly fun, and it has a fairly constant chilly vibe, although it is rarely SCARY in the way that, say, Halloween was and is, despite how many times I watch it. Several scenes have a palpable sense of dread, and the leprous ghost pirates look nifty so I consider it a big win. B+

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