The Fog (1980)
Stars: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis Director: John Carpenter
One hundred years after six townsfolk killed a group of wealthy lepers planning to settle just up the coast, the spirits of the murdered sailors return in a bank of glowing fog to kill the descendants of the six men and reclaim their gold. Much has been written about how director John Carpenter changed the direction of horror with Halloween in 1978, but his next feature (he directed two TV movies in between) was to be an old fashioned ghost story. The quote that opens the film, 'Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?' implies the director's intent to make the film's reality ambiguous. The scene that follows — a group of children around a late-night campfire listening to a story of sailors seeking vengeance — only reinforces this. Although there are fairy-tale implications, the movie is not short on proper scares. The sailors are terrifying, and the fact that they are glimpsed only as shadows or through fog makes their presence all the more threatening and alarming. However, the film's great success lies primarily with the excellently conceived and realized characters. Such high levels of tension cannot be generated without caring for the imperilled townsfolk. One particularly effective device is the single mother and local DJ (one of three female leads) acting as the eyes and guiding voice for the town in her lighthouse-based radio station. From the lighthouse she can see the fog, but is agonizingly isolated and vulnerable. Like a good captain, we worry she might go down with the ship. The Fog is a true classic of horror cinema. A sophisticated character structure marks it out as one of Carpenter's career highlights, and its effective simplicity ensures its place as one of the genre's too.