John Carpenter’s 1980 horror film “The Fog” is about passengers on a ship that return from the dead to seek revenge on the relatives of 6 men who tricked them to their death 100 years earlier. Oh, and to find their booty. Er, gold. And to answer your question: Yes, I’m afraid “The Fog” really is as dumb as it sounds.
Adrienne Barbeau stars as Stevie, a single mother and radio DJ in the small California coastal township of Antonio Bay. The old homestead is about to turn 100, and the town plans to celebrate that event when a strange, glowing fog begins to roll inland. It is revealed that the fog hides pirate ghosts (!) within it. Before they will leave, the ghosts must kill 6 people (representing the six conspirators that killed them), as well as retrieving their gold. Besides Stevie, the only people who knows what’s going on and has any hope of stopping the ticked off ghosts are tough guy Nick (Tom Atkins), hitchhiker Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis), and a boozing priest (Hal Holbrook). Can you say, “That’s a nice hook you have there, Mister Pirate Ghost”?
“The Fog” is the kind of movie that John Carpenter is most known for, which is unfortunate because the man has done some great work with the claustrophobic “The Thing” and the wickedly enjoyable “Big Trouble in Little China.” “The Fog” is campy to the core and relies on a basic premise that looks good on paper, but has no leg to stand on when finally transferred to the big screen. (Incidentally, the premise and execution might have worked best as a novel, and not a movie.)
The whole concept of pirate ghosts is a little absurd, but what’s more ridiculous is the fact that these ghosts move with a fog machine — er, I mean, glowing fog — and are smart enough to disrupt telephone poles and power lines, not to mention start up cars and mess with radio systems. For people that died 100 years ago, these guys sure know a lot about modern appliances! Another question one has to ask is this: If the ghosts were ordinary people when they died, why in the world did they come back as pirates, dressed up in pirate uniforms, hats, and carrying hooks and swords? Did they get a wardrobe upgrade while in the land of the dead?
“The Fog” resembles a lot of Carpenter’s other works, most notably “Ghosts of Mars” and “Prince of Darkness,” and also the aforementioned “The Thing.” Carpenter seems to have a thing for Last Stand in a Haunted House movies, which isn’t a bad thing since I also adore the subgenre. It’s not that “The Fog” is a terrible movie, because Carpenter really knows how to make people jump (every now and then). It’s just that, well, the film just isn’t all that scary, and the appearances of the pirate ghosts are at best a little corny, and at worst wholly laughable. (I’m not certain why I should be scared of pirate ghosts that moves like snails and has glowing red eyes.)
There’s very little to say about the acting, since it seems like most of the cast really has no idea if they should be acting scared of the ghosts or laugh at them. Adrienne Barbeau (“The Convent”) has one of the sexiest voices in modern film, but her character essentially does only two things in the whole movie: drive her car to work, and talk on the radio at said work. Jamie Lee Curtis (“True Lies”) doesn’t fare any better, and like the rest of the cast, has no depth to her character at all. Tom Atkins is the obligatory tough guy who gets to bed Curtis and manages some lame action scenes and that’s about it.
Another serious problem is the way all the characters suddenly just accept the whole concept of pirate ghosts returning from the dead to exact revenge and reclaim their lost gold. What, no investigations or doubts? Someone tells them that pirate ghosts have returned seeking vengeance for a wrong done to them 100 years earlier and no one bats an eye? Someone shouts on the radio that a fog is coming to get them, and everyone doesn’t think she’s a kook? It makes you wonder if pirate ghosts appear every other day in Antonio Bay.
(In a particularly silly scene, Barbeau’s Stevie informs the people via the radio about the route the fog is taking as it enters the town, even calling out street names street-by-street, which is an incredible feat especially considering that she is on the beach in her lighthouse and the town is miles away covered by fog!)
“The Fog” is not altogether bad. It provides some nice thrills, especially in the beginning when various things in town start to happen as a prelude to the ghosts’ arrival. Unfortunately the rest of the film goes downhill from there. The point is, if the audience can’t decide if they should be afraid of your ghosts or mock them, then you have a big problem on your hands.
John Carpenter (director) / John Carpenter, Debra Hill (screenplay)
CAST: Adrienne Barbeau …. Stevie Wayne
Jamie Lee Curtis …. Elizabeth Solley
Janet Leigh …. Kathy Williams
John Houseman …. Mr. Machen
Tom Atkins …. Nick Castle