“To the ships at sea who can hear my voice, look across the water, into the darkness. Look for the fog.”
I’m not a fan of horror movies. I really don’t like gore or excessive violence in a horror film (or any other, for that matter: I tend to hit fast-forward if it goes on for too long). But there are two movies I love that are classed as “horror”.
One of them is John Carpenter’s Halloween, and the other is this one – The Fog from 1980, the second film Carpenter made after Halloween.
There’s no gore anywhere in the film. The six deaths all happen off screen. There’s not much budget. The Fog itself is a smoke machine pouring over the set. The undead inhabitants of The Fog aren’t seen except in brief moments, and then mostly as silhouettes and shapes.
In short: there’s nothing in this film that should make it any more than a tame B-Movie.
But here’s the genius of it: None of that matters. Carpenter takes what he has and ratchets up the tension and isolation of the characters until you’re locked into the movie and it carries you right to the (literal) killer of an ending.
There’s a haunting (that’s the best word for it) sense of utter emptiness that fills the landscape of the film. The movie feels post-apocalyptic, like these people are the last remnants of humanity, cut off from the world by the enveloping Fog. There’s no help for them coming anytime soon.
Our movie watching experiences tells us that California shouldn’t look like this. Something is wrong about these solitary beaches and deserted skies and landscapes. They should be filled with beautiful people and happy sunbathers, but instead Carpenter fills the screen with emptiness and a sense of foreboding with his eerie soundtrack.
In one scene, the main character drives from her home to the lighthouse where she broadcasts her radio programme. There’s no dialogue but a radio announcer and a voice on a tape. There’s nothing but the keening sound of the wind and the empty, empty landscape. And always, always, the sea is there, almost seeming to watch and wait for the night and The Fog we know is coming.
In another, a young boy walks along a completely deserted beach. There’s nothing there but the sense of an ocean watching him and waiting for him. It is eerie and somehow unsettling, and it works wonderfully well.
It’s left to our imaginations that fill in the blanks of what’s going on, and that’s what works best for me in a horror film. Like The Woman in Black, it’s what we’re expecting that keeps us watching for The Fog to come rolling towards us.
So rent it for Halloween, turn the lights down low, curl up under a blanket and wait for midnight…
…and if you hear an odd knocking at your door…probably best not to answer it.