‘The Fog’ Makes a Compelling Case for Why Less is Sometimes More

The Fog, which turns 43 on February 1, is easily one of my favorite supernatural horror films. It is dripping with atmosphere and somehow manages to make a malevolent weather pattern supremely terrifying. Moreover, the flick brilliantly demonstrates that one need not always rely on visceral displays of bloodshed to terrify. No, The Fog makes a strong case for why less is sometimes more. 

The film is set in the present (circa 1980) in the sleepy, seaside town of Antonio Bay. Residents would likely describe the hamlet as a nice, quiet place to hang your hat. However, that dynamic is on the precipice of being disrupted. As it turns out, a century prior, the founding members of Antonio Bay plotted to kill a wealthy seaman who was planning to establish a lepper colony nearby. On the one-hundred-year anniversary of the murder, the sleepy, seaside town is gearing up to celebrate its centennial anniversary. However, a gaggle of vengeful spirits has other plans. The apparitions have returned from a watery grave with the intent of collecting their pound of flesh. Aided by a malevolent fog, the specters prepare to right a historic wrong.   

In its opening sequence, The Fog is framed like it’s being told as a campfire tale. And that seems rather appropriate, seeing as the flick’s narrative very much feels like the kind of lore you may have heard while attending summer camp.  

Screenwriters  John Carpenter (who is at the helm) and Debra Hill (who also produced) are smart to set the film in a sleepy, oceanside town. The kind of place where nothing remotely dangerous ever happens. They lull the viewer in with a false sense of security, almost seeming to suggest that Antonio Bay is nothing more than an idyllic fishing village. And that makes it especially unnerving when evil eventually takes hold and upsets that picturesque vision.

While evil certainly manifests in The Fog, it does so by way of atmosphere and suggestion, more so than by any gruesome depictions of carnage. Although the film features some intense sendoffs, the level of gore is nonexistent. That approach is similar to the one Carpenter took in his magnum opus Halloween. Once again, he builds tension by way of smartly crafted ambiance, rather than solely by way of bloodshed. 

After establishing a tense and foreboding setup, Carpenter manages to make the fog feel ominous. He uses an eerie score, disquieting sound design, and camerawork that masterfully frames the fog as if it is closing in on the residents of Antonio Bay. Not many films have managed to succeed in making a weather pattern feel threatening. And those that have successfully done so were working with more than just fog, which is literally just a low-hanging cloud of condensation. 

The apparitions that lurk in the fog are shown largely in silhouette. We rarely see more than a shadow with glowing eyes until the denouement. That allows the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blanks until all is revealed. And that approach works to profound effect in The Fog

In the final act, the titular fog takes on a glowing quality and the specters that accompany it find their way into Antonio Bay and leave a trail of havoc in their wake. The results are spooky and a lot of fun to watch.

As the film progresses, Carpenter gradually builds momentum leading to a harrowing third act. And that approach works to great effect, seeing as we have an exceptionally likable cast of characters carrying the narrative during the first two-thirds of the picture. In fact, I might go so far as to say that The Fog features one of my favorite casting lineups from ‘80s horror. Not only do the characters make for enjoyable company, but the talent bringing the small-town residents to life is also comprised of a veritable who’s who of genre cinema icons.  

The flick’s killer cast includes the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis as hitchhiking artist, Elizabeth; Adrienne Barbeau as velvet-voiced radio DJ, Stevie Wayne; Tom Atkins features as Nick Castle, a local man investigating the disappearance of a friend; and Janet Leigh appears as Kathy Williams, who is scrambling to orchestrate last-minute details around the town’s centennial celebration. We also get to see frequent carpenter collaborators George ‘Buck’ Flower (They Live) and Nancy Kyes (Halloween III: Season of the Witch) appearing in smaller supporting roles. This is truly a top-notch cast. 

The Fog is a staple of ‘80s horror and an atmospheric good time. The film offers up an impressive cast of familiar faces and ultimately manages to serve as a testament to how atmosphere can be just as terrifying as the visceral.  



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