Let me get this out of the way: I like The Fog. I like most of John Carpenter‘s work. Carpenter has the unique ability to use wide shots to set the scene, and give everything this sense of place, and contrasts that openness with tight interior locations. The tightness of those interior shots — or, in the case of The Fog, using the fog itself — is all the more intense when the viewer’s been made aware of the freedom right outside.
Carpenter’s score for any film is what ratchets up the tension to near-unbearable levels, and it’s much the same here. The minimalistic tones of its keys and synths are offset by the upbeat jazz tones broadcast by the San Antonio Bay KAB radio station, much in the same way that the wide-open shots are offset by the tight, close-up interior shots.
The Fog is just … tense. It has more in common with Hammer horror than anything else, really. It’s very much a ghost story, in the vein of the one that starts the film itself. Everything moves at slow speed, building up to a climax, with its occasional shocks and frights hidden in shadow, rather than presented in gory Technicolor. It builds up to a big reveal at the end, as one would expect, but the lead-up to it is slow and steady.
And can we talk about Tom Atkins? I mean, all the posts this week are movies in which he features, but why didn’t he ever become a bigger star? My guess is that, while a decent actor, and featuring some rugged, James Garner-style looks, he never really showed how charming and badass he could be until well towards the end of his career, with Night of the Creeps.
The Fog‘s likely not a good showcase for his talents, because there’s no real lead. Ostensibly, Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis are the principles, but it could just as easily be Hal Holbrook as the priest, or Adrienne Barbeau as the KAB DJ. It’s such an ensemble piece, and everyone’s character is so broadly drawn, that nobody in the film ever has a real chance to outshine the others.