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The first time I beheld Fields of the Nephilim’s “Dawnrazor” (http://www.vamp.org/Gothic/Images/images/dawnrazor.jpg), the cover shot immediately called to mind an image from the conclusion of “The Fog” (http://imdb.com/title/tt0080749/). John Carpenter, best known for beginning the teen-slasher craze with his uber-classic, “Halloween”, once again delivers high tension & cinematic prowess in this tale of conspiracy, betrayal, & revenge after death.

Just before midnight on what would be 21 April, an old man (the late John Houseman) sits on the beach in Antonio Bay, a small, coastal fishing town in Northern California, telling ghost stories by campfire to some local children. The last of these stories directly relates to the history of the town, & a resulting legend: on 21 April, 100 years ago, a ship called the Elizabeth Dane headed toward the beach in the waters off nearby Spivey Point. A thick, unearthly fog - the likes of which had never before been seen in the region - rolled in, but through it, the crew could see a light. They assumed it to be a beacon guiding them safely to the shore. Unbeknownst to them, it was, in truth, a fire that had been set up on the rocks. The ship crashed into the rocks, & all the men aboard were killed. Upon their deaths, the fog receded, & never returned. The legend states that if the fog were ever to re-appear, the Elizabeth Dane would rise up, the ghosts of its crew seeking out those who plotted their demise...

I think you can guess where this is going.

At the stroke of midnight, the whole of Antonio Bay falls apart. Car horns suddenly start blaring. Things begin shaking of their own accord. A row of pay phones rings simultaneously. Windows spontaneously break. Dogs bark at seemingly nothing. A sinister-looking fog slowly makes its way across the water, drifting toward the town. And a stone dislodges from the wall of the local church, exposing a hidden tome that reveals the awful truth behind what happened to the men of the Elizabeth Dane.

The film follows a small cast of characters as they contend with the fog & its vengeful spirits, including Nick (Tom Atkins), a local resident; Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis), a hitchhiker Nick picks up; Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), a single mom who owns & operates the town’s radio station, situated at the top of the lighthouse; Mrs. Williams (the late Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee’s real-life mom), the highly-strung town councilwoman whose fisherman husband’s boat has gone missing in the fog; & Father Malone (the wonderfully brooding Hal Holbrook), a half-drunk priest with a dark family secret.

What makes “The Fog” so great is not overt blood, guts, & gore, but just the opposite. While the fog itself becomes almost a separate character, with its ominous iridescence & organic, swirling movement, many of the film’s most violent moments take place in near-total darkness. You see enough of what’s going on for your imagination to take it the rest of the way (what I call ‘implied horror’), but what you don’t see is well made up for by what you hear.

One of my favourite things about “The Fog” is that it is an aural horror film. I can summon up from memory so many of its sounds, each so ingrained in me that hearing them again is like hearing a favourite song after many years, or wrapping myself in an old blanket - familiar & comfortable: the soft, melodic piano strains of the score; a whimper from the throat of a distraught Elizabeth; the distinctive vocal intonations of a tape of radio station promos Stevie plays in one scene. Not to mention the final shot of the film, where sound replaces visual, concluding the story on what, for me, is a fantastic high-note.

It pains me to know that there is a re-make of this film coming out soon, especially since the original more than holds up after 25 years. So before Hollywood screws up yet another cinematic gem, get your hands on a copy of “The Fog”, watch it now (although if you're reading this review in daylight, watch the movie in the dark), & check out this website for some screenshots from the DVD: http://outnow.ch/Media/Img/1980/Fog/.

August 2017

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