Films

Making you scream, for art’s sake

THE FOG Directed by John Carpenter

Richard Corliss February 11 1980
Films

Making you scream, for art’s sake

THE FOG Directed by John Carpenter

Richard Corliss February 11 1980

Making you scream, for art’s sake

THE FOG Directed by John Carpenter

The Fog creeps in on little phosphorescent caterpillar feet—and it means business! It acts as a humid shroud hiding lepers killed 100 years ago by the burghers of a sleepy California coastal town. Now they have returned to wreak revenge on their murderers’ descendants. Is the fog moving through your open window? Don't stick your head out—one slice of their scythes and you're lunch meat. Do you hear a knock on your door? Don’t answer it— the ghosts will do to your body what a Cuisinart does to an eggplant.

The Fog is a fine, funny, scary ghost story that’s sure to disappoint a lot of people who judge movies by how much sense the plot makes and how close the acting is to the Old Vic. In 1978, John Carpenter came out of the night with a $300,000 horror movie called Halloween; it went on to gross more than $50 million and become, dollar for dollar, the most profitable picture ever. What do you do for an encore? Standard advice would be: show Hollywood you’re a class act by abandoning melodrama for something adult and humanist, like Breaking Away. But Carpenter is stick-

ing to “schlock” horror movies and, in doing so, has developed the sleekest, most intelligent visual style to emerge since Martin Scorsese made Mean Streets. What’s exciting and sophisticated in Carpenter’s movies are not the plots (they’re plastic). It’s the mastery of ominous tracking shots in Halloween, of the sensuous zoom in his TV movie Someone Is Watching Me, of invisible editing in The Fog—all of which creates the mood that belongs to film and no other art.

Still you say, “If I want to see art, I’ll go to a museum. I want to see a scary movie.” So go see The Fog. And what makes you jump—when, say, a corpse falls onto the back of the heroine (Jamie Lee Curtis)—is part of what makes The Fog more than just an effective thriller. In the construction of his scenario, in the composition of his shots, Carpenter plays against the clichés of the action film. The shock doesn’t come when or whence you expect it. (Some Carpenter buffs accuse The Fog of falling into formula, grumbling, “This time, the shocks always come when you don’t expect them!”)

The evidence for John Carpenter’s artistry is right there on the screen. Most moviegoers will be too scared to notice. Richard Corliss