Currently in limited release across the country thanks to a new 4K restoration by Studiocanal, John Carpenter's The Fog is a thrilling ghost story. It opens with an old boat captain (John Houseman) telling a story to a group of kids about a clipper ship, Elizabeth Dane, having crashed in a fog 100 years ago because they were drawn into rocks by a campfire. The sailors drowned but are supposed to rise again when the fog returns. And return it does as the town of Antonio Bay celebrates its centennial.
Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) is nearly clobbered by a chunk of his church's stone wall. Hidden inside is a diary from his grandfather that reveals the town's shameful secret. Not sure if the reveal was induced by the ghosts but the screenwriters (director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill) create confusion because even before the fog rolls in, inhabitants are terrorized by the ghosts, so they aren't as tied to the fog as viewers are led to believe. The body count begins with a crew of three fisherman and the ghosts reveal they want to kill six in total. The residents are helpless, and staying out of their grasp seems to be the only safety.
Setting aside it's hard to believe it has taken 100 years for fog to return to a coastal city in Northern California, The Fog is an intriguing, though not completely satisfying, ghost story. As the viewers and some townsfolk learn, the dead sailors have a legitimate grievance over those who wronged them yet not with those on the receiving end of their actions. The ghosts start as monsters, become sympathetic, but revenge turns them back into monsters. Most surprising is their attack on fellow seamen, as innocent as the sailors were 100 years ago.
As he proved with Halloween, his directorial debut, Carpenter understands horror. The movie is filled with marvelous cinematography by Dean Cundey and their use of fog works very effectively to enhance the scares. When the ghosts attack, Carpenter's use of sound and the editing by Charles Bornstein and Tommy Lee Wallace are much more impactful than gory special effects. There are loud noises and jump scares which are par for the course in the genre. The final twist is intended to send the audience out on a high, but is another instance of undercutting the characters.
Even though the story has room for improvement, The Fog is an entertaining horror movie that does a lot of things right. Considering it's been unavailable theatrically for years because of subpar prints, fans and those curious about it should see it before it disappears from theaters.