Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. Because it’s Horror Week at The A.V. Club, we’re highlighting movies featuring major stars of the genre.
John Carpenter never directed a sequel to Halloween, despite contributing to Halloween II and Halloween III as a producer, writer, and/or composer. But he did follow up his slasher masterpiece by reuniting with top-tier Final Girl Jamie Lee Curtis for The Fog, another movie about a silent, sinister force creeping through a small town over the course of a few days. In doing so, Carpenter upped his scream-queen ante: He not only minted another genre star in top-billed Adrienne Barbeau (later of Creepshow, Swamp Thing, and Carpenter’s own Escape From New York) but called back to a proto-slasher by casting Psycho star (and Curtis’ mom) Janet Leigh in a supporting role.
The mood of The Fog is even quieter than the slow build of Halloween, right down to the introduction of its lead actor. Barbeau’s smooth voice precedes her, flowing over a few scenes before it becomes clear that the disc jockey she’s playing—who broadcasts local weather updates from a lighthouse—is one of the movie’s main characters. Carpenter’s careful scene-setting also includes gorgeous nighttime cinematography from Dean Cundey and an opening campfire story that offers context for the film’s style alongside a quick, elegant primer on what’s supposed to be lurking within that fog.
The supernatural threat coincides with the centennial of coastal California’s Antonio Bay. As townsfolk prepare to celebrate, the fog brings in the ghosts of sailors who were murdered by the town’s founders a century earlier, out for the blood of their oppressors’ descendants. Though the ghost story is well-conceived and the figures cut a striking figure in all that eerie, glowy fog, they can’t help but appear a little nebulous compared to original-recipe Michael Myers. These creepy ghost-zombie hybrids are missing the sense of immediate corporeal danger he provoked. Still, the film’s subtext has aged well, with scenes of town officials proudly commemorating a heritage that’s bloodier and more malicious than anyone is willing to admit.
Curtis, in only her second film, graduates from responsible babysitter to fearless hitchhiker. She brings an instant sense of personality to her first scene with Tom Atkins, who plays the Antonio Bay local she gets involved with on her way through town, and plenty of vulnerability when she has to, say, react to a corpse momentarily rising during its autopsy. Barbeau, too, exudes an easy authority and clear-mindedness that makes her later expressions of terror more effective. As ever, Carpenter and longtime collaborator Debra Hill steer their female characters away from simple exploitation. Curtis literally takes the steering wheel during one climactic sequence.
The Fog almost feels like an alternate universe Halloween sequel, following Carpenter’s abandoned idea to take the franchise in an anthology direction; the director even has Atkins investigating a creepy mystery with a younger woman who inexplicably takes an instant sexual interest in him, two years before Halloween III: Season Of The Witch. Compared to the many pedestrian returns of Michael Myers, the movie makes a strong case that charismatic pros like Curtis and Barbeau (and masters like Carpenter, Hill, and Cundey) might be more valuable assets to the genre than any iconic bogeyman.