The Fog was John Carpenters first film with a modest budget (ie. more than a million dollars) and the backing of a studio. It is one where Carpenter is clearly torn between the pressure to create another Halloween and the desire to do something different. While The Fog is not quite up there with Halloween, Carpenter manages to pull off some great individual fingernail-biting moments Jamie Lee Curtis in a truck that is skidding in the mud as the ghostly seamen close in around it, people hiding as the ghosts batter at their doors; and an extremely tense climax with the seamen chasing Adrienne Barbeau across the roof of a lighthouse. Carpenter also creates a number of hauntingly otherworldly images of the glowing fog moving across the bay, and especially the image of the ghost ship appearing out of the fog, passing the fishing boat silently by as though it was ship carved out of ice and all lit up. Carpenter sets the initial scene perfectly with the framing device of a campfire tale about the story of the Elizabeth Dane being told by old seadog John Houseman, which pulls away just as the town bells strike midnight and things start happening of their own accord car alarms going off, glass breaking, dogs barking. Carpenter also delivers another of his eerily haunting scores.
On the other hand, John Carpenter never fully winds The Fog up with the same seat-edge tension of Halloween. There is never the same sense that Halloween had of something potentially lurking in every corner of the frame and likely to pop-up with a big boo at any moment. While The Fog is a film that delivers some very tense and eerie moments, it is never one where John Carpenter is engaged in a single-minded series of games with the audience. The ghosts (which may have owed their inspiration to the zombies in Amando De Ossarios Blind Dead series, in particular Horror of the Zombies (1974), the second entry, which was set aboard a ghostly galleon) seem like B-movie zombies without much individual presence.
Moreover, The Fog is a film that exists only in terms of the scares that John Carpenter provides but feels as though it is built on a network of swiss cheese logic when one looks underneath in any way. If the seamen have returned to kill the ancestors of those who were responsible for their deaths, why do they kill a stack of innocent victims as well? What causes the bodies of the slaughtered fishing boat crew to turn up as though they have been underwater for months? What causes the body of one of the slaughtered fishermen to suddenly get up off an autopsy table, especially when such never happens to any of the other victims? If the townspeople wrecked the Elizabeth Dane to get its gold to finance the building of their town, then how come the gold is still there smelted down as a crucifix at the end? Why does a doubloon that Adrienne Barbeaus son find on the beach turn into a piece of driftwood and later start leaking seawater? Halloween, for all that you can say about its slimness of plot, at least had consistency. Part of the problem here though was was due to substantial reshoots on John Carpenters part, after he had decided that the original film he delivered was not scary enough. All of that said, the jumps that Carpenter produces are eerie and unsettling and The Fog is certainly well above average.
The Fog is held together by Adrienne Barbeau, who became John Carpenters wife after first appearing in his psycho-thriller tv movie Someones Watching Me (1978), and gives a strong and intelligent performance. Halloweens Jamie Lee Curtis is also there but relegated to a supporting role. She brings with her her mother Janet Leigh, the original slasher movie victim in Psycho (1960). Other Halloween alumni include Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis.
John Carpenter fans can also enjoy the numerous references and in-jokes throughout. Carpenter thanks former associates by naming characters after them thus we have Tom Atkinss character named Nick Castle after Carpenters production designer and Escape from New York co-writer, later a director in his own right with The Last Starfighter (1984); a sheriffs deputy named Dan OBannon, after Carpenters Dark Star collaborator who later became a prolific genre writer and director, including delivering the script for Alien (1979); and a Mrs Kobritz after Richard Kobritz who had produced Carpenters Someones Watching Me and later Christine (1983). You can also notice a reference to a Bodega Bay the setting for Hitchcocks The Birds (1963); a pathologist known as Dr Phibes after the character in The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971); and an Arkham Reef after the fictional town in H.P. Lovecrafts stories. The Fog should not be confused with the James Herbert novel The Fog (1975) about a madness inducing chemical cloud, a story that would also make an excellent film someday.
The Fog was later remade as The Fog (2005), one of a whole host of modern remakes of 1970s-80s horror films, where it was badly reconceived as a teen horror film and proved a disaster. Here John Carpenter also served as co-producer.
John Carpenters other genre films are: Dark Star (1974); the urban siege film Assault on Precinct 13 (1976); Halloween (1978); the stalker psycho-thriller Someones Watching Me (tv movie, 1978); the sf action film Escape from New York (1981); the remake of The Thing (1982); the Stephen King killer car adaptation Christine (1983); the alien visitor effort Starman (1984); the Hong Kong-styled martial arts fantasy Big Trouble in Little China (1986); Prince of Darkness (1987), an interesting conceptual blend of quantum physics and religion; the alien takeover film They Live (1988); Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992); the horror anthology Body Bags (tv movie, 1993), which Carpenter also hosted; the H.P. Lovecraft homage In the Mouth of Madness (1995); the remake of Village of the Damned (1995); Escape from L.A. (1996); the vampire hunter film Vampires (1998); the sf film Ghosts of Mars (2001); and the haunted asylum film The Ward (2010). Carpenter has also written the screenplays for the psychic thriller Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), Halloween II (1981), the hi-tech thriller Black Moon Rising (1985) and the killer snake tv movie Silent Predators (1999), as well as produced Halloween II, Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), the time-travel film The Philadelphia Experiment (1984) and Vampires: Los Muertos (2002).