Tag Archives: John Carpenter

The Fog (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghostly fog haunts town.

As the town of Antonio Bay gets ready to celebrate its 100th year of existence a mysterious fog creeps into the area at midnight and then strange unexplained events begin to occur. The town’s priest Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) finds a secret diary detailing how 6 of the town’s founders intentionally sank a ship 100 years earlier. Now the ship’s ghostly victims have returned seeking revenge by insisting that 6 people from the community must die in order to make-up for the 6 that originally killed them.

John Carpenter’s follow-up to his highly successful Halloween has gained a fervent following, but in the end it really doesn’t amount to much. Maybe my expectations were too high as I had a friend who talked this up as being great, but the scares are lacking despite a good first act that nicely builds the atmosphere and has some effective visuals particularly the shots of the fog rolling in.

The interesting premise though gets ruined by having things explained too quickly. Sometimes a little mystery can go a long way and not knowing what’s causing the strange occurrences and only having it answered at the very end, or possibly not at all, would’ve made it scarier and more intriguing. The backstory makes the ghosts come off like sympathetic victims looking for justice and therefore less threatening. Instead of being this entity with no known boundaries they become logical, emotional beings that makes the scenario too contained and civilized and less intense than it could’ve been.

You wait for things to finally gel, but it never really does. The victims get attacked in a matter of seconds and the camera then quickly cuts away before any blood or violence is shown. The ghosts aren’t seen much either and amount to shadowy figures from a distance when they are with occasional glowing red eyes, but otherwise they lack visual flair.

Having three heroines was a mistake especially since Jamie Lee Curtis seems bored in her role and almost like she didn’t even want to be there. Her real-life mother Janet Leigh conveys far more energy and she could’ve easily been the star with Curtis cut out completely. The two do share a few scenes together, but frustratingly never any lines of dialogue.

Adrienne Barbeau, who at the time was Carpenter’s wife, is okay as a late night DJ working out of a lighthouse, but her over-the-air pleas to her young son Andy (Ty Mitchell) to get out of his house to escape from the ghosts came off as unintentionally funny. The simultaneous climaxes that occur at two different locations with some cast members fighting off the ghosts inside a church while Barbeau does the same inside the lighthouse doesn’t work and if anything the finale should’ve happened completely inside the lighthouse since that was a more unique setting.

The direction is competent and it’s not like this film, which was remade in 2005, is a bad one it’s just not particularly exciting or interesting. The horror needed to be amped up and the pacing quicker particularly as it got into the second act. The only moment in the film that impressed me had nothing to do with the horror, but instead was the shot showing Barbeau walking down a long, winding outside stairwell to get to the lighthouse, which was filmed on-location at the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse in Marin County, California.

 

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Carpenter

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Dark Star (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Four guys in space.

Dark Star is a scout ship used to destroy planets in the galaxy that are considered unstable. Its crew consists of four men: Pingback (Dan O’Bannon) who keeps a pet alien resembling a beach ball in the back storage room, Talby (Dre Pahlich) who spends all his time sitting alone in the ship’s observation deck, Boiler (Cal Kuniholm) who enjoys playing around with the ship’s emergency laser rifle, and Doolittle (Brian Narelle) who spends his time dreaming about being able to water surf again. The men have all spent 20 years on the ship and its begun to take a toll on their mental state as well as the ship’s mechanical framework, which ultimately challenges their survival.

This started as a student project while director John Carpenter and O’Bannon were attending USC’s film school back in 1970 and it was met with such enthusiasm that they decided to lengthen it into a feature film. Although critics at the time loved it the public didn’t, which caused the film to be shown to virtually empty theaters only to finally find a second life on the DVD market where it has now achieved a strong cult following.

Despite being an obvious parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey it doesn’t just play it up for cheap laughs, which why it works. Too many times parodies overplay the comedy elements by using an Airplane-like structure that is just one slapstick gag after another. Here there’s an actual story with character’s motivations that make sense given their circumstances and coming off more like a quirky observation of the psychological effects of space isolation instead of just a cheesy comedy.

The special effects are impressive especially given its limited budget. Sure some of it is tacky including having the ship’s console board made up of ice cube trays turned upside down, or space suits made of muffin tins and helmets worn by the crew that were actually designed for children. Yet there’s a share of cool moments too like the flashing lights used to represent a meteor storm in space or a scene involving a former commander (John Carpenter) kept in cryogenic suspension and even a nerve-wracking moment inside an empty elevator shaft.

The most memorable segment involves an alien that resembles a beach ball with little feet. Initially this looks absurd and makes the film seem too silly, but when the alien manages to escape from its holding cell and begins creating havoc on the ship it starts to seem, as surprising as this may sound, creepy and gives the film a certain chilling edge that was later used as the basis for Alien.

There are enough original moments here for it to be appreciated by just about any sci-fi fan with a funnybone. The fact that the story focuses on the crew’s mental deterioration and the ship’s eroding structure is not all that far off from reality either. Many other big budget sci-fi flicks, in their quest to bombard the viewer with the latest overblown special effects, usually ignore the psychological angle of being trapped on a spaceship for long periods of time would have, which thus gives this movie, as campy as it ultimately is, a certain insightful edge.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 30, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated G

Director: John Carpenter

Studio: Jack H. Harris Enterprises

Available: DVD