The Fog (1980)

Fog

Directed by: John Carpenter

Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill

Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh

“Knock knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Death.”
The tagline that I just made up.

•  •  •

The Fog is the story of the most considerate seafaring ghost-lepers ever to stalk the coast of California. Sure these slimy, maggot-faced killers gruesomely stab the villagers of Antonio Bay with rusty boat hooks, but at least they have the courtesy of knocking on the door before entering to kill.

This movie is John Carpenter’s followup to the massively successful and groundbreaking Halloween in 1978. He and his writing partner, the spectacular Debra Hill, set out to create an old-fashioned ghost story that would be a left turn from their recent slasher-film success.

In that they succeeded. The Fog’s monsters are no Michael Myers, and the fear is mainly driven by the super-unrealistic sea fog. Carpenter wants you to fear the unknown by not knowing exactly what’s out there.

But the death scenes are just too much, in that they sometimes feel like they’re ripped from a made-for-TV movie that you might watch just cause you’re bored. As I said before, the lepers are overly polite, and perform a sinister knock on the door before they hack and slash. That gives us about three different times where someone opens the front door, stands in the doorway for 20 seconds asking, “Who’s there?” and then is stabbed through the back as they turn to go back inside.

Is it fun? Oh my god, yes. Is it good filmmaking? Not really.   

Despite some obvious criticisms of the film as a whole, the cast is decidedly stellar. Adrienne Barbeau makes her film debut as Stevie Wayne, the radio host who literally every resident of Antonio Bay is tuned into at all times (1980s!). Stevie Wayne is the film’s badass — a single mom working overtime while also fighting off mutant lepers in her lighthouse radio studio. And although there were other solid choices by the casting department, Stevie Wayne’s character is the only one to move the needle in terms of emotional attachment from the viewer.

Jamie Lee Curtis plays an unlucky hitchhiker who stumbles into Antonio Bay on the wrong night, and Curtis’ mother, Janet Leigh (Psycho, 1960) is the mayor, who is trying to make sure the town’s centennial celebration goes off without a hitch (she fails). It’s great seeing both of these actresses on screen, but their scenes don’t have nearly as much at stake as Barbeau’s.

This is a perfect film for the month of October, but I wouldn’t put it among the many scary movie classics out there. It’s good to catch on TV and see more of John Carpenter’s early work, but it just doesn’t stand up to his other, more popular films.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Pan

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

Written by: Guillermo del Toro

Starring: Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Sergi López

“My mother told me to be wary of fauns.” — Maribel Verdú as Mercedes

•  •  •

Guillermo del Toro is a filmmaking magician, and we don’t deserve him.

Moviegoers haven’t earned a man who would give up his salary to ensure that he could make the film he wanted. Or a man who wrote the English subtitles himself, because he was disappointed with the lack of depth in the translation for his previous films. When directors and writers like del Toro put such care into their projects, we as an audience can do nothing but applaud.

And I did that in spades when I finally sat down and watched this film. I was surprised by the dark and ominous world del Toro created. Not knowing much about Pan’s Labyrinth prior to viewing it, I was under the impression that it was a children’s movie with fantastical creatures and beasts.

It’s got the creatures and beasts, but it is by no mean’s a children’s film.

In situating this dream world amid the immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War (a conflict I admittedly and shamefully have little knowledge of), del Toro does not shy away from the atrocities that occurred between the rebels and Francisco Franco’s army. And to place a child — the wonderful Ivana Baquero as Ofelia — not only right at the heart of that grisly reality but also in a horrifying fairy tale world, Pan’s Labyrinth delivers a fantastically frightening ambiance that any parent thinking of showing this movie to their child should be wary of.

The real magic of this movie, however, is the way the filmmakers brought characters like Fauno and the Pale Man to life. One of my main gripes with movies in the 21st century is their overuse of digital special effects. But del Toro insists on using as much real makeup and mechanical costume design as possible.

Monsters are scarier when you can see that what’s on screen could actually reach out and grab you. The visual realness gives them power over the imagination that digital ghouls just don’t have.

Every time the Fauna appeared on screen I was entranced by the way it moved, and the actor underneath the suit — Doug Jones — brings a slightly unhinged and dangerous element to the character who we are supposed to believe has the best interests of Ofelia at heart. Jones does double duty in the film, also playing the Pale Man in one of the best horror scenes I’ve seen in my life.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a film that demands repeat viewings, and I plan on sitting down with it again very soon. With a director like Guillermo del Toro, I know that there is so much more to discover within the story.