Watched May 25, 2012
Adam Moody’s review:
Still fresh off the success of his masterful horror classic, Halloween (1978), John Carpenter stalls a bit with this aged, atmospheric chiller. A genuinely creepy camp fire ghost story - told in less than five minutes to open the film - turned into an utterly forgettable 90 minute film. Not a lot happens, and there is plenty of drag in-between frights and thrills. Many of the problems arise from the very limited reach that the story allows. A cursed fog inhabited by demonic sailors seeking vengeance isn't a plot that can be delved into too deeply. After a couple of appearances the fresh novelty appeal begins to wear off and all that is left is a mediocre excursion into a visually impressive, but immensely bare genre piece.
It doesn't help that the effectiveness is constantly hindered by one-dimensional characters that provide nothing more then just being able bodies ripe for the kill. Furthermore, Adrienne Barbeau's performance is generic and full of non-stop and painfully forced screaming. Jamie Lee Curtis and Hal Holbrook both have appealing, but unfortunately underused appearances. It's hard to be surprised that none of the characters or performances stick out in any way considering that the script - co-wrote by Carpenter and Debra Hill - is unimpressive and terribly formulaic. Surprisingly, Carpenter is known for being one of the few horror-oriented directors whose films consistently feature well developed characters, so the complete lack of character development here is a rare misstep.
Nonetheless, Carpenter does showcase some technical mastery; the atmosphere that creates the titular fog is haunting force that makes the figures that lurk in its vapory shadows have a fitting boogeyman effect. Over the years, even now during his ugly fall from grace, we have grown accustomed to his films being visually stunning. But this film was made before even his ever-growing group of fans could unconsciously expect to be dazzled with stunning cinematography - superbly done by Dean Cundey - or haunting atmosphere. Two genuinely creepy and well-crafted scenes almost mirror each other. The first being the onslaught of a fishing boat and the second being the gloriously tense church showdown. Those two scenes contain the special qualities a horror classic needs, but the rest of the film just drags and mopes along, not really sure where it's going or what its wants to do - confirmed by the anti-ending.