In retrospect, Halloween was as damaging to John Carpenter's career as it was beneficial. It launched the director from low-budget film school graduate to the next great auteur, but it also forever skewed expectations of the man. Carpenter aspired to be the next Howard Hawks -- in style, not quality; regardless of his considerable skill, Carpenter is far too humble to equate himself with one of the all-time greats -- but the rampant success of Halloween forever labeled him as "the horror guy."
Indeed, Carpenter followed up the slasher masterpiece with The Fog, an entry into that curious subgenre of movies in which mist, fog or some other visual impediment brings with it terrible monsters hell-bent on killing anyone caught in the enveloping smoke. Carpenter has never been a particularly gifted writer (at least in terms of plotting; he's a borderline genius when it comes to writing intentionally cheesy dialogue), and such a rigid type of film offers him little leeway. Supposedly, the small town of Antonio Bay is attacked every 100 years by the ghosts of lepers who were led into rocky waters by the old townspeople, who stole their gold and prevented the establishment of a leper colony nearby. This background is explained in the Serious Tension moment of the show, but I can't understand how they know that ghosts return every 100 years to kill six townspeople when the film occurs on the town's centennial anniversary.
Why would Carpenter leave in such a glaring mistake, especially when he demonstrated with Halloween an admirable refusal to give us more information about Michael Myers than we needed (and all of that came in vague generalities about his pure evil)? Whatever the reason, it reflects the overall laziness of the writing, that same carelessness which pervades all of his films but never started detracting from his films until he moved into the turbulent later stage of his career.
Happily, he makes up for this by displaying all of the talent for creating and maintaining suspense that he perfected with Halloween. The ghosts of Blake and his leper crew return to Antonio Bay to claim six souls as vengeance for the six conspirators who led them to their deaths, and three people die in one fell swoop in the first 15 minutes. That slices the body count in half off the bat, yet the other hour of the film doesn't lag.
It also doesn't particularly stand out, either. The ghosts carry with them gruesome nautical instruments, from long knives to great hooks, and Carpenter shoots their murders with the same level of taste that defined Halloween (yes, you read that right: taste). The engulfing, creeping fog will make you sink your fingers ever so slightly into your seat. Naturally, the movie benefits greatly from Carpenter's minimalistic, electronic score. But it also lacks production values, an inexplicable flaw considering the massive success of the director's previous film.
Worst of all, the actors fail to make a lasting impression with their characters. A shame too, as the cast is more than solid: Jamie Lee Curtis, Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Leigh and Hal Holbrook all have major roles, but they look decidedly uncomfortable with the expositional, cheesy dialogue. Curtis perfected the scream queen with Halloween, but she only gets two or three opportunities to properly use those powerful pipes of hers.
Still, I quite enjoyed this forgettable piece of genre fun. Halloween contained a few truly perfect shots (the best and most lasting of which of course being the scene where Michael's mask slowly illuminates behind Curtis), and The Fog has some great set-ups at the end. When the fog envelops the home of DJ Stevie (Barbeau) and threatens her young son, the tension is nearly unbearable thanks to some skillful editing and Carpenter's sense of composition. Likewise, the final onslaught in the church lacks any scale whatsoever but feels like a siege by a gargantuan force once the pacing, placement and music mix. These scenes buoy a decent horror film into an above-average thriller that overcomes its many flaws, but only just.