Shamrock Shakes

Happy Halloween, folks. If you’re in a different time zone or on a different continent maybe you’re already handing out candy. Maybe you’re in a costume yourself hitting the hard cider a little too hard for a weeknight. Either way, here’s to you and that poor man’s Savini makeup effect you’re touting.

I don’t have much today. Just wanted to say have a great All Hallow’s Eve. It’s kind of hard to when the 31st falls in the week. My favorite Halloweens were always the Friday and Saturday variety. There was nothing quite like hitting the streets like a prepubescent Frankenstein or C3-PO and snagging a paper grocery bag full of candy in a little over an hour. Then heading back home to count the loot. After giving all the candy I hated to my dad I’d enjoy a few confections and then figure out what was going to be playing that night. Hopefully something good like Motel Hell, Humanoids From The Deep, Blood Beach, or Howard Hawks’ The Thing. Occasionally I’d get lucky and Halloween would be on, but those ghoulish stars rarely aligned.

Speaking of Halloween, one of my least favorite in the Michael Myers canon was, not surprisingly, the one Michael Myers wasn’t even in. Halloween III : Season of  the Witch was the outlier in the collection as it had nothing to do with Michael Myers. It was instead about a mad scientist that created masks that would turn kids into maggot-infested corpses if they were wearing them just as a crazy commercial would play on TV as they sat and watched. The story was ludicrous and the acting was pretty bad. The mad scientist looked like Herbert Lom in full-on crazy Inspector Dreyfuss mode, while the protagonist was played by Tom Atkins in total “what the hell am I doing?” mode. Like he did in The Fog, he plays a 40-something year old man hooking up with a girl that is old enough to be his granddaughter, so the story relies on the heroism of a dirty, middle-aged man and his various stays in sleazy hotels.

I watched this not that long ago after not seeing it for over 30 years. I have to admit it holds a certain wacky charm that didn’t connect with me as a teenager looking for horny teens to die at the hands of a mentally challenged serial killer the size of a defensive lineman. Halloween 3: Season of the Witch is just this quirky goofball of a movie that borders on something John Waters might’ve made. I can appreciate it for that. And really, who doesn’t love this goddamn Silver Shamrock commercial? The movie’s worth watching just for this. Happy Halloween.

Countdown To Halloween : Indie Horror Films You Need To See

We’re knee deep in the month of October. Things are finally starting to cool down and the foliage is browning and withering like it’s supposed to. We’re also well into the season of horror. Here at the Hubner house there’s been lots of proper horror viewing going on. Some good, some not so good, but it’s always entertaining.

Are you wondering what are some good horror flicks to hit play on this Halloween season? Well let me throw a few your way if you don’t mind some suggestions.

The Void

Imagine a cross between The Thing, Hellraiser, The Beyond, and H.P. Lovecraft and you’re well on your way to falling for this low budget, practical effects smorgasbord of metaphysical horror. Plot is fairly simple: A group of people are trapped inside a rural hospital one gloomy evening when the whole place is surrounded by cloak-wearing weirdos with long daggers. They’re part of some cult that are of course trying to bring some ancient creature back from some other realm. It starts out as your typical jump scare fare with decent enough acting and mood and visuals for miles. Soon enough, though, things go from tense and brooding to just plain bizarre and transdimensional.

This is probably one of my favorite horror films in recent memory. Not because it’s perfect in every way and the effects are mind-blowing, or that the story is solid. It’s pretty much a hodge podge of ideas and cheaply put together practical effects. It’s that the filmmakers just fucking go for it. Who cares if the story makes complete sense, or that the effects are somewhat limited. The acting is done well and the effects look pretty damn good for a shoestring budget. This movie oozes mood and a general uneasiness. If you like your horror a little on the Lovecraftian side of things, look no further than The Void.

The Devil’s Candy

The Devil’s Candy is a disturbing film. There are far more disturbing movies for sure, but this one is pretty disturbing. The story involves a man, his wife, and their daughter buying an old farmhouse on the cheap and being overjoyed at their find that seems too good to be true. The man is a painter and the land has an outbuilding where he has his own workspace to paint commission paintings as well as his own work. He begins to start working on much darker pieces, as if he’s being possessed to do so. They’re upside down crosses, black voids where the faces of screaming children are coming through the darkness. He doesn’t even remember doing the paintings. Meanwhile a large, bald man appears at the house saying that it’s his home. Turns out he lived there with his parents and ended up murdering them both when he was told by him mom to turn down the metal guitar he was playing in his upstairs bedroom. The loud noise is the only way he can stop the voices from telling him to kill.

This film, despite being disturbing(our bald psychopath murders a little boy and dismembers him, though not seen), is so well made and the acting is perfect. Ethan Embry, Pruitt Taylor Vince, and F. Murray Abraham all do great work here, and the music is every metalhead’s dream. The score is pretty much crunchy guitar stabs mixed with some otherworldliness thanks to Sunn O))). There’s some occult vibes, as well as some 80s “Satanic Panic” feels. If you grew up in the 80s you would remember all the “metal is the devil music” talk, and this movie really goes a far way to prove those church ladies right.

Southbound

I’m a sucker for horror anthology films, especially when they’re done well. V/H/S and V/H/S 2 were done very well. The ABCs of Death? Ehh. Of course there’s the classics like Creepshow, Twilight Zone : The Movie, and Tales From The Darkside. Hell, I even liked Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye. Nightmares from 1983 was great, too. Southbound is another horror anthology well worth giving a shot.

So Southbound is 5 stories that sort of/sort of not intertwine. There’s two guys on the run from these floating black specters on some desert highway; three girls in a rock band get stranded on the same stretch of highway and are picked up by a strange couple in a station wagon; a man hits a girl in his car in the middle of the night on this same stretch of desolate road and ends up in the world’s most unhelpful ER; when a guy comes looking for the sister that went missing years before he finds more than what he was bargaining for and finally there’s a home invasion that goes horribly wrong and brings us back to where we started.

I’m not going to say this one was perfect because it wasn’t. But what it was was pretty entertaining with some interesting twists. Each story sort of bleeds(no pun intended) over into the next which gives the whole film a nice continuity. Each of our doomed characters are somehow or another heading south on this stretch of road that looks like Mad Max could show up any minute. Are they all heading to Hell? I don’t know. It may not be perfect, but it’s a fun ride regardless.

The House of the Devil

This is an older film by Ti West, but for me it’s an absolute classic.

A college girl recently gets a great apartment for herself and takes a babysitting job to help make some money in order to afford the sweet new living situation. When she arrives at the house where she’s babysitting she’s told by the man that hired her(the always excellent Tom Noonan) that in fact she would be watching his wife’s ailing mother. He tells her she shouldn’t be a problem as she’d probably just sleep all night. Of course, that’s not the case and weirdness ensues.

This film looks just like some creepy horror movie you’d come across late night while trying to find something to watch. It has the look of an early 80s film, though it was made in 2009. It pulls from slasher films, haunted house movies, occult, and that satanic panic I mentioned earlier. The cast is excellent, the score is brilliant, and the house it was filmed in evokes so much uneasiness that you can’t help but feel for this young woman stuck in the middle of nowhere with God knows what upstairs. It’s a classic in the genre of horror. Probably one of my favorite horror films that plays very well as an arthouse movie. Ti West has continued to make solid movies, but none as good as this. AJ Bowen, Greta Gerwig, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Dee Wallace, and Joceline Donahue all turn in incredible performances. There’s no “wink and a nod” irony here, either. They’re true to the times and the style and stick to it, which makes the film all the more enjoyable.

Okay, that’s it. You want more suggestions? Then let me know. I’m happy to blabber on about more films if you’d like. Until then, check these out and get ready to get weird.

I recently picked up the Southbound S/T, which was done by The Gifted. Great score done with all analog synths. Check it out if you get a chance.

 

The Dead Do What The Dead Do, Dude

George A. Romero had a way with zombies. His first three zombie films, the trilogy if you will, stand as a testament to the whole zombie genre of filmmaking in my eyes. Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead were not only horrific tales of the dead rising from their graves(or from wherever they may have dropped dead initially), but there was real biting(no pun intended) social commentary within those two films.

Night came out at a time when the civil rights movement, Jim Crow, and segregation were all still very much in the forefront of social and political discussion. He mixed old school horror, new school gore, and very real race issues into a one of a kind late night drive-in flick.

Dawn took a small group of survivors(including two from a news channel and two soldiers) and dropped them in the relative safety of an abandoned mall to attempt to rebuild their lives. It really spoke to a time in the late 70s when malls were becoming all the rage and on some existential level a place where we felt at home. A one stop shopping experience where we could buy clothes, appliances, semi-automatic weapons, jewelry, and grab an Orange Julius while we were at it. As our protagonists found out, no matter how many amenities we may have, life and living can’t be created out of thin air.

So that leaves us with the third film, Day of the Dead. It is obviously the lesser of the three. It had the potential to be another amazing horror film, but the budget was cut drastically which caused Romero to cut down the screenplay significantly which caused his story to lack. Here’s the thing, I think that may be partially true. There’s a feeling that Romero had a lot more to say about the militarization of the country in an apocalyptic situation such as a zombie invasion. And I could see a case for science vs soldiers. These could have been really interesting topics to explore had their been the money and proper resources for Romero to work with. As it turns out he took a 200 page script and cut it down to an 88 page script. I would’ve gladly sat through a 3-hour epic story about zombies, soldiers, scientists, and the battle to save civilization. What we got was a movie with a lot of overacting, scene-chewing, lots of yelling, a strong female lead, stereotypes, misogynistic soldiers, and some of the best gore from the 80s.

So many characters over shot in this film; in-particular Joseph Pilato as Capt Henry Rhodes, Anthony Dileo Jr as Salazar, and the gruesome twosome soldiers under Pilato’s Rhodes. There was just so much chewing of the scenes here that it made it hard to even concentrate on the well done acting that was going on(Lori Cardille, Richard Liberty, and Sherman Howard were actually great in this.) I’m not against hamming it up a bit for the sake of fun, but the crassness of the soldiers towards the female doctor was just a little over the top for me. I think it would’ve been more effective for the misogyny to take a backseat to more existential dread of being stuck in an underground base for all eternity.

Despite all that I still love this film.

I recently grabbed the reissue of John Harrison’s excellent score courtesy of Waxwork Records. Putting this on the turntable I was reminded how much I really liked the music in this film. When it starts playing I’m instantly taken to those scenes. The opening scene of Dr. Sarah Bowman’s nightmare, to the title sequence with Tom Savini’s handiwork, to the scenes with Bub re-learning to be human again; the score was a very visceral experience for me. It’s the sort of thing that hits you like something locked away in your subconscious for years that’s set free at the drop of a needle.

Before I oversell this thing, let me first say it’s definitely a dated score. The film came out in 1985 and the soundtrack shows. There’s lots of 80s keyboard tones here. Some of these motifs could have been stand ins for 80s network TV melodramas, but don’t judge it on that. It’s all well done. Harrison made a career out of working with George Romero, having been a Pittsburgh guy himself. He seems to have locked into what Romero needed for his films. As well as Day of the Dead, he scored Creepshow and Tales From The Darkside: The Movie, as well as serving as executive producer on Romero’s Survival of the Dead. He had a lifelong connection with the king of the Dead, so he added just the right touches to Day. It’s a very warm score; human, even. It goes a long way to help add humanity to a lot of living characters that come across as dead inside as the zombies they’re hiding from.

Though Day of the Dead didn’t turn out the way the late master of Horror wanted it to, it’s still a solid chapter in the zombie canon of George Romero. It also has some of the best gore from any film in the 80s thanks to Tom Savini. It’s also got one hell of a score by John Harrison.

October is finally here. Let the horror(of the cinematic variety) begin.

Tobe Hooper : 1943-2017

I was sad to wake up to the news that we lost yet another “Master of Horror”, Mr. Tobe Hooper. While he never quite had the career or accolades of guys like Wes Craven, John Carpenter, and George Romero, he still contributed to the genre in a big way.

His biggest and most prominent work was 1974s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. For me, that film felt like watching a snuff film. It was jaunty, awkward, and seemed to be cinema verite for horror. The way Hooper shot the film it almost seemed like a found footage movie. The frankness in the deaths made my stomach churn. The Leatherface family was scarier to me than any boogeyman hiding in my closet. It truly seemed to be the  bloody, violent death knell of the peace and love crowd. It was like Hooper was saying “The grand experiment failed, so here’s what you get. Don’t choke on your own rib while you’re at it.” This was one of those movies that sat on the wall of the video store with a gnarly layer of dust on it, taunting me each time I’d come in. It was daring me to take it home and destroy my psyche with it. When I finally did, it did not disappoint. In the 80s he made the sequel and did something amazing. He turned a horrifying, gut-wrenching film into something more. He added gallows humor and made the Leatherface clan into joke-cracking psychopaths and created something as equally entertaining as the original. It was much maligned when it was released, it’s now considered a cult classic. It was also the start for Bill Moseley, a Rob Zombie regular.

Besides TCM, Hooper also made Poltergeist, Lifeforce, Spontaneous Combustion, and The Mangler. While he never reached the plateau of the Chainsaw films and Poltergeist, he always made entertaining bad films. I quite liked Lifeforce and Spontaneous Combustion. The 80s were a great time for decadent, sleazy horror. Hooper was a big part of that.

He also did some great television work, most notably on Amazing Stories, Freddy’s Nightmares, and Tales From The Crypt. But the greatest thing he ever created for television is easily Salem’s Lot. To this day I’ve never been more freaked out or scared than I was watching that two-part miniseries based on Stephen King’s vampire novel. I still get freaked out if I hear something that resembles someone scratching at my window. If all Tobe Hooper had done was Salem’s Lot, he could still feel solid in knowing he made that truly horrifying film.

Another horror master gone. RIP, Tobe. I think I’ll have some roadside BBQ in your honor today.

The Kids Aren’t Alright

Imagine a future where the population is decimated by a virus that turns people into raving monsters, hell bent on feeding a bloodlust by tearing those not affected limb from limb. Cities overrun by droves of wild children, living like some urban version of Lord of the Flies. Only a small group of military soldiers and scientists are left to try and find a cure for this disastrous disease. They work with a group of infected kids to try and figure out how they can suppress the disease and its effects(aka, stop the kids from eating them all.)

No, this isn’t some real life scenario happening somewhere in a bunker in Washington, DC. And it’s also not the premise of a spin-off of The Walking Dead. This is the story behind the excellent sci fi/horror film The Girl With All The Gifts.

So the ideas that are in this film aren’t new, per say. There’s elements of 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead, George Romero zombie films, and even a bit of Let The Right One In, but none of these come close to explaining The Girl With All The Gifts. A fungal disease has nearly devastated mankind by turning people into mindless, fast monsters that devour the living. In a small military base there’s a group of second generation “hungries” that are children who are being studied. They have the disease but can somehow control their urges and can be suppressed by healthy people wearing an ointment to cover their scent. One girl in particular, Melanie(she’s the one with all the gifts in case you were wondering), is extremely intelligent and shows great affection to one of the teachers. This teacher shows her kindness and has grown fond of her as well. The base ends up being overrun and a small group of soldiers, the teacher, Melanie, and an army scientist played by Glenn Close escape in an army vehicle. The film shows the group attempt to find safety in a overgrown London and the world as it is in this dilapidated future.

I found this movie to be an exceptional and original take on the apocalyptic/dystopian future movie, as well as the virus sci fi flick. The acting by Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, and especially Sennia Nanua as Melanie was incredible. Director Colm McCarthy does an amazing job of giving Gifts a truly cinematic feel. It looks great -like a blockbuster- but still feels like a gritty arthouse film. To me, this film reminds me of a movie I’d find sitting on Video World’s wall of sci-fi/horror films. I’d eye it for years and then on some nondescript Friday night I’d whine enough until my mom would rent it for me. It would’ve completely blown me away and I’d carry that film experience with me for the rest of my life. I’d be horrified, saddened, angry, and ultimately I’d want to see Melanie live on and succeed somehow(of course at the expense of mankind.)

And then there’s the score by Cristobal Tapia De Veer, which is absolutely brilliant.

One thing I’ve noticed is that there seems to be a movement of film composers stepping out of the typical symphonic box and doing something original in the field. Mica Levi, Johann Johannson, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Wojciech Golczewski, and Cliff Martinez to name but a few are approaching scoring films in a very unique way. There’s nothing wrong with going the John Williams or Hans Zimmer route, but minimal isn’t always a bad thing either.

Cristobal Tapia De Veer’s approach to scoring The Girl With All The Gifts seems to fall into more of a visceral space. It’s a very percussive musical score, with voices taking the place of what may have been woodwinds and Latin percussion. It sounds electronic and synthetic, but at the same time it feels very organic. Opening track “Gifted” sounds like NIN performed in some Thunderdome-like construct deep in the rain forest. Voices take the place of droning electronic devices as a buzzing of some unseen force begins to envelope everything in a 10 mile radius. It truly sounds like nothing I’ve heard before, and that’s saying a lot. A track like “Pandora” folds in an unmistakable melancholy which leads into “Hunger”, another slow, dread-building track. “Hungry Classroom” sounds like Wendy Carlos performing The Shining score on aboriginal instrumentation and using throat singers.

De Veer doesn’t care about zombies and horror(he says as much in this interview.) What he cares about is getting us emotionally invested in the very unique story that plays out in front of us. He wants us to connect with this young girl named Melanie. A girl that could very easily tear us apart without batting an eye. His score does that, as well as help push the film along in both darker moments and lighter ones.

The score for The Girl With All The Gifts reminds me a lot of Mica Levi’s work for Under The Skin. It feels very minimalist, but it never sounds sparse. There’s darkness there, but not for the sake of being creepy and weird. Like I said before, this music works on a very visceral level. It moves you at your core. Cristobal Tapia De Veer seems to be pulling inspiration from some of his peers, but also from his surroundings. I could see him walking a trail in a woods somewhere and finding sticks, rocks, and a hollowed out tree trunk and seeing a musical score in those items. I’d like to hear that score, too.

The Girl With All The Gifts is well worth your time. It’s a brilliant film, with an equally brilliant score.

Dr. Destructo Strikes Again

Summer break is winding down. It hasn’t really felt like much of a summer break, honestly. Amid an early summer infestation, gutting the upstairs, and just trying to find some kind of normalcy the new school year has snuck up on us without a sound. We hit the southern hills of Brown County for a week’s length of recuperation, and just last weekend my wife took the kids to the great King’s Island in Ohio for some breakneck rollercoasters and much needed mania for a day. Me? I stayed home with the dog and did some much needed R&R. I did some weeding in the backyard early in the day. After that I did a lot of reading, some reconfiguring in the studio downstairs, and listened to some records. I also spent time with the extended cut of Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret. I highly recommend it if you can sit through over 3 hours of pretentious New Yorkers, self-centered teenagers, and adults that don’t know what the hell they’re doing with their lives. Despite that description I think it’s a new American cinematic classic.

I also watched Michael Mann’s Thief for the third time.

I bought the Criterion Collection edition of this classic Mann crime film over two years ago after I’d listened to Tangerine Dream’s excellent soundtrack. The film stars James Caan as a professional thief who decides to retire but is pulled back in for one last job. Of course you know how those kinds of stories go. They don’t go well. I loved the movie.

Even when Michael Mann makes a stinker, there’s something to love about it, whether it’s the cinematography or the soundtrack. The Keep was a turd, but it looked great and oozed mood. One thing that The Keep and Thief had in common, besides Mann himself, was Tangerine Dream. They scored Thief first for Michael Mann, and then scored The Keep. I think a lot of what went wrong for Mann’s The Keep was the fact that Paramount took his 210 minute cut and shaved it down to under 2 hours, then down to 96 minutes. They hacked it up so bad that the film had huge plot holes and the ending was even missing. Music cues were ruined as well. It ended up being an absolute mess by the end of it, to no fault of Mann as far as I can see.

Anyways, we were talking about Thief.

So the soundtrack by Tangerine Dream is pretty stellar. About a week after I had the movie in my hands I found a first pressing of the score on Discogs for well under $20. I couldn’t pass it up. It really is a classic in the Tangerine Dream discography, and as far as their soundtracks go I think it’s one of their best. Tangram showed a band that was lightening up their sound. The heady atmospheric sound excursions were becoming shorter songs with more of a melody-driven lean. Sorcerer was pretty dark, but Thief saw Froese and company heading into more of a rock sound, complete with drums and electric guitar solos. This didn’t diminish TD’s heady electronic soundscapes. To my ears it felt like they were just trying to accommodate the times and the story. Something like Firestarter benefited from a slower pace and more moody musical pieces, with Thief the rock and roll stance felt like the right feel for a tough Chicago crime story.

For me, Tangerine Dream seems to fill some musical cavern dug out by the slow migration of emotional icebergs over the course of my childhood. Things I never quite understood as a kid remained empty spaces in my head and heart until as an adult music I would rediscover seemed to fill those cavernous valleys in me. I think there needs to be a certain amount of intellectualizing in order for Tangerine Dream to connect with you on an existential level. As a kid they were a huge part of me and I didn’t even realize it. They soundtracked so much stuff that I wasn’t aware of until I was an adult looking to fill some voids of my own. Firestarter, Three O’Clock High, the short-lived TV show Street Hawk and it’s opening theme was Tangerine Dream’s “Le Parc”. Near Dark, Legend, Risky Business, The Keep,….

and of course Thief.

I sat in the family room in the basement writing this and spinning Thief, while upstairs my daughter conversed with old friends she won’t see for some time. She’s heading back to school this Friday. My son sat on the couch next to me catching up on some comic books he hadn’t read in awhile. Summer went by too quickly, as really all summers do. We’ve just got to enjoy the moments as we’re in them, I suppose. Why waste time lamenting about how quickly it goes? As long as we’re in it we can savor it. Summer break may be fading quickly, but there’s still those quiet moments to enjoy. Tangerine Dream is a great way to fill the empty spots and missing dialogue.

Dr. Destructo strikes again, thankfully.

6 Must Die : Revisiting John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’

There’s certain things in our lives we hold dear because we experienced them when we were young. Maybe a certain food or a song. Maybe it’s an old bomber jacket we were given on some nondescript Christmas morning when we were 7-years old. Maybe a special time with a loved one on a holiday when we were 10. For me, all of those things apply. My mom’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes, Steve Miller Band’s “Jet Airliner”, a leather bomber jacket I got for Christmas when I was 15-years old, and a Memorial Day picnic with my grandma and grandpa Hubner at Ox Bow Park when I was 5. All of these things I will carry with me as long as the synapses are popping off in my head. Regardless of how significant or insignificant they may seem to the person outside looking in, for me they’re things that will always stay with me.

Same could be said for movies we saw in our childhood. There were certain films I saw as a kid that have stayed with me. Movies that I can’t necessarily say they’re great movies, but they moved me regardless. Audrey Rose, Phantasm, The Neverending Story, and The Road Warrior were movies I saw growing up that had a profound effect on a adolescent JHubner73. Of those movies, I still rank Phantasm and The Road Warrior up there, while the others not so much. John Carpenter’s The Fog is another movie I remember watching a few times when it was shown on network television that put me in a very specific place. It was scary, for sure, but it also had a very specific look to it. There was this overwhelming feeling of isolation in the scenes with Adrienne Barbeau in the lighthouse radio station, or with her son on the beach finding the driftwood. The drive Barbeau took to get to the lighthouse felt endless and almost magical. All these things stayed with me as a kid and the movie became this pinnacle of scary movies for me. Every time it was on TV I grabbed a blanket and a pillow and camped out on the living room couch. I wanted to be scared. I wanted to be transported to Antonio Bay for two hours. It’s a film that worked its magic on me when I was young. As an adult the soundtrack has become one of my favorite scores to get lost in. It evokes in me all those feelings I had as a kid bundled up on the couch waiting for a commercial break so I could go get a bowl of ice cream or go to the bathroom.

One thing I hadn’t done in years was sit down and actually watch the movie again. I recently picked up a limited edition 3-pack of Carpenter’s The Fog, Escape From New York, and They Live in steelbook case Blu Rays through Shout! Factory. Friday night my son and I popped in The Fog as he hadn’t yet seen it and I watched the film that sort of defined for me what great horror is supposed to be.

For the most part, my memory served me correctly.

If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s the Cliff Notes version:

The scenic ocean town of Antonio Bay is celebrating their 100th anniversary. The night before the celebration things go crazy in town; car alarms go off, dogs start barking towards the ocean, windows and clocks shatter, and out in the ocean three drunk fishermen are slaughtered by beings that appear out of a glowing, ominous fog. That same night the local alcoholic priest finds a hidden journal in the wall of the church that was written by his grandfather who was one of the founding fathers of the town. It seems the town was founded on lies, deceit, and murder. Back in 1879, a colony of lepers approach the small village now known as Antonio Bay and ask if they can settle and form a town just a few miles from the village. They offer gold as payment for this proposition. 6 conspirators, including the priest’s grandfather, decide to doublecross the lepers by leading their boat at night right into a bank of rocks which sinks their ship and kills all the men on board. The conspirators then retrieve the gold from the wreckage and with it founded their town, Antonio Bay. On the town’s 100th Anniversary the leper pirates have returned and want revenge. 6 must die in place of the original conspirators, plus they want their gold back. 

As a kid I loved this movie for the scares and creepy glowing fog. As an adult I find myself more mesmerized by the beautiful shots and Carpenter’s keen eye for forming scenes. The story isn’t complicated. This is basically The Blob, but with fog instead of a giant, man-eating ball of snot. In anyone’s lesser hands this would’ve been a movie that the sands of time would’ve devoured and spit out like so many other B-movies of the day. Carpenter made this with a$1,000,000 budget. With screw ups and re-shoots it ended up being closer to $1.1 to $1.3 million. Still, that’s peanuts in the scheme of things. His decision to shoot in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen made his low budget horror flick look more like an arthouse film. It’s simply gorgeous. There’s some truly effective acting here, as well as some not-so effective. Let me go over the good and meh.

First the good:

Like I said, this film is gorgeous. With Shout! Factory’s clean up of the print the film looks as good as ever. Carpenter is a visual guy more than a storytelling guy. He tells stories, but they’re simple ones. His strength is in putting scenes together and building tension, as well as his keen eye with the camera. Along with cinematographer Dean Cundey, Carpenter takes a little horror flick and gives it serious class in the looks department. His steadi-cam work, his use of light, and long, slow pans all feel revelatory in the field of horror. This film gave the horror genre a serious kick in the pants. It didn’t have to be grainy, choppily edited, and dubbed like a Godzilla picture in order to be a horror film.

The music is completely next level for horror films, or really any kind of genre. Carpenter used the synths for melodic dread creating and also to amp up intense scenes of terror. I think this is one score that stayed with me through my entire life. I always thought back to this music(even more so than his Halloween score) when I thought of great scores. When I started collecting film scores this was one of the first I wanted. Fortunately I waited a couple years till the Silva Screen reissue came out back in 2015. It’s gorgeous and sounds stunning.

There are individual moments of genius here. The opening sequence with John Houseman as the crusty sailor telling the tale of Blake and his comrades dying in the sinking ship to a bunch of kids around a campfire is classic. It sets the stage for what’s to come. And then the move from there into the town where lights flicker, windows explode, and things just get generally strange is exceptional. Carpenter’s use of light and his gorgeous widescreen shots go a long way to making this a classic. For me the scenes with Adrienne Barbeau’s radio station owner/DJ in the lighthouse radio station are some of the best. Her drive through the California countryside to the radio station located on a lighthouse cliff is just stunning. Walking down the long, narrow concrete stairs to the lighthouse is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Even hearing the repeating promos of KAB-radio is poignant. You get this overwhelming sense of isolation. And her play-by-play reports from the radio station to the town regarding where the fog is heading is tense as hell. Besides the fog itself, this is Adrienne Barbeau’s movie for sure.

The fog itself is ominous and creepy. This is a point that could’ve sunk the film had it not been done right and Carpenter and his effects crew did an amazing job here. There are three main players here: Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, and the fog itself. These three are what push the movie forward. There’s plenty of characters, but they are all here in order to react to the actions of these forces of nature.

Blake and his leper ghost pirates are done right. You see enough to know you wouldn’t want to run into them on your morning commute, but not enough of them to see this is a movie with a $1 million budget. The ghost ship is effective as it silently moves along the drunk fisherman’s vessel. And the scene at the end in the church with Holbrook is intense as hell, glowing eyes and all.

And now, the not-so good:

Honestly, there isn’t much I can  complain about here. But watching it 35 years on from the first time I saw there were just a couple things that bothered me. For one, some of the characters just didn’t seem fleshed out enough. The Tom Atkins/Nick Castle and Jamie Lee Curtis/Elizabeth Solley characters, while serving a definite purpose here(they’re a pivotal part in one of the most intense scenes in the film) just don’t seem all that interesting. Curtis was amazing in Carpenter’s Halloween as Laurie Strode, basically defining the female heroine in that role. But here, her easy hitchhiker just feels like any other character in the background. Tom Atkins seems like Tom Atkins in every role he’s in. Here he’s fine, but him hooking up with the MUCH younger Curtis(he’s 23 years older) seems more creepy to me now than it did when I was younger. They both serve the film well, but in as simple a way as they can(Atkins played the angry, abusive dad in Creepshow wonderfully, btw.)

Elsewhere Hal Holbrook does the stereotypical alcoholic priest as well as he can(he does resemble Edgar Allen Poe quite a bit.) The local townies all show up in fine form, but nothing really makes me care whether or not the Fog gets ’em or not.

The Fog isn’t any one person’s movie. It’s an ensemble built to serve us some existential dread in the form of a glowing fog that hides inside of it regret, guilt, lies, deceit, and stone-cold revenge(as well as some pissed off leper pirates from beyond the grave.) This is an old-timey campfire ghost story, much like the one we see transpiring at the very beginning of the film. It’s a lesson in “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, but done up in a nightmare-ish fable by the sea. John Carpenter put a unique spin on a story about ghosts, revenge, comeuppance, and where greed will get you. He made one of the most gorgeous, midnight b-movies ever made.

38 years on, this fog still glows brightly.