Tuesday, 19 February 2013

There's Something in the Fog

It's hard to believe, but John Carpenter turned 65 this year. He has both delighted and scared generations of movie-goers who grew up watching his films in the 70s and 80s and is now appealing to a new generation, including my son, through DVD releases of his classics. He is noted as the director of Halloween, which started the slasher sub-genre in horror movies, as well as such cult classics as The Thing, The Fog, and Escape from New York, the last two being my personal favorites. Moreover, in an age of multi-million dollar movie budgets, it's amazing that many of Carpenter's most popular movies were made for well below one million dollars. Halloween was produced with a budget of $320,000 while it grossed over $65 million. On the other hand, his big-budget movies were often commercial failures. Carpenter had a budget of $15 million for The Thing, but it was not a commercial success when it was released in 1982, although it is now regarded as a horror classic.

One of my favorite stories of early married life involves Carpenter's The Fog. It was in the early 80s, and my wife and I had just left university and joined the exodus out west to find jobs. We were living in a high-rise apartment building in Calgary and were watching the movie on our portable black and white TV (I think the screen was all of 11 inches). My wife, who is very easy to scare, was watching the scene in which someone (something?) knocks at the door of the lighthouse in which they've taken refuge. If you're a Carpenter fan, you probably remember the sequence: Adrienne Barbeau opens the door, there's nothing there, but then … one of the creatures suddenly lurches forward from the fog. At this point, my wife screamed (rather loudly, I might add).

Once she settled down again, we continued to watch the movie. About ten minutes later, there was a knock at the door. It was Calgary's finest responding to a call that someone heard a woman screaming in distress in the building. After assuring the officer there was no woman in distress, I returned to The Fog, hoping there was nothing else in the fog that would set my wife off again!

What is Carpenter's legacy? Like Hitchcock, he's a master of the still camera and wide angle lenses, and he is adept at setting a tableau: the moment of calm before the horror descends. And like Stephen King, he grew up reading Lovecraft and other horror masters, and he is able to combine elements of horror and science fiction to tell a tale that's downright scary. 

Do you have a favorite Carpenter film you'd like to comment on?

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