Posted by Greg Ferrara on October 22, 2014
Later tonight, as in tomorrow morning on the east coast, TCM airs The Fog, the 1980 John Carpenter movie that, like a lot of John Carpenter movies, opened to middling reviews only to be heartily welcomed into the horror canon later. This also happened with his 1982 remake of The Thing from Another World, this time around simply titled The Thing, which opened to downright bad reviews but now has a solid reputation among horror fans, including this one. Later, Carpenter’s Christine suffered much the same fate. I saw Christine when it opened and thought it okay. A few years ago I watched it again and found it superior to much of what modern horror produces. Even Halloween was only given a few loving notices by Roger Ebert and Tom Allen originally while Pauline Kael led the charge against it as derivative crap. So, Ebert/Kael… I mean, flip a coin on that one, right? Eventually Ebert’s side won and the film is today regarded as a classic. Why they all took so long I think is not related to Carpenter so much as it is related to horror. Horror misdirects and confuses the audience, uses plot devices easily belittled and picked apart, and generally uses storytelling techniques so far removed from subtlety they don’t even occupy the same hemisphere. Behind all that could be a great movie but sometimes critics, and audiences too, can get lost in the fog of horror.
Many ghost stories make little sense. Let’s look at The Fog since that’s the movie that started this post. If you haven’t seen it, and would like to, SPOILER WARNING, I’m going to discuss its plot right now.
The small town of Antonio Bay is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary when the town priest (I mean, he’s not specifically identified as “the town priest” but this is a horror movie so let’s just call him that for fun), Father Malone, played by the great Hal Holbrook, discovers his grandfather’s diary when a big chunk of stone falls out of one of the walls in his church, and the diary is behind it. He finds out that his grandfather, one of the six founders of the town, wasn’t that great a guy. In fact, he was a murderer and a thief. He and the five other founders used a beach fire to lead a ship into the rocks that carried enough gold to, uh, start a town. The ship belonged to a wealthy man, and leper, named Blake, and the founders didn’t want any lepers or leper colonies near them so bye-bye leper ship. Plus, they got to keep the gold. Now, one hundred years later, Blake and his men are back for revenge on the relatives of those founders (that’s not made perfectly clear but it’s implied, sort of). The question is, why wait a hundred years? I mean, you’re dead. From the moment you die, and become a ghost, why not have revenge on the very people that killed you right then and there?!
“Hey, this guy killed me! I’m so mad, I’m going to wait a full century, and then kill his grandson! That’ll show him!”
I’m sorry, what? It’s a silly plot device. I’ve often wondered what in the hell Blake and his men were doing for that hundred years. Did this plan really take that long to hatch? Was there 99 years of, “What do you wanna do tonight, Blake?” “I don’t know, Angie, what do you wanna do?” and then, in the last half of the 99th year, someone said, “I got it!” And then after that Eureka moment, all they came up with was “push things around, make telephones ring, and move really slow when attempting to kill someone.” That was their plan?! No wonder they were so easily fooled into sailing into the rocks. Okay, END SPOILER.
It’s not just The Fog, of course. Horror stories dealing with the paranormal, as opposed to mad killer horror stories, often deal in plots that don’t make a hell of a lot of sense. I mean, honestly, why would a vengeful ghost care about an anniversary? They wouldn’t but dramatically, it works very well. And there are so many other examples. For instance…
Why would a demon spirit go into a girl (The Exorcist) in the first place? It has survived for far longer than any one person ever could and if it needed a body to move around in, one, why didn’t it pick someone who could drive and, two, why did it do everything in its power to reveal itself so everyone made sure the little girl would get tied down to her bed? And if it could leap from person to person with ease, as it does at the end when Father Karras so easily fools it into coming into him (this is one dumb demon spirit – “Hey, he would be a better choice!”), why didn’t it just do that earlier when Karras was unaware on his first visit to Regan. She was tied down, he was free and able-bodied. So go ahead, make the switch, what are you waiting for, an invita… oh, wait.
Why would a dead girl decide to make a tape (Ringu) and if you watch it but don’t share it she’ll kill you but not immediately, only after seven days? So, what, the dead girl actually decided, “Okay, I’ll give them seven days and if they haven’t shown it to someone else yet, that’s it, they’re dead”? And why, because you were killed, would you decide to kill anyone other than your killer and if you decided, inexplicably, to randomly kill anyone, why would you make a videotape the x-factor in all of this?
If you want to kill a girl in the house you once lived in (The Conjuring), why not just take possession of the mother of the girl first thing, kill her and be done with it? Why, again, like so many of these, loudly and persistently announce yourself, for days and weeks until experts are called it and everyone that can possibly stop you is now, in fact, in place to stop you when you finally – you moron – decide to actually take the girl and kill her?
And that is the fog of horror. It gets in the way when it shouldn’t. There’s not a thing I said above that actually affects how I view any one of those movies. I never find myself pulled out of Halloween because Michael Myers knows how to drive a car (it’s one of the more infamous “mistakes” of the movie – Myers is taken into custody when he’s a child and yet, years later, as an adult, he breaks out of the psychiatric hospital by effectively, and perfectly, driving a car. Apparently, he took lessons at some point in the violent ward.) Many movies have little things like this (Citizen Kane, of course, has the nurse walk into the room after he says “Rosebud” and yet everyone seems to know that was his last word – I say there was a proto-proto-proto baby monitor in the room) but horror deals in plot devices that practically wallow in the illogical and the irrational. That’s what suspending disbelief is all about. A lot of good movies are hiding in plain sight behind inexplicable plot devices that drive us to distraction. Sometimes, you just have to look for them. And if you haven’t seen The Fog, give it a look. I don’t guarantee you’ll like it – certain genres are hit and miss with a lot of people, horror is one of them) but you will get to see some ghosts who really appreciate the importance of centennials, even if it means killing the wrong people.
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