Sunday, August 31, 2008

Post Mortem: The Fog

Mowing of the Seagrass:
In my last postmortem, in an unpopular move, I panned Living Dead at Manchester Morgue's initial slaying in "The Mangling of Martin". Well I still stand by what I wrote, as frankly while the movie itself has some charm, that scene was just amazingly unremarkable. This time around I have an example of how the first slaying should go. John Carpenter's work through the late 70's and early 80's was quite frankly brilliant, and the Fog is a shining gem in that crown of work, and the scene where the crew of the Seagrass first encounter the pirate ghosts is a prime example of why that is.

I will make mention that here I have chosen to review the sequence rather than a single killing as it involves the murder of three individuals that occur presumably simultaneously, two of which are on screen at the same time.

Manner of Death:
The crew of the fishing boat the Seagrass encounter a mysterious fog bank, and from the fog appears a great sailing vessel. The crew go on deck to witness and investigate this bizzarre event and find dark shadowy figures have materialized on their deck. Peering though the fog and darkness at the figures, the reason for their boarding the small boat becomes evident. Their only motive is murderous intent, as the first crewman is ran through with a rapier from behind. His surprised gurgle draws the attention of his mate who while witnessing the brutal slaying is himself butchered with a sharp hook. Each man looks on as is close associate dies horribly and slowly as the pirates stab and rake the men. The third crewman still in the boat's cabin is stalked throttled and brutally and repeatedly pierced through the head with a pick of sorts.

This scene was interesting, relatively creative, and I think there is no question that chioces of implements used here were effective in portraying the brutality of the pirates and the fact each was killed with a different, yet character/plot appropriate tool worked well. This scene is guaranteed to leave an impression on any young viewer, and I do believe that young teens were the target audience. So high marks for this category.

Effect on Story:
As is often the case with the first killing in a horror movie the slain characters have very little to do with the plot. Simply they are devices used primarily to set up the audience rather than have any meaningful effect on the story. While there are some questions about the heroine's relationship with the crew of this boat and the fact one member (the only one with a name) speaks of his wife, these ties are not further explored. This I feel is a shame as I do believe this is a relatively weighty category, but it's an understandable and quite common choice whether by design or editing. Either way the scores will suffer.

Appearance/Visual Direction:
The visual direction here is spot on. The lighting and contrast on Deck is stunning, maintaining the appearance of night, yet using the fog to provide enough light that the ominous figures to remain dark shadows. The way the ship appears and disappears in the mist and the figure as it enters the blacked-out bridge are extremely well executed. My only problem with this scene is the choices in casting and costuming of the fishermen. The two individuals who go out on deck are far too similar in appearance, both larger men with medium length curly blond hair and short beards, both wearing plaid flannel jackets. As characters it is possible they could be intended to be brothers, and watching one another die would be more poignant. However there is nothing beyond their appearance that might suggest this, and really in the big picture they are simply pirate fodder. The end result of their simultaneous executions with the camera cutting between them can be confusing as to whom is dying and how. The graphic and agonizing deaths shown here are again a skillful ploy by Carpenter to show the audience this brutality and have it burn into the viewer's mind. With this approach the audience will imagine similarly gruesome deaths for all those who follow without actually having to show any murders. The lack of visual gore and limited on screen violence likely helped this movie both psychologically and in the box office granting it a wider audience. Besides, what people can imagine can often be far more effective than what one can film.


With solid directing and excellent visuals it's hard not to hit the mood category running. Carpenter here introduces us to the pirates with a large and mysterious ship that only appears briefly in this scene as we look on in wonder and fascination. Yet here we only experience trepidation. As the dark figures appear surrounding the men with large evil looking weapons in silhouette, fear begins to creep in. Yet it has not had chance to grab hold when the first man (Al) is slaughtered. Here we are caught off guard and are reeling, much like the victims on the screen are as they are gutted before us. Carpenter then skillfully nudges this shock towards suspense and fear as we see the darkened shape approach the last crew member in the boat's cabin.

In this sequence there is so much going on, it would be easy for someone to overact, but each player does his part beautifully. I must say I particularly liked how the two individuals silently looked in in shock and disbelief as they saw the other man die a horrible death right before him. Perhaps it says a lot more to the direction as each witness his own death mirrored in the face of the other (again so alike), but I admit I'm not a big fan of reading too much into a scene that may not really be there, so I'll leave things as they are and give props to these guys.

Overall this scene is a great example of what an introductory murder sequence should be. It is not perfect, but solid in most every pertinent aspect. Tying it in with the plot would have been nice, the foundations to do so were there, and it certainly would have elevated the scene in ranking, but in the end not necessary. 19/25, 76% B

Saturday, August 30, 2008