The Fog

The Fog is largely founded on Hitchcock, from Jamaica Bay to Bodega Bay, with an end note from Foreign Correspondent and the shower scene from Psycho (storyboards for the shipboard murder scene confirm this).

The fog itself plays a return engagement from The Ten Commandments, rising like the Angel of Death to lend an ineluctable sense of horror to the old place, and the radio station on the seacoast inevitably recalls Play Misty for Me.

Arcane symbolism abounds. A mysterious sign reads “6 MUST DIE”. A corpse on the slab picks up a scalpel, rises from its sheet and falls on the floor to inscribe the numeral 3.

Night of the Living Dead, which also is strictly from The Birds, is invoked. The cross of gold sought by the ghostly wielders of cargo hooks is a bonus from Browning.

It begins under the credits as a lovely picture of small town life by night, and continues in expert cinematography of the coast as day exteriors that express or reflect the complicated structure.


Escape from New York

An extraordinarily allusive film, both in the depth and subtlety of the allusions and the powerfully mysterious way in which the greatest of them is built up and presented.

The central premise is so striking as to carry all before it, New York (that is, Manhattan Island) a Federal Maximum Security Prison, which recalls the Nazi division of Rome into labor zones in Roma, città aperta (Ellis Island is a guard post). Add to this Air Force One commandeered by the National Liberation Front and flown into a building, whence the President escapes in an egg-shaped safety capsule and is seized by the prisoners.

The government tries and fails to extricate him, and sends in newly-arrived prisoner Snake, whose glider landing on the World Trade Center at night is accompanied by an electronic version of Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie.

The prisoners are led by the self-styled Duke of New York in a blue frogged coat out of The Emperor Jones. The President’s sequestration in a disused railroad station suggests Logan’s Run and The Monitors. The prisoners offer to exchange him for amnesty.

The significant ally of Snake is a cabbie who listens to swing music in his cab and later drives him to freedom or nearly, paralleling the image in Louis Malle’s Atlantic City (“Call me a cab, back to Atlantic City”), with consequences for Death Wish 3.

The Duke and his right-hand man, the Brain, who pumps oil in an abandoned mansion and refines it into gasoline, make a pair briefly evoking the Colonel and the photojournalist in Apocalypse Now.

The great feat is somehow the cab ride over the mined bridge, carefully prepared by images of decapitation and capped with the cab split in half between front and rear, which taking place at night brings a very remote sense of Fellini’s Toby Dammit (from Poe’s “Never Bet the Devil Your Head”) into the picture.

The President is saved, but proves a fink, so Snake spoils his national broadcast with “Bandstand Boogie” instead of the taped whatever vital to national whatnot, which he unspools and discards.


The Thing

It’s a Mark Rothko done over by Francis Bacon. Lots of imitations can’t take away the bizarre sting of this spectral hunt amongst flayed cadavers in the frozen wastes, it gives the chills just thinking about it.



It arrives as a gentle satire of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and gives exactly the measure of Maslin, who positively enchanted became.

E.T. is said to have been concurrent in the development stages, this is the higher organism.


They Live

They are the New World Order more or less explicitly stated, even before Bush, Sr. gave it a name and knocked us back. Nabokov says somewhere that bad critics are “connected ectoplasmically,” and these Philistines all have wrist communicators enabling them to instantly summon aid when they are recognized for what they are. “Brother, life’s a bitch,” says Nada, “and she’s back in heat,” which is an allusion to the Brecht poem cited by Peckinpah in Cross of Iron.

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper is said to have adlibbed this line, which I transcribe here because it is misquoted elsewhere: “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum.”

The sweetest shot in the whole film occurs just after the knock-down-drag-out. It’s a brief glimpse of downtown Los Angeles by night, showing it very much as it was in D.O.A. and Hollow Triumph.

Television is a sort of ready-to-hand art. Its pomps and fascinations are the prime tool of subjugation, says this satire, because without it we would know ourselves.


Memoirs of an Invisible Man

The whole film is based on a single image, that of the Magnascopics building deconstructed by swaths of invisibility for a time, then “gone.” The man who was inside it is also rendered invisible, and is pursued for this quality.

The opening, after a beautiful pan giving a Kokoschka view of San Francisco, shows the hunt at night with special goggles giving a spectral view, recalling Looker and Wolfen. The stance of the film is uniquely tragic, which is why there is an insistence on comedy, but Carpenter nobly chokes on this in a slapstick scene with a pedestrian knocked down by the fleeing invisible man, which is filmed in two shots rather than the requisite one. The drama is represented merely by sustaining the situation, as much as anything else, and therein too lies its greatness.


In the Mouth of Madness

This is the one about evil exerting its force over people, given a twist as a writer’s projection, and rendered peculiarly haunting by a characteristic use of the back lot.



Escape from L.A.

Carpenter brings this to a point two or three times, as if to check his registration or his sights, but the overall problem is to find adequate representation of life in America today. It would be a very useful study to measure the distances between the elements of the language he employs here and the disparate realities they evoke.

The ending, after a gag borrowed from Douglas Hickox’s Sky Riders, is a variant of the one earlier used in The Train.



The hallucinatory construction combines Ghostbusters and a New World Order SWAT team for the image of professional vampire-slayers working for a Roman Catholic cardinal, their rote mechanics get them into trouble when they overlook the master vampire of the bunch they have just quelled, he shows up at their boozing whoring party and all but wipes them out on his long quest after the secret for enduring sunlight.

The cardinal is an ally of the master vampire. The filming is somewhat deficient in two respects once considered fashionable, orange tinting and climactic “slo-mo” action, but that is hardly consequential.