The Fog -- Damn them all!
It's inaccurate when others refer to me as a 'horror fanatic' - the inaccuracy lies in that I'm not bias toward any genre - splatter films have just as much potential as popcorn action flicks & rom coms. It just happens that horror movie images work better on tattoos & t-shirts, as well as having a broader toy market - especially in the last 20 years. But believe me, I'd definitely be the first to buy the My Dinner With Andre playset were it ever manufactured.
Ironically, horror films as a whole are, to me, a failure. There have been a handful of comedies that have made me laugh, tearjerkers that made me cry, thrillers that put me on the edge of my seat, etc. etc. There have only been two scary movies in their entirety that scared me from beginning to end: The Exorcist & The Blair Witch Project. Of course, there are zillions that I like as movie-movies (The Thing, The Shining, etc.), & then there are a small handful that have parts that scare me; like The Fog. But if the true nature of the genre is to strike fear into the hearts of viewers, or generate some kinda catharsis of the id, then they're simply not making the full connection to me. So little so that I truly do get jealous when someone claims that a movie "scares" them.
Blair Witch & Exorcist are the only two in which the fear in me sustains throughout the duration of the film & lingers into bedtime when the lights are off. So, it probably makes sense that these two films have a lot in common - particularly the subject matter: ghosts. So, without getting too heavy into self-analysis, or exploring the minutia of ghosts vs. vampires or zombies or werewolves or anything else, I'd rather call attention to some of the more skin-deep characteristics: the mystique of past events, miscellaneous supernatural forces, & most specific to the subject at hand, scary voices.
The Fog is a more traditional ghost story - & by traditional, I mean it opens with a paced round-the-campfire monologue by John Houseman, doing his best 'John Houseman.' & that's always been the refreshing thing about Carpenter - he's always generally stayed within the same genre, while at the same time exploring & manipulating every avenue of it: ghosts, aliens, madness, vampires, the bogeyman, & the invisible man. & while I consider Fog to be Carpenter's second-best, I find his choice for the subtle twist on this particular sub genre to be its weakness - presenting the ghosts as more like slasher/zombies. & by weakness, I mean it's what takes the scare out of it. --- They still look badass, though - but don't create the same effect as the paranormal ambiguity that surrounds the rest of the film.
More precisely, there is one 'ghostly' moment in the movie that creates the kinda ominousness that I respond to, & it's ominous due to the criteria mentioned here: evil forces presenting a window into history with the use of a scary voice. But I think the reason I find it most startling is the ambivalence & the obliviousness of the 'ghost' - a residual voice literally playing on a tape recorder. It's not trying to frighten Adrienne Barbeau, or us. It just is. It exists. It's real & in our presence. Maybe that's why ghosts are scary to me - they don't even need to threaten us to scare us.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre - Pursuit of a final girl
Myers or Voorhees - the debate still goes on as to who, for better or worse, changed the genre. Most anyone will say Halloween - subjectively it's the better movie, & objectively you can't argue with chronology. However, one can draw a straighter line from the quality of horror films in the 1980s to Friday the 13th. What F13 took from Halloween were its most superficial, & thusly its weakest qualities, resulting in a very poor & confusingly overrated movie (& eventual franchise). & those very qualities carried on throughout what ultimately became the slasher sub-genre.
Today, the slasher films still manage to hold a lotta weight with fans - providing nostalgic reminiscence with the older crowd, camp awareness in the acting & music for the younger crowd, & general appreciation for the expert makeup FX. Neverminding the fact that none of these 'horror' films were scary, & that they were all absurdly similar to one another - the very real flaw lies in how boring they were & are. Camp value spreads very thin over 87 minutes, & the gore tends to be typically sparse. & so these filmmakers try to fill out the time with shadowy tip-toe suspense; the one problem was that none of these filmmakers were Hitchcocks. & I'm sure it's just personal taste, but I don't find 'stalking' to be all that bone-chilling; not every guy in a mask is Bruce the Shark or the Blair Witch.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is by no means an underrated movie. Even now that it's been lumped in with the stale ball of hair that is the formula it roughly helped shape, it still manages to hulk head & shoulders above the rest. & with the exception of anything Carpenter did, it's the most expertly crafted & visually stunning film of the sub-genre. That aside, it has one thing going for it that none of the others do -- suspense. True terror. & without getting into film stock or color correction or lighting or any of the numerous elements that made the film stylishly realistic (or realistically stylish), it is that characteristic - not solely, but predominantly - that makes it scary; realism. & at the top of the list of all these 'real' things is its monster. Its 'slasher' -- one who is not a wimp in a track suit with a Ginsu who'd been wronged as a child. He's not exacting psychological torment on a tediously long list of victims; he's not stalking. This is a redneck apeman with a power tool that has to catch you, kill you, & eat you - & he has a family of conspirators. There's no jaded backstory, no twist, no supernatural deus ex machina. & all of this culminates into one scene that is glaringly different from all that followed: Leatherface chasing Marilyn Burns through the woods. She isn't turning the key on some flimsy transmission or scratching at some locked door - he's right on her ass with a buzzing chainsaw, & she really doesn't seem to have any last-second chance -- no engine to finally start or door to finally open. She has no closet or garage to hide in, no bed to crawl under. He's right there, & he runs! The only real hope we have - in that moment - is that the flatter angles are shot with a longer lens, & we really can't be sure as to how far behind her he is. & then we go to the wider shot, & my stomach sinks when their distance becomes obvious, & he's clearly bigger & faster than her, & there's no chance of escape. Obviously, release finally does come - in the form of more peril. But no other suspense or horror film had better conveyed that 'edge-of-seat,' 'nick-of-time' urgency. You know, the kind you get from chasing - not stalking.