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The Fog Under the Stars

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Last Saturday was a typically hectic day of work, capping off a few weeks of extra-mega-heavy-workload chaos.  Finally, I took a much-needed evening off and spent Saturday night enjoying a rather unique film watching experience.

DJ Vivona, in addition to being an old friend, is an actor who's been in the majority of the movies I've directed, including ridiculous student films we made in high school, my first "professional" project, Savage Harvest (1995), the lesser seen, more experimental outing China White Serpentine (2003), my most recent movie, Ratline (2011), and numerous other projects along the way.  DJ (a passionate home theater enthusiast) has in the basement of his home what I think is the best home theater I've ever seen in person.  But this is not where Saturday night would be spent.  Instead, it was a double-date double feature under the stars at Mr. Vivona's impressive backyard drive-in movie theater.

The four of us were granted perfect summer evening weather: mid 70s temperatures and a gentle breeze.  The night sky showed off just enough cloud cover to partially veil the nearly-full moon, providing the outdoor theater an atmospheric canopy.  We feasted first, searing some vegan grillables on the barbeque and dishing up homemade potato salad and coleslaw concocted from scratch by my culinarily skilled ladyfriend.  A nearby cooler of beer supplied the beverages as the sun set.

The crickets began to add their surround sound as we started our double feature with John Carpenter's The Fog (1980).  If you don't like early John Carpenter, you don't really have any business calling yourself a horror fan.  Halloween (1978), Escape From New York (1981), The Thing (1982), and our evening's feature presentation The Fog will likely be eternally entwined in a brawl for the top spot on my most-adored Carpenter films list.  I also love Assault On Precinct 13 (1976), and the mid-career Carpenter entries Prince Of Darkness (1987) and They Live (1988).  (Things kinda started to slip downhill after that.)

I've lost track of how many times I've seen The Fog... but I know I've never seen it under the stars.  It's the most fun I've ever had watching this movie.  Adding to the macabre magic of the night was DJ's flair for presentation.  In a move William Castle would be proud of, DJ had set up a hidden, remote-controlled fog machine prior to our arrival.  As the climax of Carpenter's film began to unfold, DJ hit the button and real fog drifted toward us through the darkness, bringing the terror right off the screen!  Gotta love the fact that we're still not too old to think up, implement, and appreciate such film-fan shenanigans.

Despite having seen the movie many times before, I still sat there admiring this brilliant John Carpenter / Debra Hill collaboration as it played on DJ's backyard silver screen.  The film is a remarkable, wonderfully-crafted work of cinema, especially considering it was a fairly low budget endeavor.  

The film contains several long takes in which Carpenter accomplishes a lot, tonally and narratively, without cutting.  This gives to dialog scenes a voyeuristic, intimate feel that may have dissipated with standard over-the-shoulder editing.  In other lengthy takes, as the camera drifts to follow the action instead of cutting, this technique adds an extra layer of otherworldliness - while simultaneously making the events feel more realistic.  Impactful moments happen "right in front of us" instead of being cut to, which seems closer to the way we'd witness things in real life.

The creative casting for the movie's talented ensemble, Dean Cundey's outstanding cinematography, very well-executed jump scares, and visually tasty shooting locations contribute to why The Fog still captivates after more than three decades.

After the fog cleared, our second feature was the original 1983 version of Return Of The Jedi...  not the crappy 1997 re-release with all the "improvements".  (That dumb musical number added in Jabba's palace still makes my skin crawl.)

If there is time to revisit DJ's outdoor theater before this summer ends, he's suggesting screenings of Superman (1978), First Blood (1982), Predator (1987), and at least one more John Carpenter film.

Thanks for reading.

- Eric Stanze

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