One of the movies recommended over and over to me was John Carpenter's The Fog, and having finally seen it tonight, I am convinced that my classmates had actually seen it, but doubtful that they appreciated it.
I liked The Fog.
The film opens in the small village of Antonio Bay, California. Father Malone is alone in the church when a stone in the wall becomes dislodged revealing his grandfather's journal. The journal reveals that the town was founded using funds plundered from a clipper ship. The ship was diverted from its course during a foggy night by a false beacon, and its crew of lepers who were hoping to establish a settlement were all killed in the crash. None of this is recorded in local history.
Meanwhile, an unusual fog forms over the ocean. It glows and moves against the wind, and it engulfs a fishing trawler leaving behind a dead crew and a message for the village, which is about to celebrate its centennial. The ghosts of the crew of the clipper ship are back, and they want revenge.
It occurs to me that you could categorize movie plots into those driven by many small events (i.e., those affecting only the protagonists) , and those driven by a few big ones (i.e., natural disasters, military or alien invasions, etc.). Small events generally happen in the foreground and are favored by action movies, and big events tend to happen in the background and present more opportunities for character development.
The Fog mostly relies on big events, and we spend a lot of time getting to know the residents of Antonio Bay. Mostly, we spend time Stevie Wayne, an overnight DJ played by Adrianne Barbeau, a trucker played by Tom Atkins, and a hitchhiker played by Jamie Lee Curtis. I wouldn't say that I found the characters particularly likable, but they're all smart and relatable, which is good because the danger in The Fog is unpredictable; reviewers at the time complained that the supernatural element didn't seem to behave by any particular rules.
Do I care? Not really. The Fog may be far from perfect, but I found the setting and the execution appealing enough that I can forgive the instability of the plot (and really, if you're looking for clear-cut rules, horror is the wrong genre for you). There's something about a certain type of horror movie from the '70s and '80s--usually about small towns, often on the coast, and taking place during the latter part of the year--that I really like. I'd love to spend some time in Antonio Bay or Halloween's Haddonfield, Illinois or Pet Sematary's Ludlow, Maine--if not for all the ghostly tomfoolery.1
For some reason I've always assumed that The Fog was a Stephen King adaptation. You'd expect that I'm confusing it with The Mist, but my assumption predates 2007's The Mist by at least a decade. Even so, The Fog feels like Mr. King's territory: coastal town, hidden historical secrets, ghost pirates. Granted, this is a west coast story--not an east coast story like most of King's work, but still: it's good stuff.
Here's the trailer.
1I also considered the words monkeyshines, shenanigans, hoopla, capers, hi jinks, horseplay, buffoonery, baloney, etc.