The Fog (1980) USA / 89 min / Horror / Color(metrocolor)
“Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?”
Edgar Allan Poe
The inhabitants of a small sea-side northern California town are haunted by avenging ghosts during its centennial celebration.
Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, with direction by Carpenter, The Fog is a classic horror tale of revenge. Carpenter claims the story of a ship sank for its gold off the coast of Santa Barbara in California is the basis for his story, and that they just added the “ghostly aspect”. Carpenter came up with the visual idea while visiting Stone Henge with Hill and witnessing a fog move in across the plain. Debra Hill says the production had a 30 day schedule, starting on a full moon and ending on a full moon.
Set in the coastal town of Antonio Bay, the story starts around a campfire where a group of young children sit listening to a tale from an elder Mr. Machen, (John Houseman) 5 minutes before midnight on the town’s 100th anniversary. Mr. Machen speaks slow: “11:55, almost midnight. Enough time for one more story. One more story before twelve, just to keep us warm. In five minutes, it will be the 21st of April. One hundred years ago on the 21st of April, out in the waters around Spivey Point, a small clipper ship drew toward land. Suddenly, out of the night, the fog rolled in. For a moment, they could see nothing, not a foot ahead of them. And then, they saw a light. By God, it was a fire burning on the shore, strong enough to penetrate the swirling mist. They steered a course toward the light. But it was a campfire, like this one. The ship crashed against the rocks, the hull sheared in two, mars snapped like a twig. The wreckage sank, with all the men aboard. At the bottom of the sea lay the Elizabeth Dane with her crew, their lungs filled with salt water, their eyes open, staring into the darkness. And above, as suddenly as it had come, the fog lifted, receded back across the ocean, and never came again. But it is told by the fishermen, and their fathers and grandfathers, that when the fog returns to Antonio Bay, the men at the bottom of the sea, out in the water by Spivey Point, will rise up and search for the campfire that led them to their dark, icy death.”
Bells ring in the darkness and Mr. Machen says, “Twleve o’clock the 21st of April.” The camera cranes up out of the darkness revealing the coastal line of Antonio Bay before cutting to a church and panning down. Once inside the church Bennett (John Carpenter) informs Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) that he has finished cleaning up for the night. Father Malone offers Bennett wine which he refuses, Bennett inquiring of Father Malone instead about being paid. Father Malone, having told him not to come to work until 4 tomorrow, tells him maybe he shouldn’t come now ’til 6. Bennett says, “Yes, sir” and turns to walk out of the room as the camera follows, revealing Father Malone’s shadow taking a drink of the wine as Bennett passes through the doorway. Remembering to tell Bennett something, Father Malone calls out, stands up, and heads for the door, when he hears noise. A block falls out of the wall, hitting his desk and causing him to drop the radio and his wine, shattering the glass. He walks forward, looking into the hole in the wall and retrieving a journal from within as the radio continues to play. Father Malone opens the journal up to a page where “April 30 Midnight ’til one belongs to the dead. good Lord deliver us” is written in large cursive letters. He stands in a trance-like state while Stevie Wayne’s (Adrienne Barbeau in her silver-screen debut) voice cuts in on the radio, informing us it’s 59 degrees outside as she wishes Antonio Bay a Happy 100th Birthday.
In town a row of telephone booths all start ringing and ejecting their coins. Inside a small grocery the shelves start shaking, bottles start clanking, and a wooden ‘Antonio Bay Gift Corner’ sign has its support break, causing it to hang sideways, swinging back and forth, squeaking. Mysteriously all the lights turn on at a local gas station, one of the gas nozzles comes off the pump hitting the asphalt ,where it starts pumping fuel as the pump chimes. The car lift turns on, lifting a car to the top, and a duel bell starts ringing. All the cars in a parking lot have their lights come on with horns blaring all at once. Sandy Fadel (Nancy Kyes) is awoken by this disturbance. She comes walking into her living to look out the window when her television turns on and her chair scoots across the room, leaving her frozen in fear. KAB Radio 1340’s Stevie Wayne is back on the air informing us it’s 6 minutes after midnight with “a full moon and no clouds in the sky”, although the weatherman has predicted rain. Still listening to Stevie on the radio the camera cuts to the inside of a truck as she says, “even if you do have something to do, keep me turned on for awhile and I’ll try my best to do the same for you”, leading the driver Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) to say “Okay” while giving the radio a doubtful look before stopping to pick up a hitchhiker named Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis). As Castle discusses being weird and being the unlucky 13th person to pick Solley up, all the windows shatter in his truck, causing him to brake hard on the side of the road and leaving them unharmed, just sitting and contemplating what just happened.
Stevie sends a “warm hello” to the men out on the Seagrass, 15 miles off the coast, warning them to keep a lookout for the fog bank heading in from the east, and dedicates a song from The Coupe De Villes just for them. As the song plays, Tommy Wallace (George ‘Buck’ Flower) looks out the port window, claiming she’s crazy as there is no fog bank. All of a sudden one appears and Wallace says, spooked, “Hey, there’s a fog bank out there.” After calling his shipmate Al Williams over to look at the fog bank too, a bright light shines from within the fog. As the fog passes over the ship, it enters into the engine room, where a small explosion erupts on the generator, knocking out the power. Tommy and Al walk out onto the deck where they see an old ship with its mast up passing by, and odd noises all around. Tommy sees figures deep in the fog and as he stands debating as to who they are, Al is stabbed through the back and out of his chest by a sabre, twice, causing him to drops his flashlight. Tommy turns yelling “Al!” but is impaled in the back by a large fish hook, then again in the front as Al, now on his knees, is stabbed in the chest by a knife. This leaves their last shipmate alone in the control room, who has noticed it is a big ship right beside them, as the door is slid open and a figure approaches from behind, killing him with an ice pick repeatedly to the skull.
Castle, now home in bed with Solley, hears a knock at the front door. As he opens the door a ghost outside raises its blade in the air, and the clock shatters, striking one o’clock and signifying the end of the witching hour. In the morning Andy Wayne is running along the coast and finds a piece of the Elizabeth Dane on the rocks. He takes it home, waking up his mother Stevie, who hasn’t been asleep long, He tells her there was a gold coin that then turned into the neat piece of wood. Nick Castle, with Elizabeth Solley, arrive at the docks in Bodega Bay. Castle, unsatisfied when his friend Tommy Wallace doesn’t make it back in from sea, decides to investigate further. He charters a boat to look for the missing Seagrass, with help from a guy named Ashcroft that owes him a favor. Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh) is in charge of the town’s celebration and is rushing around town with Sandy Fadel checking on every last detail. Kathy recounts her night of not being able to sleep while her dog barked all night looking out at the sea. They arrive at the church where Father Malone reads the contents of the journal to them. It tells the tale of a leper colony sailing on the Elizabeth Dane, and the confessions of their murder with the assistance of a timely fog which had rolled in. Father Malone ends their visit saying, “We’re all cursed Mrs. Williams. All of us.”
Stevie Wayne, being the owner of the radio station located at the lighthouse works around the clock, and is already heading back to work as a broadcast about the search for the missing Seagrass mentions “a sweep south from Waitely Point around Arkham Reef”. The fictional city of Arkham appears in Lovecraft’s Chthulu Mythos, and Waitely (spelled Whateley) appears as a surname in The Dunwich Horror. The wooden board with DANE on it starts seeping water,causing the tape equipment to slow down, with a low voice saying “damn them all” before shorting out. Then the wooden board changes from DANE to 6 MUST DIE before bursting into flames. Stevie, witnessing it all, quickly grabs a fire extinguisher and puts out the flames. Alone in the lighthouse and concerned for the safety of her son Andy, Stevie becomes the eyes for the entire town, speaking through the radio as the fog stalks its inhabitants into the night – including her.
The Director of Photography Dean Cundey, previously having worked with Carpenter on Halloween, would work with the director again on Escape From New York, The Thing, and Big Trouble in Little China. The two would work together on two other productions that Cundey was the DOP on, Halloween II and Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Athough Carpenter would produce, he would not direct the films, at least not intentionally. Cundey had originally met Debra Hill back before Halloween, when she was a script supervisor and assistant editor. Hill says they worked together on roughly 9 films back then. According to Debra Hill, when they hired Cundey for Halloween he worked out of a movie van which would hold the entire grip, electrical, and camera departments, all in one van. On The Fog they had an additional big grip truck and electrical truck, but still utilizing Dean Cundey’s Winnebago. Dean Cundy’s DOP credits today consists of all 3 Back to the Future films, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Hook, Jurassic Park, Casper, Road House, Romancing the Stone, Death Becomes Her, What Women Want, The Flintstones, Flubber, Pyscho II, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Apollo 13, Roller Boogie – and the list just goes on – but just to be safe one more ; Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks.
Tommy Lee Wallace worked as production designer and co-editor with Charles Bornstein. Tommy Lee Wallace also portrayed the ghosts throughout the film utilizing his arm coming through doors and windows a lot. John Carpenter composed the score masterfully, demonstrating his abilities in the main theme’s eerie echoing shrills and haunting pulse. The film frames capture coastal shots reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, with Adrienne Barbeau driving along the coast lines like Tippi Hedron. Debra Hill states that the area where Andy runs down the beach is right below where Alfred Hitchcock shot The Birds. Also similar is how the horror starts with the arrival of Tippi Hedron in the town of Bodega Bay in The Birds, and Jamie Lee Curtis in Antonio Bay in The Fog. Bodega Bay is even visited by Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis’ characters. John Carpenter has said The Fog “was meant to be an homage of sorts to H.P. Lovecraft, M.R. James, and other writers of great ghost tales and the supernatural.” Carpenter said it was Debra Hill’s idea to use the Edgar Allan Poe quotation in the beginning of the film. Certainly capturing the spirit of classical horror in a timeless ghost tale, John Carpenter’s The Fog continually haunts. I give it 3 out of 5 for a rating of Really Good.
The Malcolm Scale