February 6, 2015 This Week in Horror Movie History – The Fog (1980)
This week in Horror movie history, back on February 8th in 1980, The Fog was first released in the US. John Carpenter was in charge of the screenplay, music, and direction, just as he had been for his 1978 sleeper hit, Halloween. Carpenter used many of the cast and crew from other projects, including actors Jamie Leigh Curtis (Halloween 1978, Prom Night 1980), Tom Atkins (Escape from New York 1981, Halloween III: Season of the Witch 1982), wife at the time Adrienne Barbeau (Someone’s Watching Me! 1978, Carnivale television series 2003-2005), and cowriter and producer Debra Hill, who also worked with ex-boyfriend Carpenter on Escape from New York (1981) and Escape from L.A. (1996). Jamie Lee Curtis’ famous mother, Janet Leigh (Psycho 1960, Halloween H20 1998), Hal Holbrook (Wall Street 1987, Evening Shade television series 1990-1994) and John Houseman (The Paper Chase television series 1978-1986, Ghost Story 1981) also starred in Carpenter’s creeping classic. Coincidentally, actors Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook, and Adrienne Barbeau all later acted in George Romero’s Creepshow (1982). Famous for his subtle in-jokes, Carpenter used cast, crew, and location names from his past in his scripts, including the character name Nick Castle (actor who played The Shape in Halloween), Arkham Reef and Waitley Pointe are references to writer H.P. Lovecraft, and Russellville Road and Smallhouse Road are both prominent street names in the director’s hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Carpenter himself has an uncredited part in The Fog as Bennett, Father Malone’s assistant. A&A Special Effects (Dreamscapes 1984, Flowers in the Attic 1987) took care of the zombie makeup during the month long filming, which took place all along the California coast. Two things were said to have inspired Carpenter to make this film: the first was the 1957 film The Creeping Eye/The Trollenberg Terror and a trip with then girlfriend Debra Hill to Stonehenge. The fog creeps in on little cat feet…
The movie starts with an old man (Houseman) telling a midnight seaside campfire story about the boat the Elizabeth Dane and how, one hundred years before, she had crashed against the rocks on the shore of their town of Antonio Bay, California. This shipwreck caused a rush of help from neighboring places, and the ones that decided to stay started their beloved town. As the church bells in town toll midnight, strange things happen all over town, as if a surge of energy has sent both animals and electronics haywire. Around this time, Father Malone (Holbrook) finds a hidden journal in a crack in his church wall and reads it, discovering it be a hundred year old missive from his own grandfather. Malone learns his kin had helped other townsfolk purposefully sink the Elizabeth Dane for the gold that she carried, and also to keep the leper Captain Blake from landing and spreading his disease. The centennial anniversary party taking place that very night was actually a celebration for murderers. In another part of town, Nick Castle (Atkins) picks up hitchhiker Elizabeth (Curtis). High up in her lighthouse radio station, DJ Stevie Wayne (Barbeau) reports on a strange fog heading toward the trawler Sea Grass. As the fog overtakes the boat, ghostly seamen appear and kill everyone on board. The next morning, Stevie’s son, Andy, finds a gold coin in the surf that strangely turns into a plank of wood with the word DANE carved into it. His mother sends him off to his babysitter, Mrs. Kobritz (Regina Waldon), and absently leaves the plank at the station, where it later changes to SIX MUST DIE before bursting into flame. Deciding to stick around awhile, Elizabeth joins Nick on his search for the Sea Grass. They find her rusty, full of seawater, and containing the eyeless corpse of Dick Baxter (James Canning). As ME Dr. Phibes (Darwin Joston) talks to Nick about the odd appearance of the body, Baxter rises from his gurney and stumbles toward Elizabeth. She screams and he falls, writing the number three on the morgue room floor with a scalpel, implying he was the third to die. Meanwhile, the centennial celebration coordinator, Kathy Williams (Leigh) and her assistant Sandy (Nancy Loomis) visit the priest, who explains the real reason for the town-starting shipwreck. Kathy decides to go through with the night’s celebration.
As night falls, Stevie continues to keep her listeners informed on the alien fog. She’s talking to Dan the Weatherman (Charles Cyphers) as it rolls in to his station, bringing with it a knocking, seafaring murderer. Slowly but surely, the white mist covers the town. Stevie watches helplessly as the fog overtakes the house her son and his babysitter are in, and, now knowing what the fog brings, pleads over the airwaves for someone to save her son. Nick and Elizabeth get there just as the salty menace kills Mrs. Kobritz and starts knocking down the boy’s bedroom door. Nick, Elizabeth, Kathy, and Sandy all go to Father Malone’s church, as it is the only place the fog had not yet reached. They read further into the journal to find an answer to this horror, and find out that Captain Blake’s gold had been hidden in the church the entire time. They tear at the walls to find the treasure as the zombies break church windows and bust down doors. They have also gotten into the radio station and Stevie scrambles up to the roof to escape. Just as it seems that all hope is lost, Father Malone finds a huge, gold cross in the same wall where the journal had been in and carries it out to the red eyed, putrefied Captain Blake, in repentance for what his own grandfather had done. As Blake grabs the cross, the undead mariners disappear. Everyone is safe. Stevie makes one last announcement over the airwaves about the nightmare that the town had just endured, just as Father Malone wonders why he had not been killed as the sixth sacrifice. The fog suddenly reappears inside the church and Blake walks out, decapitating Malone.
With a budget of one million dollars, The Fog grossed over twenty-one million dollars in the US alone. Although a commercial success, the movie was met with mixed reviews. Giving the film two out of four stars, Roger Ebert said, “This isn’t a great movie but it does show great promise from Carpenter.” Because of the many re-shoots and low production value, Carpenter himself said that this was one of his least favorite films to make, and gives this as the reason for allowing the 2005 remake. The Fog has still found its way into the Horror lover’s heart, earning it a 69% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and the 91st place in Time Out’s Top 100 Horror Films poll. Released on DVD in 2002 and Blu-ray in 2013, The Fog spawned a lesser known remake, with a screenplay by Cooper Lane, directed by Rupert Wainwright and starring Tom Welling and Maggie Grace. Considered a Teen Thriller, the remake only scores a 4% rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, never coming close to the original classic.