Title: The Fog
Year of Release: 1980
Director: John Carpenter
Length: 89 minutes
Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh
Along with The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, this is one of the films that shaped (or warped) my formative years. Following the success of Halloween two years earlier, John Carpenter was considered hot shit in Hollywood and virtually given free license to do what he wanted on the Fog, albeit on a pretty modest budget. He didn’t disappoint. Being sandwiched between Halloween and Escape from New York, the Fog is often overlooked, but remains one of the jewels in Carpenter’s crown.
As the Californian coastal town of Antonio Bay nears its hundredth anniversary, paranormal activity mysteriously begins to rocket. When a huge chunk of masonry falls out of a wall in his church, town priest Father Malone (Holbrook) finds his grandfather’s journal hidden in the alcove. When he reads it, he uncovers a terrible secret. The original townsfolk, led by Malone’s grandfather, deliberately sank a clipper ship, the Elizabeth Dane, and plundered it for gold, which was then used to establish the town and build the church. Cut to the present day, and a fishing boat is out at sea when it is engulfed by a mysterious glowing fog. You guessed it, there’s something in there. Specifically, it’s the Elizabeth Dane, and her very angry (and very dead) crew.
The heart and soul of San Antonio is the local radio station, seemingly managed by Stevie Wayne (Barbeau) all on her lonesome. The radio station is set up in an old lighthouse, meaning Stevie is in pole position to see the glowing fog, which suspiciously moves against the wind, approach the town. Weatherman Dan helpfully calls to tell her about it, but unfortunately, Weatherman Dan could make a strong case for being the stupidest man in the world and is dead moments later. Instead of just calling it a night and going home, Stevie then takes to the airwaves to implore any passing strangers to go to her house, address provided, to save her son who is stuck there with the soon-to-be-dead babysitter. A short time later, she apparently gives up on him altogether and shifts her attention to saving the villagers instead who have gathered for a Centenary celebration. In an apparent attempt to help the crew of the Elizabeth Dane find them quicker, she tells them all to gather in the church where an epic showdown takes place.
As well as writing, directing, and even pulling off a brief cameo role, John Carpenter also composed the musical score. I didn’t notice the significance until I sat down and actually listened to it. It consists of the usual deep, ominous, brooding tones, which are then mimicked by lighter tones. Same chords, different tones. When I thought about it, that effect conjured up the notion of being stalked or followed, which I imagine to be an effective tool to use on the subconscious whether intentional or otherwise. The music is instrumental (boom!) in making the Fog such an atmospheric, satisfying, well-made chiller. The plot is ultimately a tad predictable, but there’s just enough gore and jump scares to keep things interesting.
The fate of the Elizabeth Dane is said to be based on that of an actual wrecking which took place off the coast of California near the town of Goleta in the 19th century. This particular kind of skulduggery appears to have been mercifully rare in America. However, it was a lot more prevalent in Britain.
John Carpenter also claimed to be partly inspired by a visit to Stonehenge with his co-writer/producer (and then-girlfriend), Debra Hill while in England promoting Assault on Precinct 13 in 1977. They visited the site in the late afternoon, and saw an eerie fog in the distance. Though carpenter and Hill worked together on The Fog, Halloween and several other projects, by the time the Fog came to be filmed Carpenter was married to Adrienne Barbeau. Unusually, both Carpenter and Hill were involved in the 2005 remake starring Selma Blair and Tom Welling, which managed to stay more-or-less faithful to the original.
Worried the film might flop, the distribution company, AVCO Embassy Pictures, spent around $3 million on advertising and promotion, mostly on TV, radio and print ads. They also spent a considerable amount installing fog machines in the lobbies of cinemas where the film was showing. That was almost three times the amount the film cost to make. However, the gamble paid off as it generated over $21 million at the Box Office.