Cinema Fearité presents 'The Fog.'
John Carpenter followed up 'Halloween' with his campfire ghost story 'The Fog'
In 1978, visionary filmmaker John Carpenter single-handedly changed the landscape of the horror genre and ushered in the golden age of the slasher with Halloween. So, how did the Master of Horror follow up one of the most influential movies ever made? With the creepy campfire ghost story The Fog.
The Fog takes place in a town called Antonio Bay that is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary. As the town gets ready for its big centennial, the citizens begin to notice strange things happening between midnight and 1:00am. At first, its harmless stuff like windows breaking and car alarms going off, but when a fishing boat fails to return after a nighttime excursion, a local named Nick Castle (Tom Atkins from Night of the Creeps and The Ninth Configuration) goes looking for it. He finds it, but the crew is dead, seemingly drowned, but without ever landing in the water.
Meanwhile, a priest named Father Malone (Creepshow’s Hal Holbrook) finds an old diary buried within his church that recounts the sinking of a ship full of lepers off the coast of Antonio Bay. When a radio DJ named Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau from Swamp Thing), who happens to also own the town’s lighthouse, notices a strange glowing fog coming ashore and moving in specific directions, the town starts to wonder if maybe the undead passengers of the leper ship have come with the spectral fog, seeking revenge on the sleepy little town just in time for its anniversary party.
In reality, The Fog isn’t John Carpenter’s true follow-up to Halloween. The auteur director also made a pair of TV movies, the 1978 suspense thriller Someone’s Watching Me! and the 1979 music biopic Elvis, before pushing The Fog to the big screen in 1980. For The Fog, Carpenter brought back Halloween co-writer/producer Debra Hill (who would also help write Halloween II and Escape from L.A.) to craft an epically spooky, legend-inspired ghost story that both played upon older ideas while forging new ground. The Fog is a fresh take on the classic yarn-spinning campfire tale.
To bring his ghastly vision to life, John Carpenter enlisted the help of a veritable who’s-who of the early eighties horror scene. In addition to Barbeau, Atkins, and Holbrook, Carpenter recruited scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis who, in addition to starring in Halloween for Carpenter, also had featured roles in Terror Train and Prom Night (what a 1980 she had!). Joining Curtis in the film is her mother, Janet Leigh (the original scream queen from Psycho), and her fellow Halloween pal, Nancy Loomis (another one of Carpenter’s favorites). Sharp-eyed fans will recognize John Houseman (Rollerball) as a ghost story-spinning sea captain and Darwin Joston (Eraserhead) as the town coroner (hilariously named Dr. Phibes). As if that wasn’t enough, The Fog includes cameos by not only Carpenter and Hill, but also production designer Tommy Lee Wallace (as one of the ghosts!) and effects makeup legend Rob Bottin (The Thing). Hell, even cinematographer Dean Cundey’s kid found his way into the picture.
And speaking of Dean Cundey…John Carpenter also used his first-call, main-man master cinematographer to shoot The Fog. Cundey, who worked on everything from Without Warning to Jurassic Park, looks to be having a lot of fun with The Fog, embracing the supernatural element of the movie and making the ghostly sailors look extra spooky with backlighting and shadows. The titular fog becomes a character in and of itself, with Cundey literally making the mist glow eerily as it moves its way across the sets and locations. There’s no doubt that Dean Cundey is a master of movie photography, and The Fog’s mix of horrifying realism and comic-book fantasticality is a good example of how he earned that reputation.
Just as he’s done with the majority of the movies he’s directed (and also did with the newest Halloween sequel), John Carpenter composed the score for The Fog himself. With the obvious exception of Halloween (and maybe Assault on Precinct 13), his music for The Fog may be the most recognizable themes that he’s ever written. The score is a typically awesome Carpenter electronic soundtrack, full of spooky melodies emphasized by ominous harmonization. It sounds similar to all of the retro-synth scores from today’s movies; but remember, The Fog was made in 1980. Carpenter’s film music is often imitated, but never duplicated.
The Fog was remade in 2005, and that version is widely considered to be one of the worst horror movies ever made. But the original is a classic, so it goes without saying, if you’re going to watch The Fog, make sure you track down the right one: John Carpenter’s 1980 masterpiece.