With the phenomenal success of HALLOWEEN, writer/director John Carpenter and producer/director Debra Hill were sought after for their next horror project. Many studios and producers came knocking, but it was Avco Embassy Pictures president, Bob Rehme, who reeled them in. Rehme had transformed the once-floundering production company by shifting focus to lower-budget genre films. Having found success with William Girdlers THE MANITOU and Don Coscarelli’s PHANTASM, Avco seemed to be the perfect place for Carpenter and Hill.
Working with a much higher, although still modest budget, Carpenter and Hill decided to move away from the stalk and slash frights of HALLOWEEN into what they called an old fashioned ghost story. THE FOG was intended to be more of a throwback to the atmospheric horror of yore than the ever-growing stream of blood and splatter films unspooling on the drive-in circuit.
Carpenter and Hill set their tale in the fictional seaside town of Antonio Bay, which is preparing to celebrate its centennial. But the towns anniversary has a dark secret attached. Its six founders plundered and sank the ship of Blake, a wealthy man suffering from leprosy, and used his money to found the town. As the centennial looms, strange events occur at the stroke of midnight while a creepy bed of fog envelops the town. When three fishermen mysteriously turn up dead on their boat, it becomes apparent that more than spooky occurrences have washed in from the sea.
Besides the ghosts in the story, Carpenter and Hill sought an ensemble to hold its own against the paranormal terrors. Jamie Lee Curtis returned, playing the polar opposite of her Laurie Strode persona from HALLOWEEN as Elizabeth Solley, a free spirited hitchhiker and artist. Having capitalized on the fact that Curtis mother was the star of PSYCHO with Halloween, Carpenter and Hill upped the ante by casting Janet Leigh as Antonio Bays mayor, thus uniting mother and daughter on the silver screen.
Veteran actor Hal Holbrook was enlisted to play Father Malone, one of the descendants of the six founders of Antonio Bay. Moving out of television and into film was Tom Atkins, who took on the role of Nick Castle (named after Carpenters friend who played the Shape in HALLOWEEN and would go to direct THE LAST STARFIGHTER), a rugged no-nonsense everyman. And in her big-screen debut as Stevie Wayne, the late-night rDJ and voice of Antonio Bay from the lighthouse radio station was Adrienne Barbeau.
Filling out the cast was exploitation film workhorses Buck Flower and John Goff, Carpenter regulars Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis, and Ty Mitchell as Stevie Wayne’s son.
With the upped production value, a solid cast, and cinematographer Dean Cundey once again lensing the film, it came as a bit of a shock to Carpenter and Hill when they watched the rough cut of the film, which just didn’t work. The scares weren’t scary enough and although it was originally intended to be more restrained, they needed to up the gore too.
Learning from their mistakes, Carpenter and Hill reshot about a third of the film and brought in actor John Houseman for an added prologue, where he tells the legend of Antonio Bay around a campfire. With the film beefed up, with more special effects by a young Rob Bottin and Carpenter composing one of his eeriest scores, THE FOG was another hit.
While it didn’t kick off a plethora of spooky ghost films in the way that HALLOWEEN birthed subsequent slashers, THE FOG remains an effective and creepy horror yarn by the sea.
Director: John Carpenter
Hulu Theatre @The Egyptian