The Fog (1980)

R | 90 mins | Horror | 1 February 1980

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HISTORY

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Michael Thielvoldt, an independent scholar.

The film’s title appears onscreen as John Carpenter’s The Fog. The authorial antecedent is traditional of Carpenter-directed film titles.
       The following quote from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “A Dream Within a Dream,” appears on a title card at the beginning of the film: “Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?” In commentary included on Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 2005 home video release, director John Carpenter credited the quote’s inclusion to producer and co-screenwriter Debra Hill. The film also includes a “cold open,” a scene before the opening titles in which the elderly “Mr. Machen,” played by John Houseman, recounts the local ghost story of the sunken ship, The Elizabeth Dane, to a group of children around a campfire. Carpenter and Hill stated in their commentary that this scene was shot on a Raleigh Studios sound stage in Los Angeles, CA, and that Houseman worked for one day to complete it.
       The closing credits contain the following written statement: “Thanks to the people of Pt. Reyes Station, California [and] Inverness, California."
       Actress Nancy Kyes is credited as “Nancy Loomis,” a name she used in the previous Carpenter films, Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween (1976 and 1978, see entries). The 16 Jan 1980 Var review claimed that Charles Cypher’s character, “Dan O’Bannon,” was named after screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, who collaborated with Carpenter on the script for Carpenter’s first feature film, Dark Star (1974, ... More Less

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Michael Thielvoldt, an independent scholar.

The film’s title appears onscreen as John Carpenter’s The Fog. The authorial antecedent is traditional of Carpenter-directed film titles.
       The following quote from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “A Dream Within a Dream,” appears on a title card at the beginning of the film: “Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?” In commentary included on Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 2005 home video release, director John Carpenter credited the quote’s inclusion to producer and co-screenwriter Debra Hill. The film also includes a “cold open,” a scene before the opening titles in which the elderly “Mr. Machen,” played by John Houseman, recounts the local ghost story of the sunken ship, The Elizabeth Dane, to a group of children around a campfire. Carpenter and Hill stated in their commentary that this scene was shot on a Raleigh Studios sound stage in Los Angeles, CA, and that Houseman worked for one day to complete it.
       The closing credits contain the following written statement: “Thanks to the people of Pt. Reyes Station, California [and] Inverness, California."
       Actress Nancy Kyes is credited as “Nancy Loomis,” a name she used in the previous Carpenter films, Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween (1976 and 1978, see entries). The 16 Jan 1980 Var review claimed that Charles Cypher’s character, “Dan O’Bannon,” was named after screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, who collaborated with Carpenter on the script for Carpenter’s first feature film, Dark Star (1974, see entry). Also named after a Carpenter collaborator was the character, “Nick Castle,” as stated in Gilles Boulenger’s book, Prince of Darkness (Los Angeles, 2003). A close friend of Carpenter’s, Castle was the man who embodied the villainous “Shape” in Halloween, and he later co-wrote Escape From New York and its sequel, Escape From L.A (1981 and 1996, see entries).      
       The 16 Jan 1980 Var review noted that Carpenter appears in the film in an uncredited cameo as the church maintenance worker, “Bennett,” acting opposite Hal Holbrook’s “Father Malone.” Hill also makes an uncredited appearance, behind Janet Leigh’s “Kathy Williams” in the background of one of the candlelight vigil scenes. For his cameo role playing a ghost, art director and film editor Tommy Lee Wallace is credited in the cast as Tommy Wallace.
       In an interview for Boulenger’s Prince of Darkness, Carpenter claimed that The Fog was partially based on a real, historic incident that took place in Santa Barbara, CA. In a 1 Jun 1979 HR piece, Carpenter noted that the premise for the film came to him during a visit to the London Film Festival in 1977, and that his intention was to create a movie in which the fog was the central villain. According to production notes from AMPAS library files, Hill wrote the first draft of the screenplay, and she and Carpenter took turns writing subsequent drafts.
       An 11 Jan 1979 DV brief reported that Avco Embassy Pictures Corporation would produce the film, and an 11 Jan 1979 HR news item indicated that Carpenter’s Hilltopper Productions would co-produce along with Entertainment Discoveries Inc. (E. D. I.), a subsidiary of Bantam Books. In Prince of Darkness, Boulenger stated that The Fog was the first in a two-picture deal between Carpenter and Avco Embassy, followed by 1981’s Escape From New York.
       According to a 6 Mar 1980 HR news item, Halloween producer Irwin Yablans filed a $4 million lawsuit against Carpenter and Hill after the pair failed to follow through on an alleged verbal agreement to make The Fog with Yablans. Despite the lawsuit, Carpenter, Hill, and Yablans re-teamed a year later on Halloween II (1981, see entry). Production notes stated that The Fog was the second collaborative feature film effort between Carpenter, Hill, and cinematographer Dean Cundey after Halloween. The Fog marked the reunion of a number of other Halloween contributors, including production designer Tommy Lee Wallace, editor Charles Bornstein, and actresses Jamie Lee Curtis and Nancy Kyes.
       According to production notes, Carpenter and Hill wrote a number of key roles with talent already in mind, including Charles Cyphers’ infatuated weather reporter, Dan. The role of Kathy Williams was created for Janet Leigh, as were the characters “Elizabeth Solley” and “Sandy Fadel” for Jamie Lee Curtis and Nancy Loomis, respectively. The central radio deejay character, “Stevie Wayne,” was crafted for Adrienne Barbeau, Carpenter’s wife at the time.
       While the production budget was reported as $1 million by a 2 Dec 2004 DV article and Boulenger’s Prince of Darkness, an 18 Jan 1980 DV item estimated the budget at $2 million. Principal photography took place in Northern California in Apr and May 1979, and post-production work was scheduled to conclude by 1 Sep 1979, as stated in the 1 Jun 1979 HR article. HR described Carpenter’s decision to shoot on location in Northern California as twofold: one, Carpenter had always envisioned the story surrounding a West Coast lighthouse, and, two, it was cheaper to set up production in upstate California than it would be on the East Coast. As stated in production notes, the 109-year-old Point Reyes lighthouse in Northern California’s Marin County was selected as the central beacon and radio station in the film after extensive location scouting. The lighthouse was accessible only via a 638-step, winding staircase, and seventy-five-mile-per-hour winds often whipped the surrounding area. The town of Point Reyes was selected to represent the fictional town of “Antonio Bay,” partly due to the area’s propensity for dense fog, as Point Reyes was reportedly the foggiest U.S. locale outside of Nantucket, MA. Home video commentary by Carpenter and Hill identified a number of other California locations, including the cities of Olema, Altadena, and San Pedro harbor. Additionally, many of the re-shoots took place in Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon area, and a gas station scene from the opening credits was filmed in the San Fernando Valley. Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds (1963, see entry), served as a locale, and the restaurant in which multiple characters from The Birds seek refuge from their avian attackers is visible in the background of a scene on the pier in which Nick and Elizabeth seek information about the missing ship, The Sea Grass.
       The film relied heavily on post-production effects to create needed fog. Production notes credited Dick Albain, Jr., and his Los Angeles-based A. & A. Special Effects company with the creation of the fog, which they produced on Hollywood soundstages using specially-designed fog machines and a combination of dry ice, fog juice and optical effects. Carpenter’s demand that the fog banks look exactly as he envisioned them reportedly led to expensive re-shoots and delays. In home video commentary, Hill stated that a miniature of the bay’s rocks was constructed out of black velvet on a soundstage in the San Fernando Valley, and fog created primarily from dry ice was wafted over the miniature; the miniature footage was then combined with actual footage of the bay’s waters as a composite.
       A 25 Jan 1980 LAT item described the challenges posed to hair stylist Tina Cassaday by the fog on set. Cassaday prescribed that Janet Leigh shampoo with egg, Hal Holbrook use ph-scale formula, Adrienne Barbeau condition with wheat germ oil, and Jamie Lee Curtis rinse with vinegar, in order to keep the actors’ hair in line amidst humid set conditions. Despite Cassaday’s efforts, John Houseman’s artificial beard repeatedly came unglued during his scene due to the excessive moisture from the fog machines.
       In Boulenger’s book, Carpenter claimed that extensive re-shoots and re-edits during post-production led to the elimination of roughly thirty percent of the original version. A new character and new scenes were added, including the sequence in which Nick tells Elizabeth a ghost story below deck on The Sea Grass, and the climactic action sequence atop the lighthouse. Also during post-production, Carpenter decided that his original score was too “heavy-handed,” so the music had to be re-done as well as the sound effects.
       The 18 Jan 1980 DV article noted that Avco Embassy licensed the television rights to American Broadcasting Company (ABC) for $2 million, and, under the agreement, ABC-TV could air the film two times over a three-year period starting Sep 1982. As stated in DV, the film’s marketing budget was over $3 million, not including print costs, and was the “most extensive and costly” campaign launched by Avco to the time. The campaign focused heavily on local television spots, which pulled from eleven television commercials and seven different ten-second teasers to correlate with the film’s staggered release dates. The campaign also included the following: radio spots on stations geared toward the film’s twelve to twenty-year-old demographic; magazine ads in publications including Rolling Stone, National Lampoon, National Star, and TV Guide; college mailings; science fiction convention screenings, headed by Mick Garris, who previously promoted Alien and Star Wars (1977 and 1979, see entries); skywriting in Los Angeles; and the placement of fifty fog machines, costing $350 a piece, in select theater lobbies.
       The 18 Jan 1980 DV article indicated that, though the film was originally intended to release during Christmas, Avco Embassy president, Bob Rehme, postponed the release to 1 Feb 1980, when there would be fewer major box office competitors and more available theaters. Avco struck six hundred prints, reportedly its largest print order to the time, and the initial release took place in Los Angeles; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; Salt Lake City, UT; Denver, CO; Texas; Florida; and Chicago, IL. On 15 Feb 1980, the release widened to include New York City; Boston, MA; Washington; Kansas City, KS; and St. Louis, MO.
       According to a 6 Mar 1980 HR news item, the film was a “boxoffice hit.” A 27 Feb 1980 DV item, citing Avco Embassy executive Herb Robinson, reported the film accrued $7,264,102 “in its first 24 days of domestic release,” taking in $6,481,152 in receipts in the US and $782,950 in Canada with 540 prints in theaters. By 10 Mar, HR reported that the film “passed the $10 million domestic gross mark.”
       Critical reception was mixed. The 15 Jan 1980 HR and 16 Jan 1980 Var reviews noted the special effects, editing, cinematography, score, and performances as strong points, and Var lauded Carpenter’s maturing style. In a negative NYT review on 29 Feb 1980, Vincent Canby described the story as “thin” and lacking the straightforwardness of Halloween.
       According to a 21 Jan 1980 press release from AMPAS library files, the film won the Festival International Du Film Fantastique’s Prix de la Critique (Critic Award) in Avoriaz, France. The win marked the second consecutive Carpenter-Hill collaboration to claim the prize, after Halloween.
       The Fog marked Adrienne Barbeau’s feature film debut, according to production notes. Boulenger also stated in his book that The Fog was the first feature motion picture collaboration between Janet Leigh and her daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis.
       In the film, Stevie Wayne plays a Coup de Villes song on her radio show; according to Prince of Darkness, the Coup de Villes was a band comprised of Carpenter, Nick Castle, and himself, formed when they attended college together.
       Numerous contemporary sources and production notes acknowledged plans by Bantam Books to publish a novelization of the film to be released concurrently with the theatrical debut. A 26 Mar 1980 LAT article claimed that the novelization “was initially developed by [executive producer] Bloch and Bantam along with John Carpenter and Debra Hill,” and the 18 Jan 1980 DV article reported that Bantam would print 500,000 copies for the book’s initial release.
       The 2 Dec 2004 DV news item reported Revolution Studios’ plans to produce a remake to be directed by Rupert Wainwright, based on a script by Cooper Layne. The article indicated Wainwright’s desire to “[flesh] out a storyline that was described verbally in the first film.” The remake, also titled The Fog, was released in 2005 and starred Tom Wellington, Maggie Grace, and Selma Blair (see entry).
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
11 Jan 1979.
---
Daily Variety
18 Jan 1980
p. 3, 49.
Daily Variety
27 Feb 1980.
---
Daily Variety
2 Dec 2004
p. 7, 22.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jan 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jun 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jan 1980
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jan 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Mar 1980.
---
Los Angeles Times
25 Jan 1980.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Feb 1980
Section II, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
26 Mar 1980
Section G, p. 1, 6.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
6 Feb 1980
p. 70.
New York Times
29 Feb 1980
Section III, p. 15.
New Yorker
25 Feb 1980
pp. 115-16.
Newsweek
3 Mar 1980
p. 68.
Variety
17 Jan 1979.
---
Variety
16 Feb 1980
p. 31.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT

PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Avco Embassy & E.D.I. present
A Debra Hill production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Exec prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op/2d unit cam
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Gaffer
Key grip
Best boy
Best boy-Elec
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Sets by
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost des, Workroom 27
Cost des, Workroom 27
Ward master
MUSIC
Electronic realization
Electronic orch
Mus coord
Mus mixer
Mus rec studio
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Post prod sd
Supv sd ed
Supv sd ed, Mag City
Supv sd ed, Mag City
Spec sd eff
Spec sd eff
Sd des, Stevensound Inc.
VISUAL EFFECTS
Blake eff
Blake eff
Spec photog eff
Title des
Titles & opticals
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Spec makeup
Hair stylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Unit pub
Unit pub
STAND INS
Stunt driver
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
John Carpenter's The Fog
Release Date:
1 February 1980
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 1 February 1980
New York opening: 29 February 1980
Production Date:
April--May 1979 in Marchin County, California
Copyright Claimant:
Avco Embassy Pictures Corporation
Copyright Date:
3 March 1980
Copyright Number:
PA61242
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Metrocolor®
Lenses
Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
90
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25792
SYNOPSIS

On April 20, 1980, a group of children huddle around a campfire in Antonio Bay as old Mr. Machen tells a ghost story about a clipper ship called The Elizabeth Dane. According to Mr. Machen, the ship sailed toward nearby Spivey Point one hundred years ago to the day, but when a dense fog rose up from the sea, The Elizabeth Dane’s Captain Blake steered toward a campfire that he believed to be a lighthouse and wrecked on the rocks, causing every member of the crew to die. Local fishermen say that when the fog returns, so too will the crew of The Elizabeth Dane, in search of the campfire that led them to their deaths. Elsewhere, Father Malone says goodnight to the church caretaker, Bennett, and shortly after, a stone falls loose from the wall, revealing a hidden journal written by Father Malone’s ancestor, Father Patrick Malone, in 1880. Turning to a random page in the journal, Father Malone reads the following: “Midnight ‘til one belongs to the dead.” On the radio, local KAB deejay, Stevie Wayne, wishes Antonio Bay a happy 100th birthday and comments on the night’s clear skies. Meanwhile, odd phenomena occur around town: a corner store rattles convulsively; gas station lights illuminate unprovoked; a gas pump falls from its hold and seeps gasoline onto the pavement; and, Sandy Fadel, a young woman, witnesses her television turn ... +


On April 20, 1980, a group of children huddle around a campfire in Antonio Bay as old Mr. Machen tells a ghost story about a clipper ship called The Elizabeth Dane. According to Mr. Machen, the ship sailed toward nearby Spivey Point one hundred years ago to the day, but when a dense fog rose up from the sea, The Elizabeth Dane’s Captain Blake steered toward a campfire that he believed to be a lighthouse and wrecked on the rocks, causing every member of the crew to die. Local fishermen say that when the fog returns, so too will the crew of The Elizabeth Dane, in search of the campfire that led them to their deaths. Elsewhere, Father Malone says goodnight to the church caretaker, Bennett, and shortly after, a stone falls loose from the wall, revealing a hidden journal written by Father Malone’s ancestor, Father Patrick Malone, in 1880. Turning to a random page in the journal, Father Malone reads the following: “Midnight ‘til one belongs to the dead.” On the radio, local KAB deejay, Stevie Wayne, wishes Antonio Bay a happy 100th birthday and comments on the night’s clear skies. Meanwhile, odd phenomena occur around town: a corner store rattles convulsively; gas station lights illuminate unprovoked; a gas pump falls from its hold and seeps gasoline onto the pavement; and, Sandy Fadel, a young woman, witnesses her television turn on and a chair slide forward without assistance. On a dark road, Nick Castle picks up female hitchhiker Elizabeth Solley, and the two chat inside his truck, though their flirtation is cut short when something shatters the truck’s windows. Stevie Wayne receives a phone call from local weatherman, Dan O’Bannon, who informs her of a fog bank approaching the fishing boat, The Sea Grass – a message she relays over the airwaves. Initially skeptical of the warning, the three fishermen on The Sea Grass spot the fog bank and watch as an archaic ship sails by and a group of silhouetted figures appear, wielding swords, knives, and meat hooks. Surrounded by fog, the figures slaughter the crew of The Sea Grass. Later that night, Nick and Elizabeth lie in bed together after having sex, and a rapping on the door interrupts. Nick sees a silhouetted figure holding a meat hook outside his door; however, just as the clock strikes 1:00 AM, the figure retreats into the fog. The following morning, Stevie’s son, Andy, sees a gold coin on the beach, but when he goes to retrieve it, he finds a broken plank of wood in its place, with the word “Dane” carved into it. Meanwhile, Nick sets out to locate his friend, Dick Baxter, one of the fishermen on The Sea Grass. Elizabeth joins Nick as he sails out to The Sea Grass and finds it empty but curiously water damaged. Meanwhile, Kathy Williams, the wife of one of the missing fishermen, and her assistant, Sandy Fadel, confirm final preparations for that night’s Antonio Bay centennial celebration, and they discover that strange things happened to both of them the previous night at midnight. At Father Malone’s church, Sandy and Kathy arrive to discuss renovating the church cemetery, but Father Malone is shaken and reads to them from the journal he found last night. The entry he reads talks of the first meeting between Father Patrick Malone and Blake, a rich leper seeking permission to relocate his colony from the island of Tanzier to a spot near Antonio Bay, aboard his newly purchased ship, The Elizabeth Dane. Subsequent entries reveal a sinister plan, devised by Father Patrick Malone and five other conspirators, during the hour between midnight and one in the morning, to kill Blake and his comrades and steal their gold to finish building the town. As stated in the journal, Malone and his accomplices were aided in their plan by an “unearthly fog,” helping them to lure Blake toward a false beacon and into the rocks. The six then recovered Blake’s sunken gold and used it to found their town. Based on the journal’s contents, Father Malone has decided that Antonio Bay and its inhabitants are cursed. On The Sea Grass, Nick and Elizabeth scour the vessel, finding odd deposits of salt water, excessive rusting, and all the ship’s gauges broken – the result of extreme cold. After they uncover the slain body of Nick’s friend, Dick Baxter, they take his body to be examined. At the KAB studio, Stevie Wayne places the piece of driftwood her son found atop a table and notices as the wood leaks water, and its inscription changes from “Dane” to “6 Must Die” before bursting into flames. At the coroner’s office, the coroner explains his findings to Nick while Dick Baxter’s corpse reanimates and, wielding a scalpel, lunges at Elizabeth. That evening, Stevie Wayne receives word of another encroaching fog bank from Dan. When the glowing fog surrounds the weather station, Stevie remains on the phone while Dan answers the door. She listens powerlessly as a figure emerges from the fog and kills Dan with a meat hook. Stevie then voices a distress call for Sheriff David Simms who is at the centennial celebration in town, but the fog disables Stevie’s phone lines just as Simms calls her back. Next, the fog cuts Antonio Bay’s electricity, but the townsfolk continue with their candlelight vigil. By the shore, the fog approaches Stevie’s house, where Andy is staying with his babysitter, Mrs. Kobritz. Stevie sees the fog from the lighthouse and shouts pleas across the airwaves, begging anyone nearby to save her son. After sending Andy to his room, Mrs. Kobritz answers the door and is attacked by hook-wielding figures. Just as the fog arrives at Andy’s bedroom, however, Nick and Elizabeth arrive at the house to save him, having heard Stevie’s broadcast. Driving away with Andy, Elizabeth and Nick rely on Stevie’s updates to navigate safely through town and escape the fog. Stevie’s directions ultimately lead them to Father Malone’s church, the remaining point of safety. There, Nick, Elizabeth, and Andy find Kathy, Sandy, and Father Malone. Looking to the journal for guidance, Malone learns that Blake’s gold remains hidden in the church walls. Meanwhile, a divided undead crew attacks the church and Stevie’s radio station at the lighthouse, intent on claiming a sixth and final soul. As Father Malone and company exhume Blake’s gold from the walls of the church, Stevie escapes to the lighthouse roof, where she is cornered by two of Blake’s crew. In the church, Father Malone offers up the gold to Blake, who accepts the offering and vanishes in a glowing light along with his crew. The survivors watch as the fog disappears. Back on the air, Stevie fears that the fog might return and delivers a warning to the ships at sea. Father Malone, now alone in the church, ponders why Blake did not take his life and fulfill the cursed vow. His questioning is answered by the return of Blake, who unsheathes his sword and slashes it across Father Malone’s neck. +

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Name Occurs Before Title
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