A Love Letter to John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980)

the fog 1980 film

Updated April 2023

Hey there, movie buffs, let me introduce you to one of my favorite filmmakers — John Carpenter! This guy is a legend in the horror and sci-fi genres and has directed some of the most iconic movies ever. If you’re a fan of Halloween, Escape from New York, or The Thing, you’ve already experienced Carpenter’s hair-raising storytelling and masterful direction.

He’s been in the film industry for decades and has a unique style that blends suspense, action, and sometimes even humor. So, if you’re looking for a good scare or want to check out a classic action flick, look no further than this ghost story from genre giant John Carpenter!

The Fog, released in 1980, proved to be a turning point in Carpenter’s career. After the success of his indie hit, Halloween, expectations were high for his follow-up project. Luckily, it did not disappoint.

the fog 1980 scene

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With an eerie ambiance, a creepy seaside setting, and a cast that included scream-queen Jamie Lee Curtis, this movie secured Carpenter’s place as a horror movie mastermind. So next time you feel spooked by the misty sea air, thank The Fog for cementing Carpenter’s status as a horror movie icon.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a sucker for a good flick, just like me. And if you’re a fan of horror, you’ve probably heard of the cult classic film. But you may not know that behind the scenes, there’s a wealth of fascinating information that’s just begging to be shared.

So let’s give you a deeper appreciation for this epic ghost story while sprinkling in some fun facts to delight your cinephile senses. So buckle up, grab some popcorn, and join us as we dive into the spooky world of The Fog!

“11:55…almost midnight. Enough time for one more story.”

Introducing The Fog

In 1978, John Carpenter and Debra Hill took a bare-bones budget and crafted a masterpiece called Halloween. In 1980, the world found out what Carpenter could do with a bigger budget at his disposal.

The result is one of the best horror movies to emerge from the golden era, which was the late 1970s and early 1980s. Carpenter and Hill brought back a few stars from Halloween, including Jamie Lee Curtis and Nancy Kyes, and augmented the cast with talented heavy hitters, such as Janet Leigh, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, James Canning, Charles Cyphers, and Hal Holbrook. Together, these talented actors and storytellers tell the tale of mariners betrayed by a town.

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The Eerie Premise: Antonio Bay’s Sinister Secret

Meet Antonio Bay, a small California coastal town which could just as easily be located in New England, North Carolina, or along any slice of the United States coastline. And maybe that’s part of the film’s allure, that you can easily imagine the locale as Cape Cod or any other coastal location.

The opening of The Fog is one of the most brilliant in horror history. The story begins with the late John Houseman spinning a yarn about betrayal and shipwrecks to terrified young people seated around a campfire. Never before nor since has the stage been so well set for what was to come in a horror movie. The tale alone is worth the price of admission.

The coastal town has a dastardly past that is chronicled inside a diary hidden within a church’s walls. Shortly after the diary is rediscovered, the wronged return to enact their revenge, coming and going with a ghostly fog.

The Fog is equal parts horror and mystery, with a sprinkling of EC comic inspiration and HP Lovecraft vibes. But let’s not forget the cherry on top: Carpenter’s signature directorial style. From the spine-chilling score to the moody lighting, it remains a timeless masterpiece that will leave you feeling spooked long after the credits roll.

The Creative Minds behind The Fog

As you might expect from the genre master, this horror film is well-acted and brilliantly directed. Carpenter and Hill kept the plot tight, and before long you will find yourself empathizing with and fearing the monsters coming out of the fog. The effects are excellent, making the fog’s march down the streets of Antonio Bay look terrifyingly believable.

To hell with the CGI effects from the remake. The fog bank in the original looks real and takes on a life force of its own. The musical score is simple and effective, much like Halloween’s score, setting a brooding tone without getting in the way. Carpenter is the horror set piece and scene master. He knows exactly how to direct and write scary scenes.

adrienne barbeau john carpenter in the fog film

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In Halloween, Carpenter brought us some of the most memorable moments in horror history (think of P.J. Soles’ character, Lynda, looking up at her boyfriend, Bob, wearing a ghost sheet over his head. Only that isn’t really Bob…). Carpenter does not disappoint here, either. Much of the terror plays out in front of Stevie Wayne (Barbeau), a late-night disc jockey with a God’s-eye view of Antonio Bay’s coastal borders.

The “Dan the Weather Man” scene is unforgettable. Particularly gripping is the elderly babysitter answering the knocks upon the door as Wayne’s young son sheepishly watches from within the house. Wayne can see the horror spreading before her eyes but is helpless to do anything other than shout warnings to anyone who might be listening.

The final “chase” between the ghostly fog and the fleeing residents of Antonio Bay is heart-pounding suspense at its finest. John Carpenter knows how to end his stories and the importance of good story endings. The Fog has a satisfying conclusion that ties together the story’s various threads and provides a resolution to the supernatural terror haunting Antonio Bay. 

Without giving away any spoilers, the climax of the horror film effectively resolves the conflict between the vengeful spirits and the townspeople while offering some surprises along the way. The conclusion is a fitting end to the eerie atmosphere and compelling story, creating one of the most iconic ghost stories that has captivated audiences for decades.

The Inspiration behind The Fog

Did you know that a trip to Stonehenge inspired one of the greatest horror films of all time? John Carpenter cited his visit to the ancient monument in South West England as inspiration for this film. But he didn’t stop there. Carpenter also drew inspiration from a British film called The Trollenberg Terror, which featured monsters lurking in the clouds.

With these two influences, Carpenter crafted a spooky tale about a mysterious fog that rolls into a small town, bringing with it vengeful ghosts seeking revenge. So if you ever find yourself lost in a fog, just remember that John Carpenter may be lurking around the corner, ready to scare the pants off you with his British-inspired horror.

The Filming Problems 

After the initial screening, the director and studio executives felt the film lacked sufficient fright, leading to considerable reshoots. Additional footage included close-ups of fatalities (mainly stabbing injuries), the sequence with Jamie Lee Curtis encountering a reanimated corpse in the morgue, and the climax featuring Adrienne Barbeau atop the lighthouse.

Despite the film’s modest production budget of slightly more than $1 million, Avco Embassy invested triple that sum in marketing efforts. This comprehensive promotional campaign encompassed television and radio commercials, print advertisements, and even the installation of fog machines (priced at $350 each!) in the lobbies of select theaters screening the movie, further enhancing the immersive experience for audiences.

Operating on a modest budget of just over $1 million, The Fog still exceeded expectations, especially considering it had a significantly higher budget than Carpenter’s previous hit, Halloween. This fact makes the film’s triumph in the horror genre all the more remarkable.

There were some casting issues, too, most notably that involving Christopher Lee. Regrettably, we missed out on the possibility of the iconic British actor Christopher Lee, known for his roles in Hammer Horror films from the ’50s to ’70s, taking on the part of Father Malone. 

christopher lee waving

The character was intended to be a spiritual guide for the frightened townspeople. However, when Lee was unavailable, seasoned character actor Hal Holbrook stepped in. This wasn’t the only time Lee declined a role in a Carpenter film. He also rejected the part of Dr. Loomis in the original Halloween due to the low pay. Lee later admitted that passing on Halloween was one of his career’s most significant missteps.

The Brilliance of the Music

John Carpenter is known for his signature approach to scoring his films with minimalistic music, a technique that effectively amplifies suspense. By using simple yet haunting melodies, Carpenter creates an unsettling atmosphere that heightens the tension and dread, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats throughout the film.

In the film, due to its cost-effectiveness, jazz music was chosen as the primary genre for Stevie Wayne’s radio station. The royalties associated with jazz tracks were notably more affordable than those for rock music, allowing the filmmakers to stay within their limited budget. By opting for jazz tunes, the production costs were kept in check, and the unique and atmospheric soundscape also contributed to the film’s distinct mood and tone.

Fun Facts about The Fog

Now that we’ve delved into the captivating world of one of the best old-school horrors ever made let’s explore some lesser-known tidbits and amusing anecdotes from behind the scenes.

The Scream Queen Connection

This film features a trio of cinema’s most renowned horror scream queens: Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Leigh, and Jamie Lee Curtis. If you’re a horror buff, then you probably know that Adrienne Barbeau and Jamie Lee Curtis are both scream queens in their own right. But did you know that they never appear together in any scenes in The Fog? It’s true! While they both play lead roles, they never share any screen time. Who says you have to be in the same room to make a great horror movie?

Adrienne Barbeau, John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh, While Filming "The Fog" 1980Image Source

Carpenter’s Band!

If you were paying attention to the radio playing near the film’s beginning you might have heard a little nod from director John Carpenter. That’s right, the band mentioned on the radio was “The Coupe DeVilles” and they actually feature Carpenter! 

These guys also gifted us with a groovy tune to close out another Carpenter gem, Big Trouble in Little China. I don’t know about you, but I always get a kick out of discovering those fun little Easter eggs hidden throughout movies, and this one is definitely worth adding to the list!

Carpenter as an Actor

Carpenter appears in The Fog as a church janitor who chats with Hal Holbrook’s priest in a spooky scene. However, Carpenter was so nervous about delivering lines to an accomplished actor that he later called it “one of the most terrifying moments in my life.” Unfortunately, he was also his own worst critic and ultimately deemed his performance “terrible.”

From then on, he decided to stick to behind-the-scenes work and only made walk-on appearances or played helicopter pilots. Don’t worry, though, Carpenter’s talent as a director more than makes up for any lack of acting skills.

A Surprise Actor!

The film’s main specter, Captain Blake, is portrayed by renowned makeup and special effects artist Rob Bottin. This marks his second of three on-screen appearances and his only credited role. When 20-year-old Bottin asked to play the leprous ghost, Carpenter assessed his height instead of dismissing him. At nearly 6’5”, Bottin’s imposing stature was perfect for the character, landing him the part.

The Horror of the Remake

In the 1990s, John Carpenter mentioned during an interview with Fangoria magazine that he was interested in producing an anthology series based on The Fog. However, the proposed series would initially not have featured any of the characters from Antonio Bay. 

Instead, the titular fog would have served as a catalyst for other supernatural stories elsewhere. He also implied that connective ties to his 1980 film would become more apparent as the series progressed.

However, the series never materialized, and in 2005, a remake was produced instead. If your only knowledge of The Fog is of its terrible 2005 remake, run, do not walk, to order a copy of the 1980 original. This is not the same movie by any means.

There’s simply no comparison between the two movies. Trust me, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by watching Carpenter’s classic version, as the two films are worlds apart in quality and atmosphere. 

So, skip the inferior remake, grab a copy of the 1980 original, and prepare to be mesmerized by a horror classic that has stood the test of time. You’ll quickly understand why the original has such a devoted following and is considered a must-watch for any horror enthusiast.

The Impact and Influence

The Fog has garnered a dedicated cult following and continues to captivate horror fans even decades after its release. Enthusiasts of the genre can’t help but be drawn to the film’s mysterious and chilling atmosphere, and its memorable ghostly antagonists. 

This enduring popularity is a testament to Carpenter’s genius in crafting unforgettable and spine-tingling cinematic experiences that keep audiences coming back for more. So, gather your fellow horror fans and bask in the eerie charm of The Fog.

The film has left an indelible mark on the horror genre, influencing many subsequent films and shaping the way stories of terror are told. Its unique blend of supernatural elements, mystery, and atmospheric tension has inspired filmmakers to experiment with similar approaches in their own projects.

The use of an ominous, slow-building menace in the form of the fog itself has served as a template for other horror films that employ creeping dread to unnerve audiences.

The memorable and chilling ghostly antagonists have set a standard for compelling and haunting villains, demonstrating that an intriguing backstory can add depth and richness to a horror movie’s plot. The suitably slow building chills combined with the masterful use of minimalistic music to enhance suspense have also been a major influence on the genre, with many filmmakers adopting similar techniques to heighten tension in their work.

This spine-tingling flick has left its mark on the genre by inspiring countless other films with its unforgettable storytelling, eerie atmosphere, and unforgettable characters. If you’re a horror genre fan, you can’t miss this timeless gem that helped establish horror cinema as we know it today. So, pull on your bravest pair of socks and get ready for a wild ride. The Fog is a must-watch for any self-respecting horror addict.

Go Enjoy!

John Carpenter’s films possess a distinct flair and unmistakable charm that set them apart. I, for one, am truly grateful for his contributions to cinema. Although The Fog has been around for four decades, it’s aged remarkably well, standing strong among countless younger films that have come and gone. Despite its low-budget and independent production, Carpenter aimed to give the movie a grander and more polished appearance, opting to shoot in anamorphic widescreen Panavision (2.35:1 format).

Even by contemporary standards, it holds up as a compelling horror tale, brought to life by an exceptional ensemble, including John Hausman, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Tom Atkins. Keen horror enthusiasts will notice several connections to Halloween, Carpenter’s other iconic work.

Besides the obvious link to Carpenter himself, the film features returning actors like Jamie Lee Curtis and a cameo from the sheriff’s daughter from Halloween, giving fans plenty of Easter eggs to discover.

So, to all the horror buffs and curious moviegoers, I wholeheartedly encourage you to rewatch and savor John Carpenter’s The Fog. Immerse yourself in its spine-chilling atmosphere and captivating narrative as it transports you to the mysterious world of Antonio Bay.

Whether you’re a first-time viewer or a longtime fan, there’s no doubt that this timeless classic will send shivers down your spine and remind you why it has secured its place in the pantheon of horror cinema. So grab some popcorn, dim the lights, and let The Fog take you on an unforgettable journey into the heart of supernatural terror.

The Blu-ray collector’s edition of The Fog 1980 is available on Amazon.

Want to read more reviews of my favorite scary movies? Check out all of my film reviews here!

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