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Film / The Fog

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"Is all that we see or seem, but a dream within a dream?"

The Fog is a 1980 American horror film directed by John Carpenter (his first big-screen feature following a certain other horror film, and like that one co-written with Debra Hill), starring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis (and her mother, Janet Leigh), Hal Holbrook, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, John Houseman and others.

The small coastal northern California town of Antonio Bay is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Among its denizens are Stevie Wayne (Barbeau), who runs her own radio station, and Kathy Williams (Leigh), who's in charge of the centennial celebrations. New in town is Elizabeth Solley (Curtis), an aspiring artist who has hitchhiked up from Santa Barbara. Everything seems peaceful enough in Antonio Bay, but on the night of the ceremony, a mysterious fog rolls in – and the fog wants victims...

Remade in 2005 by director Rupert Wainwright, with Tom Welling, Maggie Grace and Selma Blair. The remake tries to create more connections between the characters and also tries to expand on a few plot points from the original.

No relation to James Herbert's horror novel of the same name, or Stephen King's novella The Mist and its film adaptation.

This film provides examples of:

  • 555: The call number to Stevie's radio station.
  • Action Mom: Stevie becomes one of these in the film's final few minutes as she has to fight off the ghosts.
  • Action Survivor: None of the protagonists are trained fighters, and Nick is the only one with a hands-on occupation (he's a sailor). But they all fight off the ghosts in the church.
  • Actor Allusion: Jamie Lee Curtis is the one who protects Andy from the horrors, you might say taking on the role of a babysitter.
  • Advertised Extra: John Houseman was given prominent billing in the marketing (Debra Hill says he gave the film a sense of "legitimacy") but only appears in the first five minutes. Averted in the actual credits though, which just lists him as 'Special Appearance by' (distinct from the And Starring credit Hal Holbrook gets as Father Malone).
  • Asshole Victim: Averted. The conspirators who sank the Elizabeth Dane would qualify as this, but all of them are dead by the time of the film and the victims the ghosts do claim as revenge are all perfectly nice people who had nothing to do with it. The closest anyone gets to being one of these is Al Williams, and he's at worst a little gruff.
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: The lack of blood in the film was to try and secure a PG rating. They still ended up with an R (as PG-13 had not been invented yet).
  • Age-Gap Romance: Elizabeth is a young twentysomething, striking up a fling with Nick, who's approaching middle age. The remake makes them closer in age.
  • Ambiguous Situation: The ghosts are after six victims, and disappear once Father Malone is killed and gives them back their gold. It's never stated whether their victims are descended from the conspirators or they just have to take six to move onto the afterlife (the fact that they go after the likes of Stevie and Andy suggest the latter).
  • Aroused by Their Voice: Stevie puts on this type of voice when broadcasting her music. One of the first scenes has the three sailors getting turned on by it. She drops the voice instantly when she has to make an emergency broadcast.
  • Artistic License – Engineering: Stevie's generator is clearly a gas-powered one - so it should be outside the lighthouse instead of inside.
  • Artistic License – Religion: Father Malone's grandfather, another Father Malone, was one of the town founders. Malone is an Irish – and presumably Catholic – name, and Catholic priests typically don't have children. There are Irish Protestants of course, but most of them have ministers, rather than priests. A Catholic man can also become a priest after being widowed, so it is technically possible for his grandfather to have been a priest, but it's more likely that John Carpenter and/or Debra Hill just hoped nobody would notice. The family may have been Catholic originally and chosen to convert but his descendants became Catholic again, had children out of wedlock or left the priesthood after the events of the wrecking.
  • The Atoner: Father Malone offers himself to Blake's ghost to atone for what his grandfather did. A sacrifice Blake makes good on at the end.
  • Attack of the Town Festival: Subverted as Antonio Bay's birthday festival is cancelled due to power malfunction caused by the fog.
  • Axe Before Entering: The ghosts have a habit of using their longshoreman's hooks to break through doors.
  • Ax-Crazy: Implied with Blake, whose vows of revenge over the tape player quickly descend into Word-Salad Horror.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Most of the main characters survive, but poor Father Malone still gets killed by the zombie/ghost lepers for something his ancestor did. May also double as a Downer Ending.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Just about every kill that happens on-screen doesn't show a single drop of blood. The closest the film shows is what appears to be a stain on Al's shirt where he was run through with a cutlass.
  • Boléro Effect: Used to wonderful ominous effect in the score when the fog is rolling into town and reaching the lighthouse and the church where the protagonists are seeking shelter. The music starts off quiet and builds to a loud crescendo with a percussion and synth beat playing repeatedly over it.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Kathy runs through her list of things to do to get ready for the festival - and the last thing is to go home and pass out.
  • Broken Pedestal: Father Malone's image of his grandfather is shattered when he discovers the journal and the Dark Secret.
    "The celebration tonight is a travesty. We're honouring murderers."
  • By the Hair: One of the ghosts grabs Sandy by the hair when trying to get through the church window.
  • Casting Gag: Mother and daughter Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis. Also Halloween co-stars Nancy Loomis and Charles Cyphers in addition to Curtis. All three interacted a lot in Halloween but are almost completely separate in this.
  • Cat Scare: When Nick and Elizabeth are on the Seagrass, tension is built up to a locker that's about to spill open (and the audience knows three people died on the ship). The door opens...and a pile of equipment falls out. Then Tommy's corpse falls on Elizabeth.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Stevie's radio station becomes the only thing that can warn people about the dangers of the fog.
    • Following on from the above, Nick playing her radio station at the start comes into play when he overhears her distress call to rescue her son.
    • When reading the journal, Father Malone says he couldn't read past the night where the six conspirators murdered Blake's crew. Had he read on, he'd discover that the gold the ghosts are after is hidden in the church walls.
  • City Mouse: Discussed by Stevie. She says that she'll likely remain working alone at the radio station unless she can convince someone "to give up city life for Antonio Bay".
  • Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Kobritz, who is like a second mother to Andy and protects him as best she can from the ghosts.
  • Creator Cameo: John Carpenter appears early in the movie as Bennett.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: Dan wanting to check out the fog after hearing a knock at the door of the weather station quickly makes him the fourth victim.
  • Cut Phone Lines: Just as the sheriff is calling Stevie on her request, a pillar of fog climbs up a telephone pole and breaks off the cables.
  • Dangerous Windows: The ghosts/zombies break through the stained-glass windows of the church.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Sandy, Kathy Williams's snarky assistant. Even during Father Malone's ominous warnings, she can't help throwing snarky comments in there.
      Kathy: Sandy, you're the only person I know who can make "yes, ma'am" sound like "screw you".
      Sandy: Yes, ma'am.
    • Dan O'Bannon gets some snark in too.
  • Drone of Dread: Used frequently in the score to marvelous and eerie effect.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Father Malone is found drinking in his study on the evening of the festival.
  • Everytown, America: Despite being a seaside town, what we see of Antonio Bay fits the trope. The festival even looks a bit like a 4th of July celebration.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Mrs. Williams mentions that her dog kept barking and growling on the night of the ghosts' first appearance.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The film takes place over the course of one day, beginning around midnight and finishing some time the next evening.
  • Eye Scream: Dick Baxter gets stabbed right through the eyes.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Al Williams is a rare case where we get to meet his family, or in this case his wife.
  • Fog of Doom: It's in the title, folks. Notably, it moves against the wind, glows with an eerie light and can short out electricity.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend:
    • When Andy is rescued from his house, no one asks about the fate of his babysitter Mrs. Kobritz. He does briefly mention her towards the end as one of the victims though. Justified, since his rescuers, Nick and Elizabeth, have no idea who she is, and have more pressing matters to deal with, like avoiding being killed by the ghosts.
    • Otherwise averted, since Nick’s motivation is finding out what happened to his friends on the Seagrass, and Stevie is appropriately horrified and saddened when she heard Dan being killed over the phone.
    • Double subverted when it comes to Kathy's husband Al. After finding out he's dead, she's clearly devastated, but chooses to put on a brave face for the sake of the festival. He doesn't get mentioned after that again. They do admittedly say they haven't found him yet, so she may still be imagining that he's just missing.
  • Four-Girl Ensemble: Elizabeth is the Naïve Newcomer and youngest person in the cast (Jamie Lee Curtis had only just turned twenty). Stevie is the sexy one, playing Ms. Fanservice over the radio and getting flirted with by the weatherman. Sandy is the Deadpan Snarker. Kathy Williams is the wise older figure who becomes The Lancer in the third act (although ironically, it's Stevie who's the actual mother of the group).
  • Gender-Blender Name: Stevie Wayne. Also a case of Two First Names.
  • Ghost Ship: Three examples. The Seagrass and the Resa Jane (the brig Nick talks about, which also seems to have fallen victim to the ghosts. Alternatively it may have just been that this WAS the Elizabeth Dane and the name got garbled over the story being retold countless times) are examples of the trope, and the Elizabeth Dane is a rather literal example.
  • Ghost Story: The film's opening prologue has old sea captain Mr. Machen (John Houseman) relating the tale of the wreck of the Elizabeth Dane exactly 100 years prior (and the legend of her perished crew returning with the fog at midnight) to a group of children at a beach bonfire.
  • Ghostly Chill: The ghosts cause the nearby temperature to drop sharply when they appear (the thermometer on the Seagrass was stuck at twenty degrees).
  • Ghostly Goals: Plain old revenge. They also declare "six must die" to stand in for the six conspirators who sank their ship - though it's left open if any six will do or if it's the descendants of the conspirators.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: Blake's (the leader of the ghosts) red eyes.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Most of the murders. In fact, there is no blood spilled on-screen in the movie.
  • Haunted Technology / Electromagnetic Ghosts: The ghosts' presence is first experienced when various technology goes haywire.
  • The Hecate Sisters: The three principal female characters. Elizabeth, the youngest and the newcomer in town, is the Maiden. Stevie, the only mother in the cast, is the Matron. Kathy, the eldest and sharp-witted, is the Crone.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Father Malone tries this. It doesn't work at first, but results in him getting killed later. Stevie arguably does this also, remaining at her post to warn the townspeople (despite not knowing if her son is alive or dead) and fighting to the last against the zombies who besiege her lighthouse.
  • Hollywood Density: For a man his age, Father Malone sure is strong to be able to carry a large solid gold cross.
  • Hollywood Healing: Stevie takes a ghost's fish hook in the shoulder, is able to pull it out and use it to fight off the ghosts. She reappears in the epilogue no worse for wear. This is partly a result of re-shoots to make the scene more impactful.
  • Hooks and Crooks: Most of the ghosts are armed with longshoreman's hooks, although at least one wields a dagger, and Blake himself carries a sword.
  • Hope Spot: When Blake is given the cross it glows brightly and dissipates the fog, saving Stevie and the others. However, in the final scene, the ghosts return to the church, and Blake himself delivers the deathblow to Father Malone - the sixth and final victim.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The ghosts strike on the town's 100th anniversary celebration.
  • Hysterical Woman:
    • Subverted. Stevie's panic slowly starts to increase but she keeps her act together long enough to warn people about the fog and to fight off the pirates. This is a Justified Trope—she is trapped in a lighthouse while her home and her son are left at the mercy of undead pirates and all she can do is spread warnings over the radio with no guarantee that she'll be heard.
    • Also subverted with Elizabeth. She's initially in justified hysterics when a corpse falls on her and it then appears to come back to life to carve a threatening message into the floor. But when the fog causes more trouble, she drives the car to the church, helps fortify the windows and keeps Andy safe.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Andy is in danger when the ghosts attack his house, but he's rescued by Nick and Elizabeth. No other children ever appear to be in trouble when the ghosts attack.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: The opening credits call it "John Carpenter's The Fog".
  • Iron Lady: Kathy Williams, even though she's just the chairwoman of the town committee. When she hears her husband may have been lost at sea, she still continues with her work in the celebration. Truth in Television, many people react to such situations by going about their daily routines or even burying themselves in work - it both helps give you something else to think about/focus on, and gives you the feeling that it is an ordinary, routine day. As the body hasn't been recovered, she may also be choosing to believe he's just missing (and when she confirms he's dead later on in the church as they list all the victims, it's hardly the time to start angsting about it).
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet: When the title weather phenomena (and the zombies inside of it) are approaching the home where Mrs. Kobritz and Andy are staying, the frogs suddenly stop croaking, resulting in complete silence.
  • Jump Scare: Father Malone suddenly jumps out of his confessional booth in the silent church, scaring the bejesus out of Kathy.
  • Kill the Lights:
    • During the attack on the weather station, the ghost fog (or the zombies) cut the building's power supply, causing the man inside to open the door and get killed.
    • Later on the ghost fog enters the town's main generator and shorts it out, cutting off power to the entire area.
  • Light Is Not Good: The fog is accompanied by a bright glowing light.
  • Lighthouse Point: Stevie's radio station is located in the cupola of an abandoned lighthouse.
  • Mama Bear: Stevie tries anyway. When she sees the fog heading towards her house, she desperately screams into her radio for someone to rescue Andy. But she also defies this in a way; on the radio she apologises to Andy for not coming herself, because she needs to warn the rest of the town.
  • Meaningful Echo: Sandy sarcastically responds with "yes ma'am" whenever Kathy Williams says something. Later on after hearing that her husband has been killed she asks Sandy to take her home, and Sandy says "yes ma'am" affectionately.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: The ghosts kill six people. Only one is female. There is a considerable amount of tension when Andy is potentially attacked by the ghosts but being a child grants him that exception. They do attempt to pull Sandy out the church window in the climax, and Stevie is injured with a hook, but of course they survive.
  • Misplaced Retribution: The Fog Zombies are acting out of revenge against the town that murdered them, seeking to kill six people specifically, but kill indiscriminately. They then leave after their kill count is satisfied, and even slay the grandson of the conspiracy ringleader, even after he willingly returned the stolen gold to them.
  • Missing Child: Stevie realises that her son is in danger and, trapped in the radio station, there's nothing she can do except send out distress messages in the hope that someone will hear and go to help. Even by the end of the film, she still has no idea if Andy has made it to safety.
  • The Mockbuster: Oliver Krekel's Fog 2 - Revenge of the Executed.
  • Must Be Invited: If the fog can't come inside, the ghosts can't either unless you let them. Of course, at the climax, the ghosts start getting impatient, as they just plain smash their way into the church and the lighthouse.
  • Mythology Gag: Many of the characters are named after notable people John Carpenter has worked with, such as Nick Castle (who played Michael Myers in Halloween), Tommy Wallace (the film's editor), and Dan O'Bannon (a fellow screenwriter).
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The slow build-up at the beginning of the film where, after midnight, things inexplicably start to go crazy as a bad omen. There's no cause given and no explanation and the incidents in question just... happen.
  • Oh, Crap!: Most of the second half of the movie is full of moments like this such as Andy being trapped by the ghosts in his home after they kill Ms. Kobritz and later Stevie being trapped by the revenants in the lighthouse.
  • Ominous Fog: The premise of the film. It moves against the wind and causes electricity and phone lines to go dead.
  • Ominous Knocking:
    • When the fog and the zombies reach the weather station, one of them knocks on the door. Dan the weatherman opens the door and looks out, allowing a zombie to enter and kill him.
    • While Mrs. Kobritz and Andy are trapped in a house by the fog (and the zombies in the fog), one of the zombies pounds on the front door for admittance. Mrs. Kobritz foolishly opens the front door to see who's there and is killed by the zombie.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. One of the protagonists is called Elizabeth, and the ship that Blake captained was called the Elizabeth Dane. There's no connection - except in the remake.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: These ones are fully corporeal and capable of stabbing people, with the appearances of rotting corpses. They can only travel through the fog, and don't appear capable of communication. They only appear once it's midnight on the hundred year anniversary of their deaths, and vanish once a debt is paid and they've claimed six victims.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Elizabeth is sitting around in the abandoned fishing boat when the corpse of a fisherman tumbles out of the overhead compartment.
  • Plot-Triggering Book: An eerie fog rolls in from the ocean as the city of Antonio Bay prepares to celebrate its centennial. A part of the wall falls away in the church at midnight, revealing to Father Malone a diary that belonged to his late grandfather, which details a conspiracy to kill a group trying to start a leper colony nearby and steal their gold. At the climax, Father Malone learns from the journal that his grandfather, in a fit of guilt, stole the gold from his co-conspirators and buried it in the church walls so that no one would benefit from it.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Dan usually drops a few funny lines whenever he appears on screen.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Stevie's radio station plays jazz music, because it was more affordable than rock music on such a low budget.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Blake, the leader of the murderous zombie ghosts, has red Glowing Eyes.
  • Scenery Porn: The gorgeous coastline of Marin County, California.
  • Screaming Woman: Elizabeth does a bit of screaming when the bodies of the fishermen are involved. Other than that though, she keeps a cool head.
  • Servile Snarker: Sandy, who is Kathy's assistant.
    Kathy: Are you going to give a benediction tonight, Father?
    Father Malone: This town has a curse on it.
    Sandy: Do we take that as a 'no'?
  • Sex Signals Death: Almost pointedly averted — perhaps due to Carpenter's last film having arguably established the trope, which baffled him. One of the first scenes involves two characters having anonymous casual sex after knowing each other for about an hour, which in another horror movie would instantly mark them as future victims. It's barely dwelled upon and both characters survive unharmed.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Dan is killed by the ghosts/zombies just before the fog begins to directly attack the town.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Coroner's name is Dr. Phibes.
    • Mr. Machen is an homage to Welsh fantasy writer Arthur Machen (mispronounced, mind you).
    • There are H. P. Lovecraft references in the place names "Arkham Reef" and "Whateley."
    • The overall story is reminiscent of "The Night Wire", albeit with the news-wire Framing Device updated to a radio show.
    • Nick Castle is named for the regular Carpenter collaborator who played Michael Myers in Halloween (1978).
    • The town of Bodega Bay, famous as the setting of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, is mentioned.
    • Stevie's message to "look for the fog" through the radio is a reference to the final scene in The Thing from Another World, where the reporter character grabs the radio and tells the world to "watch the skies" for extra-terrestrials.
    • Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis) comments that weird things always happen to her, that she seems to attract them and seems incredibly reluctant to talk about her past. It has been the subject of much fervent speculation that she is actually Laurie Strode from the Halloween films trying to put her history behind her.
  • Sinister Minister: Father Malone's grandfather, who participated in the murder of the leper colony (though it should be noted he felt some remorse for it). Father Malone himself is more of a Good Shepherd.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: The ghosts in the fog want revenge for having been lured to their death so the town's founders could steal their gold.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Kathy Williams jumps when Father Malone grabs her and exclaims "Jesus!"...then immediately apologises, realising she both said it to a priest and in the church itself.
  • Sound-Only Death: Father Malone, the third guy on the Seagrass and Mrs. Kobritz
  • Title Drop: ...look for the fog.
  • Tomboyish Name: Stevie Wayne.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Although the townspeople did not know about the crime committed 100 years ago until Father Malone finds the journal on anniversary day.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Father Malone, seeking to atone for his grandfather's crimes (despite having no hand in them), gives the gold to Blake's zombie in exchange for sparing the townsfolk's lives. Blake retreats...then comes back and kills him anyway to satisfy the kill count.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: We're introduced to three sailors – Al, Dick and Tommy – who listen to Stevie's broadcast and get a few lines and development... until they become the first three victims of the ghosts. Each of them has a connection to another protagonist: Al is the husband of Kathy Williams, Dick is a friend of Nick's (and searches the boat for him), and Tommy's brother plays in Little League with Andy.
  • Weather Dissonance: The titular fog moves against the wind.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Early in the film, Father Malone tells Bennett, who has just asked to be paid, to come in at 6 instead of 4. Malone, realizing he'd been a dick to Bennett, was trying to call him back, presumably to apologize when the stone fell, revealing the hidden journal. Now, having just read about his Grandfather's sins, one might assume that Father Malone might be eager to avoid them, and pay Bennett for his services promptly when he returned. However, we never do see Bennett return, despite several scenes taking place at the church the next day. Did he simply decide not to show up, believing he'd never be paid for his work? Or was he paid by a contrite Father Malone off-screen?
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: At midnight before the anniversary of its founding, things start to go a little crazy in the town of Antonio Bay. TV's, machinery and car lights turn on, chairs move by themselves, church bells start ringing, a dog barks at the ocean, and a car alarm goes off for no reason. Later the audience learns that many years earlier six conspirators met from midnight to 1:00 a.m. to plot a mass murder.

The remake has examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the 1980 film Nick is played by Tom Atkins. In the remake he's portrayed by the very handsome Tom Welling.
  • Adaptational Villainy: The addition of a pre-credits Distant Prologue, in which Blake and his undead pals are implied to have killed the four men who torched their ship immediately after their crime rather detracts from the notion that they're Tragic Villain-types: if, after all, they already did avenge themselves upon their actual killers, it's a lot harder to sympathize with their retribution against townsfolk who know nothing about a century-old atrocity, and whose ancestors probably didn't even live on the island at the time.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Elizabeth Williams, played by Maggie Grace, is revealed to be the reincarnation of the woman Blake loved when he was alive, and she becomes her ancestor at the end and disappears into the fog with Blake while her lover Nick can only watch in horror. He lives on with all the other survivors, but the woman he loved is gone.
  • Condensation Clue: One of the girls on the first boat to be engulfed draws a set of scales on the fogged-up window in a trance. Presumably this is to foreshadow the ghosts' desire to even the score against the town.
  • Related in the Adaptation:
    • Unlike in the original, where it wasn't known if any of the characters attacked by Fog Zombies were even connected to the founders/murderers, the remake has the conspirators be the ancestors of the main characters. This, of course, leaves them dealing with the same Awful Truth as Father Malone.
    • Subverting the Red Herring from the original, Elizabeth Williams, who was a drifter that came to Antonio Bay just before the Fog Zombies attacked and just happened to have the same name as their ship here, she is the reincarnation of Blake's love.

Alternative Title(s): The Fog 1980, The Fog 2005