The making of John Carpenter’s 1980 horror film The Fog was a complicated, but evidently rewarding process. From conception to production, the film’s journey was a long and often arduous one, yet the end result is an iconic and highly influential cult horror classic.
John Carpenter made a name for himself with his breakout hit Halloween in 1978. After the success of Halloween, Carpenter was approached by his then-girlfriend and frequent collaborator Debra Hill, with an idea for another horror film – this time, something a little more paranormal.
‘What if there’s something in that fog? Wouldn’t that be scary?’
Carpenter and Hill immediately started to work on the script for The Fog. The idea for the film was first sparked in 1976 when the two were discussing ghost stories on a trip to Stonehenge. Noting the eerie fog rolling in at the iconic destination, they were inspired. In the film’s DVD commentary in 2002, Hill said “I can remember that fog bank when we were in England. It was just sort of sitting on the horizon way past Stonehenge, and you said at the time ‘What if there’s something in that fog? Wouldn’t that be scary?’ And that’s how it sort of evolved.” The two were determined to make a horror film that was as scary as the stories they remembered, and thus The Fog was born.
The Fogis set in a small coastal town in California that is haunted by a mysterious fog. The fog brings with it the spirits of vengeful pirates who died centuries ago and seek to reclaim what was taken from them by the townspeople. The film stars Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook and Tom Atkins.
The production of The Fogwas funded by Avco Embassy Pictures and executive producer Charles B. Bloch. The budget for the film was $1 million, a low budget for a feature film at the time. Carpenter and his team primarily shot the film on location in Northern California, primarily in the town of Point Reyes.
Carpenter had a very clear vision for the look of The Fog. He wanted to create a moody atmosphere with a low-key color palette, and he wanted the fog to be an ever-present element in the film. In order to make the most of the budget and create a truly mysterious atmosphere, Carpenter opted to create his own special effects. To achieve this, Carpenter used smoke machines and lighting gels to create a thick, dense fog throughout the set.
After being disappointed by the first cut of the film, Carpenter decided to do reshoots of some of the scenes to up the scare factor. First, he re-shot the opening sequence which featured Barbeau and Curtis walking through the fog, as well as the climactic scene in which the townspeople are attacked by the ghosts of the pirate crew. He also decided to reshoot some of the scenes involving Leigh, Holbrook and Atkins.
A small crew was assembled and the reshoots were done on a limited budget. The reshoots were mostly done in practical settings, such as the beach and the streets of the town. Many of the scenes were done in one take, as Carpenter wanted to maintain the naturalistic feel of the original.
Despite the difficulties, the filmmakers managed to complete the shoot and move into post-production. Carpenter was heavily involved in the editing process, working with editor Charles Bornstein to shape the film, ensuring it was as tight and frightening as possible and remained true to his and Hill’s initial vision.
Carpenter also composed the score for The Fog. As with most of his works, the score is sparse, only utilizing a few pieces of music across the entirety of the film. The score was composed with a combination of synth and orchestral instruments and provides a perfect backdrop to the mysterious and supernatural occurrences in the film. Carpenter’s score for The Fog is a perfect example of how a minimalist approach can be incredibly effective in creating a unique and haunting atmosphere in a horror film.
The Fogwas released in the United States on February 1, 1980. It was mostly well-received; critics praised Carpenter for his unique vision and for creating a truly terrifying atmosphere. It made $21 million at the box office and gained a small but loyal following that continues to grow to this day. Its success, combined with Carpenter’s previous work in horror, solidified his place in the genre and helped establish him as a master of suspense.
More than forty years after its release, The Fog remains a benchmark in horror filmmaking. Its eerie atmosphere and iconic score have found admirers across the world, and its influence can be seen in modern horror films. The Fog stands as a testament to Carpenter’s and Hill’s vision, and just how eerie a trip to Stonehenge can be if you’ve got horror on the brain.
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