John Carpenter's follow-up to Halloween was this terrific ghost story. Once more, he collaborated with Debra Hill (she produced and co-wrote the script) and he cast the always reliable Jamie Lee Curtis as one of the leads. This time, her mother Janet Leigh, came along for the ride. It was a nod to both the past and to Alfred Hitchcock.
Mr. Machen (John Houseman) is sitting around a campfire with a group of kids, telling a story about an event that happened 100 years ago at Spivey Point.
A small clipper ship was about to dock and the men aboard could see a fire in the distance. A tremendous fog rolled in and the ship crashed against some rocks and sank...killing the entire crew.
It's been said by fisherman through the years that when the fog returns to Antonio Bay, the men will rise up and search for the campfire that led to their deaths. The kids are captivated by this frightening story.
Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) is enjoying a drink one evening. His assistant (John Carpenter in an uncredited cameo) leaves for the night and the priest is startled by brick that falls out of the wall. He finds a journal written in 1880 by his grandfather, Father Patrick Malone.
Antonio Bay is celebrating its 100th anniversary, as the popular local DJ Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) of KAB constantly reminds listeners. At precisely midnight, strange things begin to occur around town. Machines come to life, car horns start blaring by themselves, television reception is lost - and lights are flashing.
While driving down a dark road, Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) picks up a hitchhiker named Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis). He nearly loses control of the vehicle when the vehicle window suddenly shatters.
Stevie's radio station operates out of an isolated lighthouse that she owns. She gets a call from her boyfriend Dan (Charles Cypers), who is checking up on her. He asks if she's going to the town's big celebration the next night...but Stevie has to work and can't make it.
Dan collects the weather updates for KAB and he tells her that a fog bank is moving in and that she should caution the crew of a ship called the Seagrass.
The men on the Seagrass hear the warning. Although they're reluctant to believe Stevie at first, they quickly catch sight of the fog. Within moments, they're engulfed in it and the power is knocked out.
Another ship is visible and Al (John F. Goff) and the crew catch a glimpse of several phantom figures. Before the men of the Seagrass can react, they're all slaughtered. Dick Baxter (James Canning) has his eyes gouged out.
Stevie continues her shift, her sexy voice a soothing comfort to anyone who happens to be awake at that late hour. Another call comes in from Dan, who tells her the fog is now moving in the opposite direction. Looking out across the water, she can see the mist not far from where she is.
Nick brings Elizabeth to his house...where she tells him she's headed for Vancouver. There's a knock at the door and the two can see someone through the glass, standing outside in the fog.
The stranger is knocking with a large hook...and just as Nick is about to open the door, he's distracted by the breaking of glass on an antique clock. He finally opens the door but the visitor (and the fog) are both gone.
The next day, Stevie's son Andy (Ty Mitchell) finds a piece of driftwood on the beach with the word "Dane" inscribed on it. It's the name of the ship that sank 100 years before. He excitedly brings it home to show to his mother and wakes her up from her sleep.
Nick goes to the dock with Elizabeth - where he's hoping to find his friend Al and the Seagrass. He becomes worried when Hank (Jim Haynie) tells him the ship pulled out the day before and hasn't returned.
The organizer of the town celebration, Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh), is frantic as she prepares for the event that evening. She's married to Al and is also upset that she hasn't heard from him. Her assistant Sandy (Nancy Loomis) is on hand to help out.
They visit Father Malone to get his input for the festivities. He shows them his grandfather's journal and reads from it. There's an entry about a leper colony that tried to relocate to their beloved town.
A man named Blake was the leader and he was hoping to move with the group from Tanzier Island. He purchased a clipper ship called the Elizabeth Dane with part of his fortune and asked for permission to settle nearby.
Father Malone's grandfather had reservations about allowing a colony of lepers to relocate...so he and five other men hatched a plot to kill Blake and steal his gold fortune. They would use it to build a church and it would also allow the small settlement to become a township.
The men set a fire on shore and Blake and his men crashed and sank, due in part to the immense fog that night. The gold was recovered and Antonio Bay was born.
Father Malone says the celebration is a travesty because the town will be honoring murderers. Kathy and Sandy believe he's taking the whole thing too seriously...but the priest refuses to give the benediction at the event.
Nick and Elizabeth find the Seagrass out in the middle of the water. There appears to be no one aboard although there's saltwater in the ship, as if the boat had been turned upside down. They wait for the Coast Guard and while Nick is telling his new friend a story about his father, Dick's body falls out of a compartment.
Stevie hears a report that the ship has not responded to radio communication and that the authorities have begun a search for it. She arrives at work for her shift and has brought along the driftwood that Andy found. She sets it aside and the piece suddenly starts dripping water, destroying some of her tapes.
Stevie looks over and sees the words SIX MUST DIE on the wood. A small fire breaks out and she immediately puts it out with an extinguisher. The words disappear and the name of the ship that was originally on the piece (DANE) is visible again.
Andy is being watched by Mrs. Kobritz (Regina Waldon). Stevie calls him and asks where he found the driftwood. The boy says it was a gold coin he tried to pick up on the beach and it turned into the wood.
Stevie tells him not to pick anything else up and makes him promise not to leave the house that night. She then begins her broadcast. Andy points out a huge fogbank to his elderly babysitter...which is moving in on them.
An autopsy is performed on Dick's body. Aside from the eye gouging and lacerations, it appears as if he's been underwater for a month. His body is covered with algae and there's salt water in his lungs.
While waiting in the same room with the corpse, Elizabeth gets the scare of her life when the body gets up off the table and tries to cut her with a knife. Nick hears her screaming and runs inside but the body just falls on the floor.
It is nighttime in Antonio Bay and the celebration is under way. Sheriff Simms (John Vick) tries to comfort a distraught Kathy by telling her that her husband will be found by the Coast Guard.
Nick phones Stevie after hearing a report. She tells him she saw the fog the night before and it was glowing. In addition, it seems to be moving in a different direction from the wind.
Dan arrives at work at the weather station and calls his girlfriend. He tells her about the fog that is headed for the town and she makes the announcement on the air. It is visible to Stevie and she says she's never seen anything like it.
The lights go out at Dan's station and he tells Stevie that someone is outside his window. When he goes to check it out, there's a sudden knock at the door. Stevie begs him not to open the door but he ignores her. She hears a ruckus as Dan is killed by something in the fog.
Stevie tells Sheriff Simms to call her at the station right away. He does - but the telephone line is cut. Soon after, all the power in the town is gone.
Stevie is able to get the emergency generator going and pleads on the air to Mrs. Kobritz (and anyone listening) to get her son to safety. She screams out the address of the house...which the fog has now surrounded.
Mrs. Kobritz opens the door and is killed by Blake and his men. Nick and Elizabeth hear Stevie's cries and are able to rescue Andy just in time.
The celebration ends early because there aren't any lights. Stevie continues to give bulletins on the fog's whereabouts and says the only safe place to go is Father Malone's church.
Kathy, Sandy, Nick, Elizabeth and Andy all end up there. So does the fog. While reading more of the journal, Father Malone realizes that all of the descendants of Blake's killers have been murdered...except for himself. He also discovers that the gold is hidden somewhere in his church.
They find it behind one of the walls in the shape of a cross. There are now several ghostly figures in the church standing in the fog. Father Malone tells Blake he has what he's looking for and that he is also the sixth conspirator.
Stevie is trapped in the lighthouse, as several of the lepers try to get at her. She climbs to the roof and is injured by one of their hooks.
As she's about to be killed, Blake grabs the cross from the priest and he and his men all quickly vanish. The fog backs away from the town and out into the ocean.
Father Malone is left alone in the church and wonders why his life was spared. "Why not six, Blake?" he asks. Suddenly a fog rolls in and he's surrounded by several ominous figures. He turns around and Blake swings his sword, decapitating him...
As he had done with Halloween, Carpenter once again composed the electronic score...which sets the tone and adds a great deal to the overall mood.
If a horror movie is sometimes a series of set pieces...then The Fog succeeds on many leves. The scares are timed nicely. And strangely, this is a comforting film in some ways. The mists, the quaint village of Antonio Bay, the past history of the lepers...it all comes together in a topnotch, well thought out horror flick.
Ultimately this serves its best purpose in reminding us of the endurance of subtlety, making the film more effective and frightening. The ghostly sea crew appears as shadows and are not seen much, striking quickly and accompanied by the terse and creepy Carpenter keyboard.
John Carpenter was helped tremendously by Dean Cundey's photography. Their work together on The Fog, Halloween and The Thing is exquisite and has remained influential over the years.
For Adrienne Barbeau (married to Carpenter at the time), The Fog gave her a chance to work outside of the confines of television. It was her first feature role and one that was written specifically with her in mind.