The Fog, released on February 8th, 1980, was John Carpenter’s next film after the blockbuster, Halloween, two years earlier. Instead of another slasher film, Carpenter and producer Debra Hill conjured up a ghost story inspired by their visit to Stonehenge when they witnessed a ghostly fog creep in. The Fog starred Jamie Lee Curtis, who also starred in Halloween, as well as her mother, Janet Leigh, famous for Psycho. It was the only film where mother and daughter would both appear together. Unfortunately, The Fog wasn’t the blockbuster that AVCO Embassy Pictures had hoped it would be, but thanks to home video, the ghost movie has since become a cult classic staple.
The Fog is more of an ensemble film, a handful of characters from Antonio Bay represent a collective protagonist. I have to give a shout out to my girlfriend, Molly M. Ulmen, who watched the film with me (a comfort movie of ours) and took copious notes which we later compared. It’s also worth noting that many Save the Cat! readers have requested this beat sheet breakdown. And now, let’s lose ourselves in The Fog.
Genre: Monster in the House (Supra-Natural Monster)
Written by: John Carpenter & Debra Hill
Directed by: John Carpenter
Cinematic Cousins: The Exorcist, The Haunting, The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, The Witch, Get Out, The Turning, The Changeling, The Innocents, The Woman in Black, A Stir of Echoes, Ghost Story, The Others, Poltergeist, The House on Haunted Hill, Thirteen Ghosts, Ghost Ship
Opening Image: After Edgar Allan Poe’s immortal quote, “Is all that we see and seem, but a dream within a dream?” a gold pocket watch appears. It’s a visual motif of the film as time, particularly the witching hour from midnight to 1 AM, is vitally important. Mr. Machen (John Houseman), an old sea salt, tells one more story “to keep us warm” to an audience of children who hang on his every word. He shares the story of the Elizabeth Dane, an ill-fated ship with a crew of lepers who, lost in the fog, crashed on the rocks of Spivey Point precisely one hundred years ago on April 21, 1880.
Theme Stated: During his monologue, Mr. Machen says that the crew of the Elizabeth Dane will return. “When the fog returns to Antonio Bay, the men at the bottom of the sea, out in the water by Spivey Point, will rise up and search for the campfire that led them to their dark and icy death.” The Fog is a story of revenge from beyond the grave, which is tied up in the Sin (deception and greed) that the Monsters (Elizabeth Dane crew) seek vengeance on the House (Antonio Bay).
Set-Up: Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) has a radio station in a lighthouse on Spivey Point, KAB 1340. She’s the voice of Antonio Bay.
Catalyst: During her nightly broadcast, from the hour of midnight to 1 AM on April 21st, the tiny, California coast town starts to come apart. Car horns honk, gas pumps run themselves, shelves crash, clocks break, windows shatter, and chairs move. An invisible force has possessed the town. (Note the Catalyst happens sooner in this film (5 minutes) than most films, which is often around the 10-12 minute mark.)
Set-Up/Debate: After Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) sends his assistant, Bennett (John Carpenter) home, a piece of the stone wall crumbles onto his desk. Within the wall, he finds a journal. It’s from his grandfather, who wrote his confession about the events leading up to the crew of the Elizabeth Dane dying.
On the highway, Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) picks up hitchhiker Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis) in his truck. They share cordialities, and even a beer, before the windows of his truck implode. What fresh hell is this?
On the Sea Grass, a lone fishing boat. Three fishermen (John F. Goff, James Canning, and George Buck “Hey, there’s a fog bank out there” Flowers) see a luminous fogbank rolling toward them. Then a 19th-century ship glides past in the misty waters. Soon, they’re boarded by some shadowy figures who violently kill them with cargo hooks and cutlasses. Is the legend true? Have the crew of the Elizabeth Dane returned 100 years later to reap vengeance? It seems so.
Later, after Nick and Elizabeth have made love, one of the ghostly murderers from the Elizabeth Dane knocks at Nick’s front door holding a wicked-looking hook. Nick hesitates to open the door. And that saves his life. When his grandfather clock strikes 1 AM (and then shatters), the ghostly figure vanishes, as does the fog. The cursed hour has ceased. For now.
Break into Two: At 25 minutes, Andy Wayne (Ty Mitchell) sees what appears to be a shimmering gold coin in the rocks at Spivey Point. However, when he goes to grab it, a wave sloshes the coin away, and instead a piece of driftwood from the Elizabeth Dane rolls into its place. He takes it back to his mother, Stevie Wayne, which begins the mystery.
Fun and Games: Around the same time, Nick inquires about his Sea Grass friends who haven’t returned home. He launches a search.
Mrs. Williams (Janet Leigh) and Sandy Fadel (Nancy Loomis) get the 100th annual ceremony for Antonio Bay together. They drive up to Father Malone’s church to speak to him as he’s performing the benediction for the evening. They hope not to find the priest “in his cups.”
B Story: Father Malone tells Mrs. Williams and Sandy about his grandfather’s journal he found. He says that the ceremony tonight is “honoring murderers” as his grandfather and five other conspirators led the leprous crew of the Elizabeth Dane to their watery graves. Father Malone is the helper who will help to save the town from its ghostly curse.
Fun and Games (cont’d): Nick and Elizabeth find the Sea Grass. The fishing boat is in disarray and filthy like it was “turned over in the water.” In a jump-scare moment, they discover one of the dead crew members, Dick Baxter—his eyes gouged out.|
Stevie Wayne drives to her lighthouse radio station out on Spivey Point. She has the piece of driftwood with “Dane” inscribed on it. While she’s preparing for her evening broadcast, saltwater leaks from the ship wood and trickles to a tape recorder. The ghosts possessing the tape recorder say “like an albatross around the neck,” which alludes to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, about a cursed sailor. The inscribed wood changes from “Dane” to “Six Must Die.” Doing the math, that means the three crew members of the Elizabeth Dane were the first three sacrificial lambs. That means three more Antonio Bay residents are due for slaughter.
Midpoint: Nick and Elizabeth wait for the results from the autopsy in a going public moment. Dr. Phibes (Darwin Joston) claims that Dick Baxter, the dead Seagrass crew member, died in the water and that his body seemed like he’d been in seawater for a month. The corpse rises from the table, grabs a scalpel, and seems to attack Elizabeth. She screams. The corpse falls. On the floor, he inscribes “3” in the linoleum with the scalpel, meaning three more must die. The stakes raise, the clock ticks, and A and B Stories cross in this terrifying moment.
Bad Guys Close In: Night descends on Antonio Bay. It’s the 21st of April and the night that seagoing spirits are going to finish their mission of vengeance. Stevie Wayne sees a luminous fog rolling in against the wind. It’s like no fog she’s ever seen before. It’s like a sentient, rolling mist with a mind of its own.
All Is Lost: Dan O’ Bannon (Charles Cyphers), a burly weather station attendant, is on the phone with Stevie Wayne. He thinks the Antonio Bay stories are a hoax, and people are taking it “way too seriously.” However, he dies for his ignorance when there’s a knock at his door. He opens it and gets a hook to the throat. One more Antonio Bay resident dead. Two more to go.
The phone lines go down, and the power is cut (the AIL moment is where the characters are worse off than when the story began—and they are). The whiff of death is upon the tiny town.
Dark Night of the Soul: The fog gets personal as it goes after Andy Wayne and Mrs. Kobritz (Regina Waldon), the babysitter. Stevie Wayne can’t call to warn them, but using a back-up generator (since the fog killed the generators to the town), she tells them over the radio to get out of the house.
Nick and Elizabeth, driving home, hear Stevie’s plea over the radio. She tells the address to anyone who can help. They zoom there. It’s curtains for poor Mrs. Kobritz, who answers the knocking at the door when the fog rolls in. (This makes five Antonio Bay residents killed, for those keeping score at home.) However, Nick and Elizabeth save Andy in the, uh, nick of time.
Break into Three: Over the radio, Steve says, “There’s something in the fog,” and tells its residents (who hopefully either have a battery-operated radio or can listen to in their cars) to head out of town up to Father Malone’s church. That’s where Nick and Elizabeth take Andy. Mrs. Williams (reeling from the loss of her husband on the Sea Grass) and Sandy, also head up there. A microcosm of Antonio Bay is unified in one place now. They unite with Father Malone, who tells them what’s happening, tying A and B Stories together.
1. Gathering the Team: The citizens of Antonio Bay must Defend the Castle as the fog is rolling up the hill toward them. They grab the 100-year old journal to see if they can find any answers. At the same time, the fog rolls up to Stevie’s lighthouse.
2. Executing the Plan: Inside the church, the truth is understood about the murderous six conspirators. The survivors hunker down.
3. High Tower Surprise: The vengeful spirits, lead by Blake (Rob Bottin), attack the church as well as the lighthouse. Now the Antonio Bay residents we’ve come to know and love are all fighting for their lives.
4. Dig Deep Down: In the journal, Father Malone and company learn that the six conspirators stole the gold from leprous Blake and his men. The founding residents of Antonio Bay melted down the gold into a large crucifix that’s also hidden in the wall. Father Malone literally digs in this beat to retrieve the cross.
5. Executing the New Plan: Father Malone takes the cross into the sanctuary of his church. He offers it, as well as himself, to stop the curse. Ghostly Blake lays his dead hands on the crucifix. It glows, shimmers, Father Malone touching it too—it seems they’re going to teleport away into another realm. However, at the last moment, Nick saves Father Malone’s life by pulling him away. Blake and his crew vanish, but only five Antonio Bay residents were killed.
Stevie Wayne is spared too. She starts the back-up genny again and transmits a message: “To all the men at sea. Look for the fog.”
Final Image: Father Malone is mystified that Blake left with the gold but didn’t kill him. “Why not me, Blake,” he questions aloud to himself, “why not me?” That’s answered quickly when Blake returns. And with one final swipe of his sword, kills Father Malone—completing the 100-year-old curse. For the surviving citizens of Antonio Bay, they are a sad but wiser bunch, knowing that such supernatural horrors exist now, not just sea-faring ghost stories. The facts are in the fog.