John Carpenter’s The Fog screenplay/film comparison

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With the final shooting script for The Fog (1980) by John Carpenter and Debra Hill available online, it’s worth making a comparison between the screenplay and the resulting film.

Using a simple yet effective premise, practically completely devoid of bloodshed, relying on suspense rather than gore, The Fog is a perfect template for a low-budget horror film.

Watching The Fog after having read the shooting script, you  see how close Carpenter stuck to it. Entire chunks of the film follow the script to the letter, even featuring the same camera moments. Some minor changes are present, though, and can be quite illuminating, allowing us a glimpse of the last-minute decision-making that went on during the actual filming.

SPOILERS AHEAD: If you haven’t yet seen the horror classic that is John Carpenter’s The Fog, you may not want to read beyond this point.

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– the piece of driftwood that Stevie’s son Andy discovers on the beach and that Stevie brings into the studio with her inexplicably catches fire and displays the words 6 MUST DIE . In the script it’s 12 MUST DIE (yet only six people lose their lives, as in the film).

– In the screenplay the Spivey Point lighthouse, housing the KAB Radio 1340 run by Adrienne Barbeau’s character Stevie, has an elevator. When the fog creeps up on the lighthouse during the finale, Stevie first hears the living dead sailors take the elevator, which she then jams by throwing a portable tape recorder into the elevator engine, breaking it. This prompts the ghouls to take the stairs. The elevator was probably not included for budgetary reasons, as the filming took place in a real lighthouse (namely Point Reye lighthouse) which simply didn’t have an elevator.

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– the film contains different, more natural dialogue than the lines found in the original script of the scenes between Elisabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Nick Castle (Tom Atkins), such as when Nick gives Elisabeth a ride or when they’re talking in bed. The dialogues we hear in the complete film were perhaps added to flesh out the relationship between the characters and make them more likeable.

The Fog  is generally quite scarce on dialogue, all the talking being limited to purely functional exposition. Also, the scene aboard the ‘Sea Grass’ trawler of Nick Castle telling the story of his father just before the ‘cheap scare’ of some junk suddenly falling out the locker is not in the script. Perhaps it’s included in the film to give extra background and create the atmosphere (plus add a little extra running time?).

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– the excellent scene of a dead body coming back to life at the morgue and creeping up on Jamie Lee Curtis, scalpel in hand, isn’t in the script. Carpenter shot the scene additionally after having seen the first edit of The Fog to amp up the horror content. Darwin Joston, star of Assault on Precinct 13, appears in a cameo as the pathologist, Dr. Phibes.

– the scene when the heroes pull Blake’s treasure out of the wall is slightly different: in the script the treasure is a chest full of gold coins, rather than a golden crucifix we see in the film. Upon handing over the gold to Blake, Father Malone was supposed to suddenly burst into flames and perish together with the ghosts, until only his charred corpse was left. Carpenter has modified this ending, letting Malone enjoy a few more minutes of screen time before the dead sailors catch up with him once and for all.

With its excellent scope photography and strong performances, John Carpenter’s The Fog hardly ever betrays its low-budget origins. Carpenter keeps the pace moderate, making sure to milk every scene for every ounce of atmosphere – and running time. Modern day filmmakers could learn a thing or two from this independent horror classic.

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