12 Clear Facts About John Carpenter's The Fog

Rob Bottin in John Carpenter's The Fog (1980).
Rob Bottin in John Carpenter's The Fog (1980).
Shout! Factory

Horror fans know John Carpenter best for Halloween and The Thing, while action and sci-fi aficionados might think of Escape from New York or Big Trouble in Little China. Often overlooked is The Fog, Carpenter's eerie 1980 crowd-pleaser that overcame its low-budget, do-it-yourself production to become a huge hit, earning 20 times what it cost to make.

Ignore the 2005 remake (for your own good) and enjoy this peek behind the scenes at one of the forgotten gems of the early '80s, which was released on February 8, 1980.

1. The Fog was inspired by several creepy British things.

Adrienne Barbeau in 'The Fog' (1980)
Shout! Factory

Stonehenge, for one. In 1977, when Carpenter and his co-writer/producer/girlfriend Debra Hill were in England promoting Assault on Precinct 13, they visited the ancient ring of stones and were struck by the eerie, foggy, mysterious atmosphere. Carpenter was also inspired by The Trollenberg Terror, a 1958 British film (released in the U.S. as The Crawling Eye) in which creatures hide in the mist.

2. You can thank David Cronenberg for The Fog's gore ... maybe.

The film originally didn't have much blood in it; Carpenter, having gone that route with Halloween, wanted to take a different tack this time. But gore was becoming popular with horror audiences, and since Carpenter was doing reshoots anyway, the studio urged him to add some bloodletting. Carpenter says in the DVD commentary that it was David Cronenberg's Scanners that specifically inspired this ... but Scanners came out a year after The Fog. Maybe he was thinking of Cronenberg's The Brood (1979)?

3. Casting John Houseman in The Fog was an afterthought.

About one-third of the film consists of footage shot after Carpenter and Hill watched a rough cut and determined the movie wasn't working. They added some scenes, re-shot others, and introduced the character of the old man (John Houseman) who tells the campfire story at the beginning of the movie. (Note: Mr. Houseman was not among the creepy British things that inspired the movie.)

4. John Carpenter worked on The Fog with both his wife and his ex-girlfriend.

Carpenter and Hill met in 1975, when she worked as the script supervisor on Assault on Precinct 13, and they began dating shortly thereafter. They broke up in 1978, when Carpenter met Adrienne Barbeau while making the TV movie Someone's Watching Me! Carpenter and Hill continued to work together for the rest of her life (she died in 2005), but making The Fog couldn't have been easy for any of them, as it starred Barbeau, to whom Carpenter was newly married. (Jamie Lee Curtis, a friend of Hill's, said in a 2013 interview that it was indeed an emotionally difficult time for her.)

5. The novelization of The Fog clarifies an important plot point.

Dennis Etchison wrote the paperback novelization of the movie (he'd done the same for Halloween), in which better sense was made of the film's somewhat jumbled plot. One key example: though it's implied in the movie, the novel makes it clear that the six who "must die" are descendants of the original six whose nefarious deeds cursed the town.

6. Jamie Lee Curtis made The Fog as a favor.

After the success of Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis experienced a not-unusual phenomenon where an actor expects to start getting roles but instead sits by the phone, waiting. The only post-Halloween jobs she got were guest appearances on The Love Boat and Buck Rogers, and she was getting discouraged. Carpenter, sympathetic to the ups and downs of showbiz, added a role in The Fog just for her. Prom Night and Terror Train came along while The Fog was still in post-production; the three movies being released back-to-back-to-back in 1980 led to Curtis being dubbed cinema’s new "Scream Queen."

7. John Carpenter was so displeased with his own performance in The Fog that he never cast himself again.

The director plays the church janitor who talks to Hal Holbrook's priest character near the beginning of the film. Carpenter said it was "one of the most terrifying moments in my life, having to deliver these lines to an accomplished actor." His final verdict on his own performance: "I'm terrible, so I stopped doing roles after this movie, except for helicopter pilots and walk-ons."

8. One of The Fog's jump scares is totally a cheat.

About 34 minutes into the film, while walking through a church, Janet Leigh is startled by the sudden appearance of a priest played by Hal Holbrook, who steps out of a dark corner. But the corner wasn't dark enough when they shot it, so you could see Holbrook standing there. To make the moment work better as a jump scare, Carpenter darkened that part of the frame in post-production to keep Holbrook concealed.

9. John Carpenter endangered his star/wife's health.

Adrienne Barbeau in 'The Fog' (1980)
Shout! Factory

The director's obsession with Howard Hawks (Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) led him to make Barbeau's character a cigarette smoker, emulating the feisty dames in Hawks's movies. (He cited Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep specifically.) Barbeau was a staunch non-smoker, though, and had to learn how to do it right.

10. Just about every ghost arm seen in The Fog belongs to one guy.

Tommy Lee Wallace, a friend of Carpenter's since their childhood days in Bowling Green, Kentucky, served as editor and production designer on The Fog, as he had done for Halloween. But both movies had him doing a bit of onscreen work, too. Wallace appeared as "the shape" (i.e., Michael Myers) in some Halloween shots; in The Fog, when several ghosts attack the church, it's Wallace's arm seen smashing through each of the windows.

11. Janet Leigh was a big help on The Fog.

Securing the participation of a veteran actress who was also the star of Psycho and the mother of Jamie Lee Curtis was a boost to The Fog's street cred, but Janet Leigh proved useful in very practical ways, too. For one thing, she was a pro. Carpenter said that because of technical problems, the scene where she cries (just before the festival begins) required 14 takes—and Leigh delivered real tears every time. In another instance, Carpenter used Leigh's stardom to charm a local restaurant owner into staying open late for shooting.

12. There's a simple reason why The Fog's radio station plays smooth jazz.

That's right: money. Though it seems unlikely that a station with this format would be so popular, even in a small town, it's much cheaper for filmmakers to get the rights to generic jazz recordings than, say, popular rock songs.

Additional Sources: Commentary and features on the Shout! Factory Blu-ray

An earlier version of this article ran in 2016.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

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8 Facts About David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'

Express/Express/Getty Images
Express/Express/Getty Images

On July 20, 1969, astronauts walked on the Moon for the first time. Just a few weeks earlier, another space-age event had rocked the world: David Bowie’s single “Space Oddity” hit airwaves. The song, whose lyrics tell the story of an astronaut’s doomed journey into space, helped propel the artist to icon status, and five decades later, it’s still one of his most popular works. 

1. "Space Oddity" was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Many listeners assumed that "Space Oddity" was riffing on the Apollo 11 Moon landing of 1969, but it was actually inspired by a Stanley Kubrick film released a year earlier. Bowie watched 2001: A Space Odyssey multiple times when it premiered in theaters in 1968. “It was the sense of isolation I related to,” Bowie told Classic Rock in 2012. “I found the whole thing amazing. I was out of my gourd, very stoned when I went to see it—several times—and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.”

2. "Space Oddity" was also inspired by heartbreak.

The track was also partly inspired by the more universal experience of heartbreak. Bowie wrote the song after ending his relationship with actress Hermione Farthingale. The break inspired several songs, including “Letter to Hermione” and “Life on Mars,” and in “Space Oddity,” Bowie’s post-breakup loneliness and melancholy is especially apparent.

3. "Space Oddity" helped him sign a record deal.

In 1969, a few years into David Bowie’s career, the musician recorded a demo tape with plans to use it to land a deal with Mercury Records. That tape featured an early iteration of “Space Oddity,” and based on the demo, Mercury signed him for a one-album deal. But the song failed to win over one producer. Tony Visconti, who produced Bowie’s self-titled 1969 album, thought the song was a cheap attempt to cash in on the Apollo 11 mission, and he tapped someone else to produce that particular single.

4. The BBC played "Space Oddity" during the Moon landing.

"Space Oddity" was released on July 11, 1969—just five days before NASA launched Apollo 11. The song doesn’t exactly sound like promotional material for the mission. It ends on a somber note, with Major Tom "floating in a tin can" through space. But the timing and general subject matter were too perfect for the BBC to resist. The network played the track over footage of the Moon landing. Bowie later remarked upon the situation, saying, "Obviously, some BBC official said, 'Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great. 'Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.' Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that."

5. David Bowie recorded an Italian version of "Space Oddity."

The same year "Space Oddity" was released, a different version David Bowie recorded with Italian lyrics was played by radio stations in Italy. Instead of directly translating the English words, the Italian songwriter Mogul was hired to write new lyrics practically from scratch. "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola" ("Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl") is a straightforward love song, and Major Tom is never mentioned.

6. Major Tom appeared in future songs.

Major Tom, the fictional astronaut at the center of "Space Oddity," is one of the most iconic characters invented for a pop song. It took a decade for him to resurface in David Bowie’s discography. In his 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes," the artists presents a different version of the character, singing: "We know Major Tom's a junkie/Strung out in heaven's high/Hitting an all-time low." Bowie also references Major Tom in "Hallo Spaceboy" from the 1995 album Outside.

7. "Space Oddity" is featured in Chris Hadfield's ISS music video.

When choosing a song for the first music filmed in space, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield naturally went with David Bowie’s out-of-this-world anthem. The video above was recorded on the International Space Station in 2013, with Hadfield playing guitar and singing from space and other performers providing musical accompaniment from Earth. Some lyrics were tweaked for the cover. Hadfield mentions the "Soyuz hatch" of the capsule that would eventually shuttle him to Earth.

8. "Space Oddity" played on the Tesla that Elon Musk sent to space.

Dummy in Tesla roadster in space with Earth in background.
SpaceX via Getty Images

In 2018, Elon Musk used SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket to launch his Tesla Roadster into space. The car was decked out with pop culture Easter eggs—according to Musk, "Space Oddity" was playing over the car’s radio system during the historic journey. The dummy’s name, Starman, is the name of another space-themed song on Bowie's 1972 masterpiece The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.