Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Book Review: THE FOG: THE NOVELIZATION (1980, Dennis Etchison)

Stars:  3.7 of 5.
Length:  180 pages.
Publisher:  Bantam Books, NY.
Tag-line:  "The terror filled novel– based on a motion picture written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill."
Back cover blurb:  "Before the light of dawn, you will know the vengeful fury of the dead.  Tonight the fog that rises off the California coast is different.  And deadly.  A writhing icy mist pulsing with terror.  It is too late to escape.  Even now the people of Antonio Bay are cut off, engulfed.  Along darkened streets, death searches them out.  There is no sanctuary for the living.  Those who are doomed will die horribly.  Those who are spared will suffer the endless fear of a soul-chilling night when the dead, finally, return for revenge.  THE FOG: NOW A MAJOR RELEASE FROM AVCO EMBASSY PICTURES."

Now here's some real Carpy marginalia– the novelization of THE FOG!  Longtime readers will note that THE FOG is one my all-time favorite horror movies, and I did a write-up about it a few years back which you can read here.  (Others will note that I was even so moved by THE FOG that I wrote a three-part series of John Carpenter fanfiction entitled "Carpy & the Cap'n" which chronicles the fictitious attempts to combine a CAPTAIN RON sequel with a spin-off of THE FOG.)

Anyway, as to the novelization:  surprise, surprise– it's basically the movie.  But amid its cheap and yellowed pages there's some nice ghostly atmosphere, the clear influence of writers like Ray Bradbury and M.R. James, and some fine horror nostalgia for fans of Young Adult lit in the 1980s.

A little background:  from page one, you can tell that Dennis Etchison is a higher caliber of writer than those who usually pen these sorts of trashy mass-market rush-jobs.  His C.V. is of interest, too:  he  was the President of the American Horror Writers' association in the early 90s, wrote an un-produced adaptation of THE MIST in the early 80s, was Stephen King's film consultant on the nonfiction DANSE MACABRE, and was a staff writer on TV's THE HITCHHIKER (you can read a rundown of my love/hate relationship with that particular series here).   Later, under the pseudonym of Jack Martin, he wrote the novelizations for HALLOWEEN II, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, and VIDEODROME, one of which will be the subject of a forthcoming review.

Now, without further ado, my Top Six favorite moments from the paperback novelization of THE FOG:

#1.  The opening lines:
     "The moon rose over the bay, round and burnished as a golden doubloon.  It hung there high above the black waters, breaking the even waves with yellow tips and tinting the flat sand and the beach houses and the jagged trees behind them with a faint, ghostly pallor, a reflection of its polished, uneven face."
Etchison really sets the stage– evocative, ornate, maybe even a little overblown.  But that's good.  He's not a hack, and this isn't simply a paycheck for him.  Right off the bat, he's letting us know that he intends to take the novelization of THE FOG very, very seriously.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.

#2.  Father Malone (Hal Holbrook in the movie)'s alcoholism: 
     "Ought to put the wine away, he supposed.  But why bother?  The boy had smelled it on his breath enough times.  ...He turned slowly and gave the boy a sleepy smile, rotating the stem of the crystal wine glass in his fingers." 
and his self-condemnation:
     "His robes flowed open, rustling over the uneven stones as the material filled with dank air and blossomed around his thin body.  From time to time his bare heels caught and tripped on the hem, but he took no notice of the tearing of the vestment as he drifted on, circling the pews beneath darkling stained glass, doomed to visit, again and again, without end, the stations of his dispensation."
Malone's soul, racked with guilt over the misdeeds of his ancestors, has become that classical archetype of the "whisky priest."   This is what movie novelizations are all about– the writer has to fill his paragraphs with something extra– so why not explore in depth what is mostly alluded to in the movie?

#3.  Evocative prose.
     "He marched across the sand, packed smooth again during the night, the red float at the end of his fishing line swinging in the sky in front of him like a brave winking eye, leading the way. ...  Already his cheeks were burning as the breeze combed his hair back with a fine spray from the riptide.  Far down the beach at the cusp of the bay, a big dog, an Irish setter or golden retriever, pawed for sand crabs and then broke into a loping run at the gulls that were sunning themselves at the waterline, kicking up a muddy trail and then dashing for safety, his legs splaying wildly and his pink tongue flying, as the water washed in to fill his footprints with clear bubbles."
The seaside has always impelled writers to employ poetic language, and Dennis Etchison is no exception.  And though it's not quite worthy of William Faulkner, that closing sentence up there is pretty damn lengthy for a movie-based paperback, intended to be disposable reading for people on summer vacation!

#4.  That stomach-pounder reference!

As I explained in-depth in my review of HALLOWEEN 6, a throwaway line in THE FOG has led to much debate about what, exactly, a "stomach-pounder" is.
Here, is that section from the novel, replicated in all of it's glory:

     "'Mom, can I go get a Stomach Pounder and a Coke?'
How quickly they change gears, she thought.  Exit the wood to the junk pile, enter the Golden Arches.  'After lunch.  Did you eat your breakfast?'
     "Yeah.  I'm gonna go look for another one [piece of driftwood -SG].    Maybe this time I can get the gold coin!'
     He jumped off the bed and raced out of the bedroom."
Well, now it certainly looks like the person who theorized it meant "Quarter Pounder from McDonald's" was right, given the reference to the "Golden Arches."  But again this raises the question– why would he get a Quarter Pounder after lunch?  Perhaps we will never know. 

#5.  Added material.

There's not a whole lot here that's not in the movie, but, for example, Stevie (Adrienne Barbeau) notices a crucified starfish on her property; we spend a lot more time with Dan O'Bannon (Charles Cyphers) and his daily routine, which involves a daredevil coastal drive to the weather station; and Andy (Ty Mitchell, who plays Adrienne Barbeau's son) has an extended dream sequence with evil pirates, Davy Jones, and a giant manta ray ("...the remains of the great pirate Davy Jones himself.  An electric eel was slithering alive inside the empty skull, lighting the eyesockets with a blinding florescence.  A host of plankton jetted by, tinging the water around Andy with a glow like Greek fire.")

#6.  Like the movie, it leaves plenty to the imagination.

The violence is muted and atmospheric, remaining true to Carpenter's vision.  From the death of Mrs. Kobritz:
"Had he looked back over his shoulder one last time to argue, he would have seen a tall shape solidifying behind Mrs. Kobritz, a stringy black hand reaching around her head from the outside, closing at her chin, covering her mouth so that she could not scream, and lifting her as if she were a rag doll straight up into the air, leaving her empty shoes toppling on the welcome mat." 
And so there you have it.  THE FOG: THE NOVELIZATION.  Not an essential work of literature by any means, but far better than it needed to be! 

–Sean Gill


J.D. Lafrance said...

Fantastic review! I've been meaning to pick this up for some time and your review is just the kick in the pants I need.

The novelization for ESCAPE FROM NY is quite good and does give us a wee bit more backstory for Snake as well as depicting the infamous bank heist that was cut out of the final film.

Anonymous said...

Such verbosity! This looks like a lot of fun, I should track of few of these down for some guilty pleasure reading. The only movie novelization I vividly remember reading was from "The Karate Kid Part 3." I must have read that thing like three or four times, BEFORE seeing the movie at my local mall. Looking back, that was a real odd thing to do, even if I was 12. So much more drama with Daniel-san getting trapped in Devil's Cauldron on the printed page! Anywho, keep on keepin' on with this great marginalia!

Sean Gill said...


Thank you, my friend! I may have to check out that ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK novelization. From what I've heard, the HALLOWEEN 1 novel is surprisingly excellent, too, though it tends to go for rather exorbitant prices. THE FOG can be had for $5-10, depending on the condition.


Glad you enjoyed. That's hilarious about the KARATE KID PART III novel. Speakin' of Part IIIs, before this series is done, the novelization of HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH will have its day in the sun!