Historian of Horror : The Foggiest Notion

Seeing that title, you might be under the impression that this edition’s subject is John Carpenter’s 1981 movie. You would be laboring under a misapprehension. We are discussing the peculiar atmospheric, in more ways than one phenomenon that is at the core of that film, but it just so happens that we are doing literature this time out – English author James Herbert’s 1975 novel, The Fog, to be specific – instead.

No ghostly, leprous sailors lurking in the mists coming in from the sea in this one. Herbert’s fog wells up from a crack in the ground running down the High Street of an English village and drives anyone it comes into contact with it homicidally insane. After committing as many anti-social acts as possible, the victims typically die.

Fortunately, the hero of the tale is the only person in the nation to recover and gain immunity from the murderous vapor, which roams about the countryside, turning its victims very naughty indeed, frequently in grotesquely inventive ways. The novel is suspenseful in the manner of English story-telling of its kind, reminiscent of one of Dr. Quatermass’s adventures for the BBC, but Nigel Kneale’s televised creation never dared show the horrific fates visited on one of the faculty of a boys’ school, for example. 

Entire villages are wiped out before the protagonist is able to convince the authorities to put down their tea and crumpets and do something constructive. His girlfriend gets a dose and nearly finishes him off several times, which complicates his efforts to impel the various ministries to get it in gear and solve the dilemma the government is ultimately responsible for. He does manage to get her into cold storage while various scientists work on a cure. Meanwhile, the fog slithers ever closer to London…

The Fog was Herbert’s second book. Like his first, The Rats, it’s a disaster tale with a scientific explanation. I enjoyed it for what it was, an early effort, somewhat derivative but fun and briskly paced. I have to admit I sort of skimmed over a few lines here and there. There are certain things that can be done to a school headmaster by wanton boys with no self-control that few adult males are apt to be comfortable reading about.

Ouch!

His third book, The Survivor, was a supernatural horror story, as were a fair number of his total of twenty-three novels. Herbert died in March of 2013 at the age of sixty-nine. 

The Fog has not been adapted to film, but The Rats has been under the title Deadly Eyes (1982). A few of Herbert’s other books have also been filmed. 

Speaking of movies, you might have heard of a little film franchise from Japan called Godzilla – the biggest, baddest radioactive lizard in the sea. But not the first. Ray Bradbury’s story, “The Fog Horn”, was published in 1951 in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post, one of those slick magazines all pulpsters aspired to graduate to the pages of in those days. It’s the charming tale of a deep sea creature that is lured to the surface by the dulcet tones of a lighthouse’s fog horn, thinking he’s finally found a mate. Every year, he comes up hoping to find true love, until on his third visit, the keepers turn the fog horn off. In a fit of pique, the thwarted lover demolishes the lighthouse and slips back under the waves.

Two years later, Warner Brothers released a film loosely based on the story with special effects by stop-motion wizard Ray Harryhausen. The title character of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is a dinosaur awakened from suspended animation by nuclear testing in his neighborhood. Sound familiar? He demonstrates his annoyance by rampaging through New York, passing out a contagious prehistoric disease as he progresses through the city. He is finally cornered on Coney Island, where he discovers he’s too tall to ride the roller coaster.

The film stars B-Movie stalwart Kenneth Tobey, who two years earlier had defeated The Thing from Another World in the Arctic, and two years later would save San Francisco from the five-armed giant octopus in It Came from Beneath the Sea, another Harryhausen creation. Busy guy. Towards the end of his life, he popped up in cameos in The Howling, Strange Invaders and both Gremlins movies, among others. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 85.

***

Speaking of passing away, Italian cartoonist and co-creator of Zora la Vampira Birago Balzano died on March 25, 2022. Zora was a very-much-NSFW fumetto about a 19th Century blonde possessed by the spirit of Dracula. She traveled the world bedding and biting anyone willing to be bedded and bitten. Balzano was eighty-six.

Until we meet again, dear fiends…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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