Odds and Dead Ends: James Herbert’s ‘The Fog’, is it time for an adaptation?

I’m a massive Stephen King fan. He’s my literary guru, and in terms of down-to-earth writing advice, he’s second to none. For honest, heartfelt dialogue, he’s unrivaled. He’s created some of the most iconic moments in horror, and we have much to thank him for. And it seems as if adaptations of his stories are planned before he’s even finished the first draft, even excluding his famous dollar babies.

Other writers are not as lucky as the King. Even Dean Koontz, King’s contemporary and somewhat rival, has had only a handful of adaptations, despite selling about the same amount of print copies. Clive Barker, mostly known for the numerous Hellraiser sequels and a dashing of others, has mainly adaptations of various stories in his Books of Blood, nowhere near King’s volume, even percentage-wise in relation to the amount written. Peter Straub has only had a few adaptations. Graham Masterton, for his entire volume of work, has (to my knowledge) had only two or three adaptations. And I don’t believe that Ramsey Campbell, one of the absolute giants of modern horror literature, has had more than a few either.

It seems that some authors, despite how influential their stories are, get missed, for one reason or another. One of these monsters is James Herbert. Don’t get me wrong, Herbert has had some adaptations in the past, so it’s not as if he’s been forgotten altogether (although I’m still waiting for someone to redo Haunted as part of a full David Ash film trilogy. Maybe Hammer can do them as a British answer to the Conjuring franchise). But all this aside, Herbert has written one of the biggest novels of 20th Century horror which, somehow, has yet to be translated to the screen; The Fog.

For those that have somehow missed this classic, it’s about a small town in England that’s hit by an earthquake, and from the fissure created by this quake is released a mysterious fog. Anyone who comes into contact with this fog goes violently insane. The fog spreads throughout the country and the chaos, bloodshed, and all things dark come to life. It’s not an incredibly complex idea, but it’s the form and structure which I think would make it a great translation to a television series, along with the content itself.

The Fog, along with his first novel, The Rats, uses a fairly distinct storytelling structure. His main character (John Holman), is the focus of alternating chapters. The other chapters focus on a variety of outside characters, who all eventually combine into the main storyline as the novel proceeds. To demonstrate, here’s a rough sequence with letters to stand for the character focus of each chapter. Holman is represented by the letter A. The novel proceeds something like A – B – A – C – A – D – A – B – A – D+C – A – E – A… and so on (I haven’t done that scientifically, so people who have gone through three copies, I apologise for getting minor characters in the wrong order). Now, to my eyes, that kind of structure is exactly how a series-long story arc plays out, cutting from scene to scene. Think of something like Castle Rock; that’s pretty much a carbon copy of the formula used.

Then there’s the content itself. There’s plenty of blood and guts to keep the horror fans happy. There are military sci-fi elements, similar to something like The Midwich Cuckoos or Quatermass, to keep the more casual viewer interested. It contains some magnificent set pieces to build episodes around. The characters themselves don’t have the greatest life off the page, and to be honest, are fairly stock in their presentation for the most part; however, this is where screenwriters can really dig deep and bring up some interesting nuggets to expand upon for great sub-plots. Added to the fact that there’s going to be a ready-made audience for it, because of the revered nature of the novel and Herbert in general, and you’ve got the groundwork for a solid product.

Then consider the television climate. Horror series are on the rise at the moment to boot. In short order, we’ve been given American Horror Story, Hannibal, Stranger Things, The Exorcist (tragically overlooked and canceled before its time; Ben Daniels was incredible), Ash vs. Evil Dead, The Haunting of Hill House, Castle Rock, Dracula, The Outsider, even Scream (which wasn’t incredible but had damn good moments), plus plenty of others. With Lovecraft Country on the horror horizon, plus new seasons of many of the shows aforementioned, it doesn’t look like the horror TV train going to stop any time soon. Now is the perfect time to bring The Fog to the masses.

There are, of course, a couple of issues to be overcome. It’s not the greatest for presenting female characters, I have to admit; that was never Herbert’s strong point. There are passages that could be instantly posted as a meme for ‘how men write female characters in novels’. Some sections of the novel, especially the whole school section, would definitely need to be changed, as they do raise some eyebrows on how far thrilling violence goes towards bad taste. Not up to the standards of Laymon’s The Cellar, I’ll grant, but they’re pretty on the edge. That is part of Herbert’s style, admittedly, always pushing the boundaries of what can be published, but there’d still need to be some selective editing there.

And let’s not forget that we’ll have trouble distinguishing it from John Carpenter’s The Fog, both films, and both adaptations of King’s The Mist as well. Maybe specifically naming it James Herbert’s The Fog would work in terms of differentiating it from the aforementioned titles?

With some books, I’d prefer it if the meddling fingers of studios left damn well alone. This is especially true of the more ambiguous works of horror, such as Paul Tremblay’s recent run (though I believe adaptations of both A Head Full Of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World have been announced, damn them), because certain media translates certain ideas and atmospheres better than others. And as much as I’d love to see Del Toro finally get his adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness, there’s just something that’s so big and primal about that story that part of me doubts it would work. It’s up to him to eventually prove me wrong.

The Fog, however, seems so perfect to adapt to television because it’s practically written as a television series. Some of the dodgier sections can be rewritten to bring everything up to date, nearly half a century into the future. It’s sat on everyone’s shelves, calling to be updated, translated to prey on new fears, and rediscovered for our modern audiences. There’s potential for some of the most striking, disturbing images ever put to celluloid. It’s seeped into the horror consciousness, sat there, and bided its time. Now it’s time to unleash it on the world.

 

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: @KJudgeMental