The FogBy Dennis Etchison (Bantam; 1980)

This was the first movie novelization written by the esteemed horror scribe Dennis Etchison, and the only one to be published under his own name (the others, HALLOWEEN II, HALLOWEEN III and VIDEODROME, were credited to “Jack Martin”). That’s appropriate, as THE FOG is far and away the best of the bunch. For that matter, I feel it’s one of Etchison’s best novels, period. He’s a writer who was always at his strongest in short story format, yet in THE FOG Etchison builds up an impressive flow and rhythm that his other novels (DARKSIDE, SHADOW MAN, CALIFORNIA GOTHIC and DOUBLE EDGE) rarely achieve. Plus, there are some great low key scares.

The problem? Simply that the material Etchison was working with, namely a script by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, just isn’t that strong. THE FOG is widely acknowledged as one of Carpenter’s more problematic films, with a vaguely defined menace and lackluster narrative drive. This novel, unfortunately, doesn’t overcome those things.

As in the film, the action is tied together by periodic radio announcements by a woman DJ who covers the unfolding drama. As in HALLOWEEN, the action takes place over the course of a single night. The setting is Antonio Bay, a small California town engulfed by thick creeping fog with the power to cause blackouts and blow out car windows. It seems Antonio Bay was formerly the sight of a leper colony whose inhabitants were massacred by the townspeoples’ ancestors, and now the ghosts of the dead are returning via the fog to avenge their deaths 100 years earlier.

It’s been a few years since I last viewed the film, and so I can’t say precisely how it and this novel differ (if at all). What resonates is Etchison’s descriptive power (“The fog had encased this side of the house in an impermeable sac…the convolutions flattened against his window like the folds of a brain under glass”) and his elegant handling of the mundane realities of Antonio Bay in contrast with the supernatural menace confronting it. The latter is an Etchison trademark, and his voice registers loud and clear in THE FOG.