"As a species we're fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?" - Ollie Weeks
I remember many years ago, a couple of close friends giving me Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew for Christmas. This was King’s second compilation of short stories the first being Night Shift, and actually the first of his books I ever owned in hard cover. (For over twenty years, King is the ONLY author I buy in hard cover because I can’t wait for the paperback.)
I love that book. That very one is still in my collection. Several of the stories in there were memorable excursions into a darker world - and it all kicked off with The Mist. The funny thing is, I remember during the following summer, taking a walk with our dog through the fields that were a short distance from the house and taking the path that led up a short hill where I overlook the town and see the bay and coastline. There, on that late afternoon/early evening, I saw a mist creep in toward the town and my mind went straight to King’s novella. Such a small and insignificant moment to be sure, but whenever I’m at that same spot and I pause to admire the view, I always think back to that sight in the summer of, as I recollect, 1986.
If you think about it, it’s easy to make the assumption that The Mist would be derivative of John Carpenter’s The Fog - but nothing could be further from the truth. If the story is similar to anything, it’s to the siege conditions in King’s own short story Trucks, filmed as Maximum Overdrive.
One of the first things that struck me about the film was the number of actors who went on to work with director Frank Darabont again in The Walking Dead; Melissa McBride, Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn. Also on board are make-up fx supremos Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger. So we know we’re in for a blood splattered good time.
As the film begins, we see a storm lashing the lakeside house of an artist, who happens to be working on what appears to be a poster of the Gunslinger from King’s Dark Tower series. Also on the wall is the poster from John Carpenter’s The Thing. As the storm whips up a frenzy, the family head for cover in the basement just before a tree comes crashing in through the large picture window.
The following day, surveying the damage, the artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son head to town to get some emergency supplies to patch up the damage, but not before spotting an eerie mist coming their way over the lake. I don’t know what it is, probably the fact that we get so many of them here in Wales, particularly where I live and you can see them approaching - but mists always give me chills. Enjoyable chills, but chills nonetheless. In fact, one of my favourite scenes in the film is of the fog silently sweeping in over the town, obscuring everything it seems to touch. It’s silent, it’s menacing and it shrouds everything.
By the time the mist glides in, Drayton has reached the local supermarket with his son and an obnoxious neighbour. Then things get weird.
Something is in the mist attacking whatever it or they see. The creatures are monstrous, tentacled and hungry. Some are huge, several storeys tall, some are insect sized. Anybody who leaves the mall is on the menu. The first sight of what is out there comes in the stockroom, when a bunch of have-a-go heroes open the door so that one of them can run outside and unblock a vent that’s clogging up the generator. The mist comes up to the door and just stops dead at the door. Now I thought nothing of this, assuming it was just good old CGI until I spoke to one Darryl Pritchett, one of the fx technicians who worked on the film for a GoreZone article back in 2007. The interview was to cover one of the Resident Evil films he’s worked on but here’s a quote that may surprise you.....
"The last thing I worked on was another project that we completed without resorting to CGI. I was working on "The Mist" (2007) and there’s a scene set in a storeroom loading dock that had a 16 foot wide door. Director Frank Darabont wanted a wall of mist to come in and stop. Just stop ! So the challenge was to accomplish that in the real world, without resorting to computer graphics.
"What we did was we built a wall across to seal off the set. The set was completely sealed off when we’d finished, so we could control the height of the mist, because Darabont wanted it at a certain level, by raising the air pressure very slightly. That would level off the mist exactly where we wanted it.
"There was a tented area outside the set where we created the mist and pumped it through. From there, we used fans and blowers to control the direction that we wanted it to go, and the air pressure controlled the height."
It was a physical effect, ingeniously realised. How cool is THAT?
The creatures outside are what I can only imagine H.P.Lovecraft’s worst nightmares must have been like. They’re indescribably twisted and savage. Tentacles with teeth and suckers that tear the flash off a person in meaty strips.
But if the creatures are on the outside, then the real monsters are all in the supermarket, personified by Mrs Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) a local eccentric bible thumper who by sheer repetition on her part and sheer desperation on the part of her rapidly expanding number of followers, convinces them that this is the wrath of God, and basically she speaks to him directly and he wants a sacrifice. Expiation is the solution as far as they’re concerned and they’re willing to throw out anybody who isn’t one of them. This begins with a poor soldier because of his association with the local military base where something called The Arrowhead Project has been going on.
Yep, here we go - the human race is at it once again, trying to open doors to other dimensions with no regard to what kind of appetite whatever lurks behind the door may have. Oh, and then forgetting to close the damn door so they come stomping into our dimension, making happy meals of us.
Hysteria and paranoia (never a good mix at the best of times) increase to boiling point when Mrs Carmody decides she wants to sacrifice the younger Drayton. Time for our sane band to beat a hasty exit and drive out to take their chances with whatever’s out there but the situation seems hopeless. Finding Drayton’s wife has succumbed to the acid laced web of one of the monstrous spider creatures, the party proceed as far into the mist as they can. Which isn’t far.
Out of gas, with hungry extra dimensional monstrosities outside, there’s only one solution. Better a bullet to the head than end up alive while something you can’t even describe is devouring you. But there are only four bullets among five. Each of the party takes a bullet, including Drayton’s son, leaving only Drayton himself to face a horrendous death at the tentacles, pincers, or teeth the next creature to happen by. Emotionally overwrought, he stands ready to accept his fate from the mist obscured thing approaching.......
Except it’s a tank.
In a real Twilight Zone ending, the state of emergency is over. The dimensional breach has been repaired, the creatures have gone and the so is the mist, just as quickly as it arrived.
But Drayton has lost everything.
Damn that’s a good story with a gut wrenching ending. Well worth a look.
Next time - Just don't chant "creepy Carrie"
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