Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun.
Autumn is almost upon us now, and I like the pleasing contrast between the white mist and the piles of bronze and gold leaves that are starting to accumulate on the ground. I call it 'mist' rather than 'fog' because I've always associated the latter with the sea. Strictly speaking, however, the distinction lies in visibility: fog is thicker than mist, and there is a precise point at which one becomes the other. Hill-walkers, drivers, seafarers, pilots and others have good reason to dislike such treacherous conditions: routes are hidden from view, dangers concealed, sounds are muffled and distances become hard to judge. Fear of what lies within the mist, or fog, is also a familiar trope from the worlds of film and literature. Perhaps the most notorious example would be London's 'pea-souper' fogs, which have provided the atmosphere (literally) for numerous acts of murder and skulduggery by Victorian villains.
The basic set-up - murderous husband teaming up with flirty maid - recalls the dysfunctional household in Patrick Hamilton's Gaslight which was filmed in 1940 by Thorold Dickinson and then remade in Hollywood in 1944. Again, fog is used to hint at villainy - when we first see Paul Mallen (Anton Walbrook) leave the house and sets out on one of his nocturnal missions (below).
Although less famous, The Trollenberg Terror followed a similar trajectory to Quatermass. Occupying the same Saturday evening slot, it was broadcast in six episodes between 15 December 1956 and 19 January 1957, and then quickly bought up and remade into a film for release in 1958. In America it was renamed The Crawling Eye, possibly to capitalise on audience's familiarity with the Quatermass film, although 'crawling eyes' is a perfect description of the monsters. Their appearance, however, is concealed until the end of the film by a cloud of mist; this aspect of the film, one might argue, was a direct influence upon later horror films such as The Fog (1980) and The Mist (2007.)
Most of the action takes place on the Trollenberg, a mountain in the Swiss alps which has been partially covered by a mysterious cloud that remains static over the south slopes. The phenomena is being monitored by scientists from a nearby observatory, led by Professor Crevett (actor Warren Mitchell, soon to become better known as Cockney bigot Alf Garnett), who has detected high levels of radioactivity in the cloud. This is not the only sinister happening: since the cloud's appearance, mountain climbers have been found with their heads torn off. Crevett is joined by his old friend Alan Brooks, a United Nations expert who investigated similar goings-on in the Andes three years earlier. He arrived at Trollenberg along with two sisters, Anne and Sarah Pilgrim.
The malevolent beings concealed within the fog are, in this film, ghostly rather than alien: exactly one hundred years earlier, in 1880, the founders of the Antonio Bay community lit false beacons to lure a ship onto the rocks - a cruel trick allegedly employed by wreckers in Devon and Cornwall in years gone by (as depicted in Jamaica Inn for example), although there seems to be little documentary evidence to support these tales. All those aboard died in the wreck, but their vengeful spirits have returned on the night of the town's centenary celebrations, and are intent on claiming the lives of six descendants of the original murderers.
'It's moving faster now, up Region Avenue, up to the end of Smallhouse Road...just hitting the outskirts of town...Broad Street...Clay Street... It's moving down Tenth Street, get inside and lock your doors, close your windows...there's something in the fog. If you're on the south side of town, go north. Stay away from the fog...Richardsville Pike up to Beacon Hill is the only clear road. Up to the church. If you can get out of town, get to the old church. Now the junction at 101 is cut off..if you can get out of town, get to the old church. It's the only place left to go. Get to the old church on Beacon Hill.'
'There's something in the mist!'
There are a few superficial parallels between The Trollenberg Terror and the 2007 film The Mist, which was director Frank Darabont's adaptation of King's novella of the same name, first published in the Dark Forces collection (1980). I was on holiday in Cornwall when I first read the story in 1985, after it had been republished in another anthology, Skeleton Crew. It is by far the longest story in the collection but I read it all in one continuous session, curled up in a dormitory bed with my borrowed book and a packet of biscuits. It made quite an impression on me, and the only other story I can remember from that collection is The Raft. My vision of the scenes differed rather a lot from that of Frank Darabont, who had already brought two of King's other stories to the screen - The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999.) Many of King's fans were displeased at the shocking twist - not in the book - with which Darabont decided to end the film. Personally, I approve of the ending. Few modern horror films contain genuine shocks; the final frames of The Mist have an undeniable impact that has unsettled audiences. The ending neatly confirms what has been true of all the films above - fog and mist not only conceal terrifying threats, but they cloud judgment as well as vision, rendering opaque the distinction between innocence and guilt
So when I'm walking across the fields again this week and happen to see banks of mist (or worse still, fog) drifting over the ground towards me, the question is bound to come to mind....what lies within?