First published back in 1975, British horror author James Herbert’s second novel entitled ‘The Fog’ followed on from the enormous success of his debut ‘The Rats’ (1974) which was one of the foundation blacks for the entire splatterpunk subgenre.
Whilst investigating possible infringements by the Ministry of Defence at their secret base near an otherwise peaceful Wilshire village, Environmental Agency Officer John Holman witnesses a sudden earthquake that rips open the nearby ground, swallowing up shops and hapless bystanders, one of which is as a young girl who was standing nearby. Upon lowering himself into the gaping maw of the enormous split in the roadway, Holman pulls the girl free; in doing so he exposes himself to a noxious yellow gas that was expelled from the cavernous confines below the ground.
With the girl safe, a change starts to take place in the mind of Holman. Madness takes a sudden and unexpected grip on Holman, forcing the Environmental Agency Officer to throw himself off the edge of the massive split in the earth, to plummet to death in the dark abyss below. However, before he can lunge himself off the gaping edge before him, a group of baffled rescue workers realise his suicidal intentions and wrestle him to the ground.
Awaking in hospital, Holman recalls his exposure to the strange yellow gas that was unleashed from the ground when it was split open by the earthquake. He begins to think that this mysterious gas may well have been what affected his mind. After signing himself out of the hospital, Holman together with his girlfriend Casey, begin their drive back to London. However, on their way they encounter a strange yellow fog that briefly submerges their car and that of a nearby coach full of school boys into its clinging yellow mist.
All seems fine until later the next day when Casey is suddenly taken over by an uncontrollable urge to attack and kill. A violent struggle between Holman and his girlfriend ensues, ultimately ending with the arrival of the police. Upon questioning Holman about the sudden bout of violence, he pleads with the officers to check out how well the young pupils from the coach that was also submerged in the yellow fog are getting on. The enquiry leads to the discovery of the mutilated remains of the school’s gym teacher. A horrific display of torture, mutilation and murder by the hands of the feral school boys that had previously become exposed to the yellow fog.
With the fog moving south towards London, there’s hardly time to prepare or evacuate the people of the great city before it is upon them. Its size is expanding, submerging more and more people in its thick yellow cloud. Mindless violence explodes everywhere, with those that become exposed to the gas slipping into maniacal displays of madness.
However, Holman seems to have built up an immunity to the fog’s affects, after his initial exposure to its insanity inducing vapours. This unfortunately places him as the ideal man to take on the fog, with sight of hopefully eradicating it from the landscape of Britain once and for all. But to do so, he will need to travel to the very heart of the expanding cloud, where the victims of the fog maraud through the abandoned streets causing violence and mayhem. The last place anyone would want to be is inside the insanity inducing cloud. And that’s just where Holman is headed...
Herbert’s ‘The Fog’ is nothing short of a post-apocalyptic inspired splatterpunk masterpiece. Ok, so it’s not strictly a post-apocalyptic premise, but nevertheless the storyline follows a similar course to that of an ‘end of the world’ plotline. So much so that within the confines of London, the situation might as well be apocalyptic. In a similar way to that of Guy N Smith’s ‘Thirst’ (1980), Richard Laymon’s ‘One Rainy Night’ (1991) or indeed the ending of Herbert’s own ‘The Ghosts Of Sleath’ (1994), the whole oppressively doomed atmosphere of the threat seems to close around the reader, instantly swallowing them up and trapping them within the deadly confines of the affected area.
From when the first effects of the gas begin to take over the sanity of those exposed to it, Herbert starts pilling on scene after scene of horrific violence interspersed with other scenes offering up some pretty nasty black comedy. Seemingly random victims of the madness-inducing yellow fog are plucked out of the throngs of those affected. Each one is then given a brief back story before being killed off in bouts of extreme violence.
Chaos and bloodshed rule the streets from here on. Like with the earlier mentioned novels ‘Thirst’ (1980) and ‘One Rainy Night’ (1991), for those trapped within the vast area affected, this really is not far removed from an all-out hell on earth apocalyptic setting, similar to that of Simon Clark’s ‘Blood Crazy’ (1995) or indeed ‘King Blood’ (1997).
The use of solid characterisation is where Herbert really manages to pull the hard punches with the violence. With each and every character (however minor or ‘scenario establishing’ their role may be) they are given their own individually developed back story, personalities and unique (and often bizarre) traits. When the madness strikes these characters, their individual deaths are thusly so much more impactful and fitting – especially with the visceral details that Herbert wallows in during these deliciously gruesome moments.
Yes the violence and gore is strong. Herbert established the splatterpunk subgenre with the likes of ‘The Rats’ (1974) and this very novel. So expect the gratuitous bloodshed to be graphic and extensive. From when the fog starts claiming its first victims, the violence and madness hardly lets up. Herbert does unfortunately allow the pace to sag for a brief period whilst Holman attempts to convince Whitehall of the monstrous threat that the fog poses. This does unfortunately grind down on the otherwise neck-breaking pace of the tale.
The final few chapters and ultimate finale are utterly compelling, delivering pure edge-of-the-seat entertainment. It’s tense, filled with action and heart stopping suspense. Herbert doesn’t falter once as he brings the climatic ending to its masterfully penned conclusion.
All in all this is nothing short of an incredible example of adrenaline pumping horror fiction. The violence depicted throughout its length is an unrelenting barrage, with scenes of such savagery that you’ll still remember their hauntingly graphic details years and years later (I do!!!).
For those that like their horror fiction fast, furious and utterly intense, this is an absolute must read.
The novel runs for a total of 267 pages.
© DLS Reviews