Well, everyone’s favorite time of year is here, when wee trick-or-treaters enact timeless rituals, older ones ruin their bridgework, and we all devour some of the finest fright films TV has to offer. If you’re a lighthouse aficionado, however, there’s something about a 19th century structure, isolated and surrounded by vicious tides and sea mysteries, that makes the lighthouse a prime horror movie prop.
The following, presented for your consideration (and not in any particular order), are a few of the scary films or TV shows which have used the lighthouse to great effect. Where possible, the actual lighthouses have been identified. Look for these films at your favorite video or DVD supplier this All Hallow’s Eve. But more importantly, exercise due caution... and “look to the seas!”
The Fog (1980) - This shocker, directed by John Carpenter (Halloween) stars Jamie Lee Curtis, as a drifter who happens upon the fictitious coastal community of Antonio Bay at the worst possible time; just when the ghosts of lepers, murdered by early colonists, return for their hideous revenge. The harbinger of death is actually a ghost ship named the Elizabeth Dane. The film’s magnificently located lighthouse, at a perennially foggy Point Reyes, California, is a key character in the story and figures in a couple of the most shocking and atmospheric sequences. First operational in 1870, it is in working order, still possesses its first order Fresnel lens, and is accessible to the public via a 300-stair walkway originating at the lighthouse station building. In the script, Point Reyes doubles as KAB (Radio 1340), where a deejay played by Adrienne Barbeau (TV’s Maude) is stationed. The Fog unites Curtis on screen with her mom, the legendary Janet Leigh (Psycho), for the first time, and reunites her with Halloween co-star Nancy Loomis. Also stars Hal Holbrook, as an embattled priest, and John Houseman, in one of his final film roles, as an aging seafarer who relates the spooky tale to kids around a campfire. Highly recommended for authentic Witching Hour chills.
The Day of the Triffids (1962) - The novel by John Wyndham is considered one of the top sci-fi tales of all time. Eleven years after its publication, the U.K.’s Security Pictures produced the film version. It’s a disturbing, creepy view of a world blinded by a strange meteor shower and the subsequent appearance of mobile, man-eating plants. As the Earth’s inhabitants strive to stay alive, despite the fact very few can still see, an intrepid group of Brits, led by American actor Howard Keel, combat the terrible triffids, the latter tormented only by a cheesy special effects treatment. Two of these courageous humans are a scientist and his wife, played by Janette Scott, holed up inside a lighthouse on a small, rugged island off the coast of England. In fact, the last stand against the creatures takes place in its tight confines. Also stars Nicole Maurey and Kieron Moore.
Dr. Who (a 1977/’78 episode) - The longest-running, and arguably the best, science fiction TV series of all time, the British-produced Dr. Who had one classic episode set inside a lighthouse. Horror of Fang Rock, starring Tom Baker, the fourth doctor (1974-1980), made its appearance during the show’s 15th season. The Doctor and Leela take shelter in a lighthouse on Fang Rock, only to find they had locked themselves inside with a slimy, shape-shifting Rutan alien. To make things even eerier, a freak fogbank descends on the area. Set designer Paul Allen was said to have based his lighthouse look on historic structures from the book Lighthouses, Lightships and Buoys by E. G. Jerrome, but serious enthusiasts have questioned this.
Jaws (1975) - The mother of all sea shockers, this classic film, which kept swimmers wary of the ocean for years, deals with a monstrous Great White Shark and its relentless pursuit of Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw. Based on the best-selling novel by Peter Benchley, the plot has Scheider portraying an ocean-side town’s police chief, who hooks up with oceanographer Dreyfuss to hunt the murderous Great White. They engage old seafarer Shaw, who winds up the ultimate bait, in what will remain one of the all-time goriest deaths in filmdom. The lighthouse shot in the film is the 51-foot high Gay Head at Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, first lit in 1799 and which utilized a powerful First Order Fresnel lens until 1952. That lens was replaced by an automatic light, but is on display at the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society. The lighthouse tower still stands today and is open to the public.
Thinner (1996) - While driving through town, hefty Fairview, Connecticut attorney Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) runs down a gypsy woman and she dies. Her gypsy father, played by Michael Constantine, later crooks a finger at him, caresses his cheek, and utters one simple word “Thinner”. From that horrible moment onward, Halleck continues to lose weight, three pounds a day, as he is erased into nothingness. Also starring Joe Mantegna and Lucinda Jenny, as Halleck’s distraught wife. Mantegna’s performance as a mobster is as fine as usual and there are some worthwhile moments. Stephen King’s 1984 novel, written under his famous pseudonym Richard Bachman, is vastly superior to the film. The lighthouse seen in this movie is located “somewhere in Maine”. The entire film was shot in various Maine locations, making this one of the favorites of the many extras who landed work across the State.
Hemoglobin (a.k.a. Bleeders, 1994) - This Canadian production was shot partly in a Montreal studio, but the most atmospheric scenes were filmed on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick. Here, actors Rutger Hauer (Bladerunner), Roy Dupuis (TV’s Nikita) and Kisten Lehman (X-Files) faced inbred mutant monsters at Swallowtail Lighthouse, in the North Head region of the picturesque, tiny island. The lighthouse interior was reproduced inside the Montreal’s National Film Board and the fiercest action takes place there.
Sh! The Octopus (1938) - Comedians Hugh Herbert and Allen Jenkins, and actress Marcia Ralston, are featured in this silly romp about people trapped in a deserted lighthouse with a metallic killer octopus. Directed by William McGann. You’ll groan more than shudder, but hey it’s set in a lighthouse, so how bad can it be?
Needful Things (1993) - This film adaptation of the Stephen King novel is highlighted by Max Von Sydow’s riveting performance as Leland Gaunt, a suave but rather devilish man. This minion of Lucifer sets up shop in, where else, Castlerock, and proceeds to entice, confuse and coerce the residents into doing evil things. While there are other “name” actors in the cast, including Ed Harris, J. T. Walsh, Amanda Plummer and Bonnie Bedelia; Von Sydow is the main reason you’ll want to rent this one. Needful Things also has one of the finest film scores in years, courtesy of composer Patrick Doyle. The film was shot in the town of Gibson’s Landing and the lighthouse is Point Atkinson, both in British Columbia, Canada. Located in West Vancouver, the 60-foot high structure, dating back to 1912, is located on the seaside rim of the 185-acre Lighthouse Park, which boasts 8 miles of beautiful, natural trails to explore. A nearby B&B, the Lighthouse Retreat, caters to tourists.
This story appeared in the
October 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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