The Mist's Pharmacy Scene Presented Some Unique Horror Movie Challenges [Exclusive]

Frank Darabont's "The Mist" celebrates its 15th anniversary this week, and although the adaptation from one of Stephen King's most famous short stories has its detractors, this landmark date really should be treated as a celebration. To mark the occasion, /Film's own Eric Vespe has amassed a compendium of interviews with most of the cast and crew to create the ultimate oral history of (in my opinion) one of the best horror films of the new millennium.  

The interplay between the characters and the dangerous human dynamics that emerge during King's fantastical story are fascinating in their own right. But as a monster kid, it's the otherworldly invasion of unthinkable creatures and mind-boggling monsters in "The Mist" that keep me coming back to watch the horror unfold all over again. For me, the gargantuan Lovecraftian beasts are too massive to really comprehend, so they don't scare me as much as the creeping, crawling things down on the ground. That's why the scariest scene in "The Mist" is the spider sequence at King's Pharmacy (a not-so-subtle nod to the author) where a small, brave group of survivors from the Food House grocery store next door venture out to look for medical supplies. 

For cinematographer Rohn Schmidt, the nightmarish sequence kept him up at night for an entirely different reason. Hiding those giant Gray Widower spiders in the dark proved to be a unique lighting challenge for Schmidt, who was tasked with keeping the creatures in the shadows of the bright white vapor used to create the look of the mist.  

The reality of filming horror fantasy

From the /Film oral history, Schmidt revealed that the journey to the pharmacy was scripted as a day scene, immediately making it a harder sequence to pull off. "In a night scene, it'd be easy to create a little shadow that they'd pop out of, and here I was in this white cloud trying to hide creatures that could jump out and scare you. So that kept me up a lot," he admitted. 

The density of the mist and the fact that the power is out inside King's Pharmacy does allow for a certain amount of darkness, which provided a thin cloak to disguise the sudden reveals and jump scares that the now legendary scene depended on. To achieve that look took a lot of testing on Schmidt's part that, luckily, he had the time to perfect. Even working on his days off, Schmidt used only a still camera to "experiment with different combinations of fill light and flashlight and levels of smoke" until he achieved the desired effect. Once Schmidt worked out the right amount of smoke on the set with the effects team, he figured out how much contrast they would need when the final color correcting was done in post-production.

There was one problem, however. Who was going to light the entire scene and make sure the creatures of "The Mist" didn't get their spotlight before they were ready for their close-up? That responsibility fell to actors Thomas Jane, William Sadler, Sam Witwer, and Jeffrey DeMunn. Oh, and if you remember the sweet elderly townie Irene Rippler (Frances Sternhagen) in that sequence, she had a makeshift flamethrower to help light the way.

Trusting the actors to light the scene

Before actors could use their iphones to help light certain scenes, the performers on the set of "The Mist" had to use other means. (The first iPhone came out about seven months after "The Mist" hit theaters.) "That was lit entirely with flashlights," Schmidt explained to us. Knowing that William Sadler had to light his own horrified reaction when hundreds of baby spider beasts burst out of the M.P.'s (Amin Joseph) chest makes the performance even more impressive. 

When the King's Pharmacy sequence was filmed, Schmidt and the cast had already established enough of a rapport, so Darabont's committed cinematographer felt comfortable that the actors could hit their marks and their lighting cues. "By that time I had gained the trust of the cast where, in the midst of acting, they would be able to put the flashlight down, 'I need you to put it here on this spot and aim it at that box there,' but they were all in." 

There are so many elements at play that need to seamlessly work together in order to make that entire sequence come to life. The stage smoke has to have the right level of thickness, the camera work has to glide through the store set, the actors have to perform and light the scene, and lastly, the creature design team has to deliver images that the audience will believe. "The Mist" is a microcosm of our own societal fears and an epic sci-fi horror fantasy that uses hysteria and otherworldy monsters to scare us. There is a lot to be frightened about, but the spider sequence is the scariest part of the film for a reason.