THE FOG -- AMC Carrollton, AMC Skyline, Beacon Mall, Fair City Mall, Jerry Lewis, K-B Bethesda, K-B Cerberus, Springfield Mall, Town, White Flint.

It's five minutes before midnight, and the weather-beaten old captain has time to tell just one more story to make the children around the campfire too terrified to sleep. John Houseman is the captain, an Edgar Allen Poe quotation is flashed on the screen, and the fire flickers on the somber little listeners' faces.

So far, so good. "The Fog," said its makers, John Carpenter and Debra Hill, was intended to be "an old-fashioned ghost story." When the captain's five minutes are gone, we go into a small California town to get shaken up by mysterious rattlings, creaking and janglings. The captain has, unfortunately, packed up and left the movie, and the rest of it consists of a heavy dramatization of the prediction contained in his story.

Too bad -- it was a good five-minute story. It seems that when the town was founded, a hundred years ago, some rich lepers wanted to set up a suburb nearby, and the founding fathers, unable to zone them out of business, arranged for them to shipwreck themselves, with the timely help of an unusual fog. The undesirables, who have now spent many years at the bottom of the sea thinking this over, have figured out who did them dirt. Centennial day is the date they pick to stage their revenge on the direct descendants of their persecutors.

Now here is where the fog gets too thick. The dead men spend a good deal of the movie persecuting a newcomer in town, which raises serious questions about their revenge competence. And the local drunken priest, Father Malone, is marked because his grandfather, also a Father Malone, was one of the original conspirators.

Even a scared kid at a campfire is going to balk at this point. You have to take a lot on faith in old-fashioned ghost stories, but not that Fathers Malone take pride in being part of a direct bloodline of Catholic priests.

Hal Holbrook plays Father Malone III. Janet Leigh, whose frightened reactions in "Psycho" are considered classic, plays a role that is totally irrelevant to the plot. Carpenter's wife, Andrienne Barbeau, who looks like a young Janet Leigh, plays the mistaken-identity victim, and Jamie Lee Curtis, who doesn't look like a young Janet Leigh but is Janet Leigh's daughter, also takes part.

Never mind all that, captain. Tell us a different story.