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The Fog (1980)

Shout! Factory
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/30/2013

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/14/2013

Following the success of Halloween, which opened in 1978 and continued to gain momentum into the following year, horror fans were watching Writer/Director John Carpenter to see what he would do next. Given the very contemporary, suburban feel of Halloween, I doubt that few were expecting his follow up to be a somewhat pastoral ghost story. This shift in direction made The Fog a topic of debate upon its release and over 30 years later, there are still questions about how the film fits into the Carpenter canon.

The Fog is set in the quaint seaside town of Antonio Bay, California, which is celebrating the centennial of its founding. As the film opens, we learn (through a tale told by a campfire) that 100 years ago, a ship crashed on the rocks near the town after the sudden appearance of a fogbank. Father Malone (Hal Holbrook), the town priest, finds a book written by his great-grandfather which describes how a signal fire was built on the beach in order to draw the ship into shore and crash it. Meanwhile, a group of men aboard a fishing boat are attacked after what appears to be an ancient sailing ship passes their vessel. The next morning, Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) and his newfound friend, Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis), whom he'd picked up while hitchhiking, go to investigate the disappearance of the crew. At the same time, Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh) and her assistant, Sandy Fadel (Nancy Loomis), are preparing for the anniversary festivities. As night falls, Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), who runs a radio station from a lighthouse, is busy preparing for her show when she notices a wall of fog heading into town. As this fog engulfs Antonio Bay, dark figures emerge from it to seek their vengeance.

John Carpenter wrote The Fog along with Debra Hill, who was his writing partner on Halloween. While Carpenter has discussed the inspirations for the movie, it's clear that he and Hill were trying to prove that they could make something "bigger" than their earlier hit. Despite working with a relatively small budget (although it was 3 times what Halloween cost to make), the story incorporate several characters and various locations. Overall, the film's plot is quite simple (ghosts, revenge, etc.), but the script contains various elements and cuts back and forth between a handful of storylines.

And I, for one, feel that The Fog works. Carpenter has stated that he was influenced by H.P. Lovecraft and Poe, and that's quite clear in the story, but there's just enough originality in the script to make it feel classic and not derivative. The characters are diverse and while they all border on stereotypes, they are fleshed-out enough for us to easily feel a connection to them. (Something I really like about The Fog, which is sorely missing from modern films, is that all of the characters are protagonists and we don't get that unnecessarily side-villain character when everyone is already busy with the menace at hand.)

Carpenter does a great job of giving the movie a sense of dread. Antonio Bay may be a coastal town, but we get the feeling that it isn't warm there. From the outset, we get the feeling that menace is afoot and that anything can happen. The scene in the radio station with the driftwood is a classic moment which just oozes with creativity and unease. Working with cinematographer Dean Cundey for the second time, Carpenter gives the movie an amazing look, most notably during the finale. The hands coming through the windows of the church look great (and these shots have been stolen by countless others). The movie really reaches its high point when the ghosts appear -- the image of them collected in the church is truly a classic of the genre.

I've been introducing my children to the vast world of movies and, as a horror fan, wanted to show them a horror movie, but not something which was too strong. We watched The Fog and they didn't like it. I could tell that they were bored and they didn't think that it was scary. (I did note, that if this movie was released today, as is, it would probably get a PG-13.) And this has been the debate about the movie for decades. Is it slow at times? Sure, but so was Halloween. This slow-burn style was Carpenter's trademark. Does the story always make sense? No. However, those nitpicky things aside, I don't see how anyone can deny the power of the visuals in the film and the suspenseful scenes definitely work. The Fog may be a product of a bygone era, but I still feel that it is a horror classic which just adds to the diverse filmography of John Carpenter.

The Fog makes me wish that I could pick up a big-band AM radio station which only operate for a few hours a day on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Shout! Factory. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs an at average of 29 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. Carpenter makes dark movies and The Fog may be his darkest. Past releases have been nearly unwatchable at times, as one couldn't see what was happening. That's not the case here and this is the best I've seen the film look. Yes, it's still dark, but Carpenter and Cundey's deliberate lighting palette can really be appreciated here. The colors look good and the image shows a nice amount of detail. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. First of all, Carpenter's signature score for the film sounds very good here and has a nice amount of bass. However, I noted that it was more front channel bass than subwoofer bass. The stereo effects are good and we get some nice separation, but I didn't note any significant surround effects. The track has true presence in the front and center channels, but it could have really used a boost in the surround speakers.

The Fog Blu-ray Disc contains a wealth of extras. We begin with an archival AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director John Carpenter and Producer Debra Hill. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY from Adrianne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, and Production Designer Tommy Lee Wallace. "My Time with Terror" (22 minutes) is an interview with Jamie Lee Curtis who reminisces about the movie. This is an interesting talk, as Curtis gives us insight into how the dissolution of the romantic relationship between Carpenter and Hill played into the film. She also states that she's surprised that it's popular as it's "not that goof of a film." From there, she talks about her career in horror, where she's very honest about Halloween II. We hear from Director of Photography Dean Cundey in "Dean of Darkness" (19 minutes) where he talks about his work with Carpenter on various films. His recollections are interesting, but somewhat dry. "Fear on Film: Inside The Fog" (8 minutes) is an archival piece which has interviews with Carpenter, Hill, Curtis, Leigh, and Barbeau -- this is clearly from 1980, but there's no indication from whence it came. "Tales from the Mist: Inside The Fog" (28 minutes) is a featurette which was created for the film's initial DVD release. It contains interviews with Carpenter, Barbeau, Leigh, Tommy Lee Wallace, and Cundey, all of whom look back on the making of the film and discuss the impact of The Fog. "The Fog: Storyboard to Film" offers a side-by-side comparison between the storyboards and the movie for the scene where the Elizabeth Dane is first encountered. There is also a gallery of storyboards included. "Horror's Hallowed Grounds" (20 minutes) has Sean Clark touring the California coast to visit some locations from the movie. A 4-minute reel of OUTTAKES shows some interesting bloopers from the movie. "Special Effects Tests" (3 minutes) shows experiments with the fog effects and some visual effects. The Disc contains two THEATRICAL TRAILERS and six TV SPOTS. The extras are rounded out by a PHOTO GALLERY which offers production stils, on-set shots, lobby cards, and posters.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.