The Fog Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Debra Hill and John Carpenter
1980, Region A, 90 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on July 30th, 2013
Adrienne Barbeau as Stevie Wayne
Tom Atkins as Nick Castle
Jamie Lee Curtis as Elizabeth Solley
Hal Holbrook as Father Malone
Janet Leigh as Kathy Williams
Charles Cyphers as Dan O'Bannon
On a relatively quiet night in late April, the small coastal town of Antonio Bay was briefly plagued by a series of bizarre events. Car horns blared, lights flickered on and off, clocks stopped and dogs began barking uncontrollably. The disturbance passed as quickly as it came, but left some residents with a feeling of unease. To make matters worse, a small group of fishermen didn't return home and the local radio station is asking anyone with information to contact the police department. These events are nothing to get too excited about, since the community is more focused on celebrating their centennial with a candlelight ceremony in the town square. At the local church however, Father Malone has discovered a secret about the town's founding fathers that will forever stain their reputation.
Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) is a working class Everyman whose luck picks up the night he meets and beds an attractive hitchhiker without even going through the motions of asking her name. She agrees to join him the next day to help search for the missing fishermen, but soon regrets the decision when things take a horrific turn. Meanwhile, the weather service is following a mysterious fog bank that is moving inland...against the wind. Reports are coming across the radio of something lurking within the fog and urging residents to get inside as quickly as possible.
Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) warns a small group seeking shelter in the church that there is truth behind the stories local fishermen tell concerning a sunken ship with a vengeful crew. His beliefs may be clouded with alcohol, but if he is right, then according to the legend six of the townspeople must be sacrificed to correct a long-standing debt. What follows is a terrifying tale of a small town under siege, cut off from any outside help, with only the voice of the radio DJ (Adrienne Barbeau) as a guide through the nightmare.
John Carpenter and Debra Hill followed up their unexpected hit Halloween with a contemporary spin on a classic ghost story. Deliberately stepping away from the slasher genre, The Fog is an exercise in suspenseful filmmaking, rich with atmosphere. The story is nicely crafted and despite some unfortunate flaws in the finale, manages to succeed at building a deliberately paced thriller. Well developed characters are placed into terrifying situations where they must make thoughtful decisions if they are to survive the night. The flubbed ending is not a deal breaker, but it feels tacked on for the sake of delivering one final scare, beneath the quality of what has come before.
The cast is fantastic across the board with Tom Atkins (Night of the Creeps) and Adrienne Barbeau (Swamp Thing) doing the majority of the heavy lifting. Jamie Lee Curtis (Terror Train) and Charles Cyphers (Halloween II) return from Carpenter's Halloween in a pair of supporting roles, but neither has too much to do. The acting pedigree is significantly elevated with a trio of legends, starting with the always-welcome John Houseman (Ghost Story) as a storytelling fisherman and Janet Leigh (Psycho) as the mayor determined to make the festivities go off without a hitch. But the real scene stealer here is the legendary Hal Holbrook (Creepshow) as the priest with a troubled conscience.
The Fog has a lot going for it, starting with Carpenter's excellent direction and script. Cinematographer Dean Cundey (The Thing) really delivers with his signature use of negative space in the widescreen frame, creating tension in many key sequences. While some claim The Fog is not Carpenter's best work, it deserves a higher ranking in his filmography than it frequently receives. There are admittedly a few clunky moments and on his commentary Carpenter admits to not being completely satisfied by the end result, but this is arguably one of the best ghost stories of the 1980s. Check it out.
Video and Audio:
The original VHS full frame release of this movie was a vertically squeezed incomprehensible joke. The Laser Disc was gorgeous simply because of the widescreen presentation. A DVD release carried things further with an anamorphic transfer that was later re-issued with additional tweaks. Now, Scream Factory renders every previous incarnation obsolete with this stunning new transfer, supervised by cinematographer Dean Cundey. The film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio is nothing short of beautiful. Black levels are deeper than ever before and colors are stunning. Any limitations are the result of original source materials and should not be held against this edition. Short of a full restoration, this is the best The Fog is likely ever going to look and fans will be pleasantly surprised.
This is a film that relies on audio cues and atmosphere for the majority of its scares and the options here do not disappoint. The default DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is offers a nice balance of music and effects spread across the rear channels while the majority of the dialogue is concentrated through the front channels and remains free of distortion. Purists will be happy with the inclusion of the original mono track, offered here in DTS-HD MA 2.0. English subtitles are provided.
I believe there is a friendly competition running between the gang at Scream Factory and the kids at Red Shirt pictures, with the two camps attempting to outdo the other for the Awesome award. Seriously, these guys continue to give fans the Criterion treatment without raping our wallets. They include all of the previously available extras and offer a few new goodies along the way.
The most high-profile addition to this release is My Time With Terror (22 minutes), a new interview with actress Jamie Lee Curtis reflecting on her work in the horror genre. The piece is briskly paced yet comprehensive and entertaining. She doesn't shower each film with praise and is quite candid when discussing her time working on The Fog.
Another treat for genre fans is The Dean of Darkness (19 minutes), an interview with cinematographer Dean Cundey. Sit back and prepare to be schooled by the man who shot my childhood as he revisits his time working on several John Carpenter films. The guy's resume is pretty stunning and he carries himself as an instantly likeable figure you could talk with for hours. Like the Curtis interview, the featurette is excellent, but I wish each was about three times as long.
Next up is a pair of audio commentaries; the first is a carry-over from the original Laser Disc release with John Carpenter and Debra Hill. This is a fast-moving track filled with tales of the financial limitations imposed on the production and the necessity for shooting additional material. The track is highly informative and is easily recommended listening. The second commentary is a newly recorded reunion with actors Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins and editor/ production designer Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III), moderated by Sean Clark. The three old friends get together to share memories about a project they had a lot of fun working on and the track plays about as nicely as one could hope.
Tales From the Mist: Inside The Fog (28 minutes) is a well-crafted documentary carried over from the DVD special edition that features interviews with several members of the cast and crew.
Fear on Film: Inside The Fog (8 minutes) is a clip heavy promo piece from 1980, featuring interviews with John Carpenter, Janet Leigh and Adrienne Barbeau among others.
Horror's Hallowed Grounds: A Look at the Film's Locations (20 minutes) is another installment of Sean Clark's self explanatory series. The information is presented in a fast moving and entertaining fashion that only stumbles when it pauses for a running gag featuring actor Robert Rusler (A Nightmare on Elm Street part 2) that has run its course.
The Fog: Storyboard to Film (2 minutes) provides a quick look at some of the original concept art compared to the finished film. Additional glimpses of early design work are provided in a collection of Special Effects Tests (3 minutes) and Storyboards (2 minutes).
Another fine holdover from a previous edition is a nice collection of Outtakes (4 minutes). The content is familiar to anyone who has ever watched a Blu-ray special edition, but there is something welcome about the peek at good times being had on the set of a classic horror film.
Rounding things out are a series of promotional items including the original trailer, TV spots and a photo gallery. Be sure to search around the menus for a hidden treat.