Engulfed in a perpetual state of dark, atmospheric gloom, John Carpenter's 'The Fog' is a creepy supernatural tale about ancient curses, vengeance, a ghostly ship and its inhabitants, a mysterious glowing fog and . . . wait for it . . . the fuming-mad spirits of a leper colony. That's right; the ghosts of dead lepers haunt the shores of the quaint peaceful fishing town of Antonio Bay. It's enough of a challenge to sell the idea of a slow, creeping fog as some sort of menacing presence, but Carpenter pushes it to the next level by making the mist hide the angry dead souls of disease-ridden people turned wraithlike pirates in search of their lost gold. Shockingly, the famed director of 'Halloween' makes it work, turning the whole event into an entertainingly effective supernatural thriller.
The story opens with the wonderful John Houseman telling ghost stories to a group of immensely attentive kids by a campfire. The camerawork — the way it moves, is edited together and the great photography of Dean Cundey — during these early exposition scenes are some of the film's best moments, along with being some of my favorites. Although not widely considered one of Carpenter's better works, the director demonstrates a clearly creative and stylistic approach to his own script, one which elevates the frankly silly idea of vengeful leper ghosts into a spooky experience. On this night, as the coastal town prepares for the 100th anniversary of its founding, the residents witness all sorts of strange behavior in cars, electronic devices, pets and the weather - setting the stage for a centennial celebration unlike any other.
The commemoration is being organized by somewhat busybody Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh) and her assistant Sandy (Nancy Loomis). The pair spends much of their time driving around town as if arranging some large festival while Sandy acts the unappreciative, sardonic whippersnapper: "[Y]ou're the only person I know who can make "Yes, Ma'am" sound like "screw you." When they talk with the dispirited and melancholic Father Malone (Hal Holbrook, giving a small but memorable performance) about delivering a benediction, the plot is fully disclosed to the audience, which removes some of the mystery but also allows us to simply enjoy the eerie apparitions skulking from behind the fog. Somberly reading from Malone's great-grandfather's diary, we learn the spirits seek retribution for their mistreatment by offing the decendents of their persecutors - those who benefitted for their deaths and founded the quiet community.
This is when Adrienne Barbeau enters the picture as radio DJ Stevie Wayne, whose very sexy on-air voice initiates a flirtatious back-and-forth with Charles Cyphers as local weatherman Dan O'Bannon (a joke for Carpenter fans and film lovers alike) and also tries to warn locals about the scary glowing fog. Tom Atkins drives around town in a classic pickup truck trying to save people from the ghostly figures while proving to viewers, as he later does in 'Halloween III,' he's one hot stud with the young ladies. Here, that (un)lucky lady is hitchhiking artist Jamie Lee Curtis (should I include her official title "The Baroness Haden-Guest"?), hilariously repaying Atkins's friendly driver only minutes after meeting him. Sadly, the romance is short-lived once the ghostly lepers come ashore and wreak havoc on the town's anniversary celebration.
Loosely inspired by 1958's 'The Crawling Eye,' the supernatural horror film is not thought of with the same regard of Carpenter's other pictures, but it has a strong cult following, especially those with fond memories. I still remember seeing the movie for the first time as a kid and feeling utterly terrified by it. For the longest time afterwards, I feared the morning fog that rolled into my town, or at least felt uneasy because the thick mist could be hiding some sword-wielding maniac ready to attack an unwary kid on his way to school. Today, of course, Carpenter's scary vision doesn't quite possess the same frightful weight, and the fog is nothing more than a nuisance during my commute. However, those worried feelings of something unexpected jumping from the mist still linger, and 'The Fog' remains an effective, creepy and darkly atmospheric horror flick.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings John Carpenter's 'The Fog' to Blu-ray as a Collector's Edition under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed inside a blue, eco-elite case with brand new reversible cover art and a cardboard slipcover. At startup, the disc goes to a main menu selection on the left side with full-motion clips. Also, if you buy direct from Shout! Factory, fans can get an exclusive, limited edition poster of the newly commissioned artwork with their purchase!
'The Fog' rolls onto the shores of Blu-ray with a shockingly great-looking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that blows previous home video editions out of the water. Granted, the picture still comes with a few age-related spots, such as brown vertical lines in the scene when weatherman Dan is attacked, but they're negligible and easy to overlook. A couple nighttime sequences look a tad noisier than others, but natural grain is thin and stable for a majority of the runtime. Overall definition and resolution is excellent for a movie of this vintage with clear, distinct lines in clothing, rocks, the groovy furniture and the town's quaint architecture. Facial complexions are revealing during close-ups while appearing healthy during the remainder of the time.
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the high-def transfer was supposedly supervised by cinematographer Dean Cundey, and the results really are fantastic. Contrast is spot-on and comfortably bright, yielding many clean, brilliant whites, which is perfect for a movie with lots of smoke that glows in the dark. Black levels are accurate with deep, penetrating shadows and good gradational details in the darkest portions. Primaries are well-saturated and animated while secondary hues appear full-bodied with plenty of bold pastels everywhere. In the end, this is the best the John Carpenter classic has ever looked.
Unfortunately, the audio doesn't come in quite as strong as the video, which is not to say it's bad, only somewhat wanting in a few areas. Most surprising is catching myself preferring the 5.1 DTS-HD MA upmix over the 2.0 mono soundtrack, which ideally would be closer to the original design, but the latter sounded rather flat and very narrow.
The former, on the other hand, has better presence and feels heftier with a broad soundstage. Much of the action and commotion remains front heavy, as it should be, as the synthesizer music widens the image. Background effects are discrete with good movement between the channels, and dialogue reproduction is intelligible in the center of the screen. The mid-range is, for the most part, detailed and precise, except for a couple jump-scare moments when the music is amped up to an ear-piercing level and the higher frequencies noticeably clip into glaring noise. Low bass is also lacking for much of the runtime. All in all, the lossless mix is not too terrible, especially the 5.1 upmix, but there seems to be some small room for improvement.
Several featurettes are ported from the previous DVD special edition by MGM from a few years ago.
John Carpenter's 'The Fog' may not be as regarded as the horror-action director's other works, but it remains an entertainingly effective, even if a bit quaint, feature with an excellent creepy atmosphere. Fondly remembered and still thoroughly enjoyed, the movie stars several great actors providing a wealth of amusing performances. The Blu-ray arrives with a fantastic picture quality, but a slightly less than satisfying audio presentation. Yet, with a treasure trove of entertaining supplements, the overall package is recommended for cult enthusiasts.