The Fog: Collector's EditionOverview -
Fog is nothing new to the quaint seaside village of Antonio Bay. But on the night of its 100th anniversary, a fogbank rolls in unlike any other. Eerie lights, dark figures, and the masts of an ancient schooner appear in the swirling mists, and soon the specters of long-murdered sailors descend upon the town. Using knife, hook and sword, they exact revenge for sins committed by the town's founding fathers, leaving horrified survivors struggling to solve a hundred-year crime. And they must solve it - or die.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
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.
- Audio Commentary — Two commentary tracks are offered, starting with the first from the DVD that has director/writer John Carpenter and producer/co-writer Debra Hill chatting endlessly about the production. Focused mostly on the technical details and background, the conversation is very entertaining and highly informative while also relating lots of great anecdotes about the cast, location, story, creative process and behind-the-scenes info.
The second track is a brand-new conversation with Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, production designer Tommy Lee Wallace and moderated by Sean Clark of Horror Hound magazine. It's another lively exchange, although Wallace does the majority of the talking, sharing great tidbits and anecdotes as they relate to specific scenes. The two actors banter plenty about working with the cast & crew, poking fun at certain scenes and share amusing stories from the set and time they spent together.
- My Time with Terror (HD, 22 min) — Very recent interview with "Screen Queen" Jamie Lee Curtis providing a frank and candid conversation about her career before and after this production while also sharing her thoughts and memories of the movie.
- Dean of Darkness (HD, 19 min) — Another recently recorded chat, this time with cinematographer and long-time Carpenter collaborator Dean Cundey going into great detail about the technical aspects, the challenges of working with a limited budget and the creative process of this particular project.
- Horror's Hallowed Grounds (HD, 20 min) — Sean Clark of Horror Hound magazine takes horror fans on another awesome tour of various locations, mostly around the Point Reyes surroundings where the film was shot.
- Tales from the Mist (1080i/60, 28 min) — The original retrospective from the DVD showing various cast & crew interviews from the set and sometime after. Everyone involved provides excellent info about the story, its themes, its overall production, the look and feel of the film and its lasting legacy.
- Fear On Film (1080i/60, 8 min) — A roundtable discussion with Carpenter, Hill, Curtis and Barbeau originally released during the time of the movie's promotion.
- Outtakes (HD, 4 min) — Usual collection of goofs, flubs and the general good humor of the production team.
- Special Effects Tests (1080i/60, 3 min) — Precisely as it sounds, showing the early stages of the special effects wizardry.
- Photo Gallery (HD) — An extensive collection of production stills, publicity photos, poster artwork and a large assortment of storyboards gathered as two separate categories.
- Trailers (HD, 1080i/60) — Two theatrical previews are accompanied by several vintage TV spots.
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.
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