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John Carpenter
Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, John Houseman, Tom Atkins
John Carpenter, Debra Hill

What you can't see won't hurt you... it'll kill you!
Rated R.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Digital Mono
French Digital Mono
English, Spanish, French

Runtime: 90 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 8/27/2002

• Audio Commentary with Director John Carpenter and Producer Debra Hill
• “Tales From the Mist” Documentary
• “Fear On Film” Featurette
• Outtakes
• Advertising Gallery
• Photo Gallery
• Easter Egg

Score soundtrack

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The Fog (1980)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

After the enormous success of 1978’s ultra-cheap Halloween, director John Carpenter enjoyed much greater financial freedom for his next flick. Carpenter decided to return to the well to a degree, as 1980’s The Fog provided another exercise in horror. However, to the director’s credit, he didn’t simply rehash the same slasher territory. Instead, The Fog involves thrills of a spookier, ghostly design. While not a classic like Halloween, The Fog has its moments and offers a generally effective piece.

A town along the California coast, Antonio Bay rapidly approaches its 100th anniversary. The citizens plan a major gala to commemorate this date, but it turns out that something dark comes along with the centennial. Apparently Antonio Bay was founded under sinister circumstances, and the ghosts of the victims have come back to seek their revenge under cover of the fog.

And there’s your story! The Fog offers a very simple plot, as it provides nothing more than a basic ghost story. The deceased return to satisfy their urges, and the living try to stop them. In the latter category, we meet a few specific residents of Antonio Bay. Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) lives with her young son Andy (Ty Mitchell) and runs KAB, the local radio station. Its only DJ, she operates it from a lighthouse, and that gives her the best vantage point for the progress of the fog.

A few other characters round out the main set. Trucker Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) picks up hitchhiker Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis), bangs her, and they spend the rest of the film together as they try to avoid death. Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh) organized the centenary celebration, while Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) is the only one with any knowledge of the menace; a descendant of a town founder, he possesses the key to stop the threat.

Basically The Fog entails little thought and action, however, and lots of running and screaming. Not that this means it offers a brainless affair. Actually, Carpenter explores the story at a nicely leisurely pace. From very early in the film, we become aware of the nastiness inside the fog, but only as the flick progresses to we slowly pick up on the origins of the terror. Many directors would have tossed out all the exposition at once, but the gradual unveiling of the facts works well. This allows the scariness to escalate and unfold naturally.

The Fog doesn’t pile on horror, and it probably seems tame to fans weaned on graphic flicks. Actually, as we learn in the DVD’s supplements, the original cut of the movie included even fewer of those sorts of moments; Carpenter had to conduct reshoots to goose up the fear factor considerably. In any case, I like the less concrete nature of the chills. The film works due to its atmosphere and doesn’t rely so much on obvious tactics.

I don’t think The Fog did very well at the box office when it first appeared, and the vague nature of the villain may have caused some of that coolness. After all, the concept of an evil meteorological pattern seems silly. Nonetheless, The Fog works pretty well. It attempts to offer a somewhat old-fashioned ghost story, and it usually succeeds. Though often predictable, the flick’s creepy and tense ambience makes it reasonably compelling.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio B / Bonus B

The Fog appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided DVD-14; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Despite the age and relatively low budget of The Fog, the DVD provides a very strong picture.

Sharpness generally seemed positive. A few wider shots came across as slightly soft, but those occurred infrequently. Most of the film looked nicely distinct and well defined. Jagged edges created no concerns, but I noticed some slight shimmering as well as minor edge enhancement. The darkness of the film hid the latter problem most of the time, but it became more obvious during the handful of daylight shots. Happily, the movie lacked many apparent print flaws. I saw a few examples of specks and grit, but those occurred infrequently and created no real issues.

Due to the subject matter, The Fog presented a fairly subdued palette, which the DVD reproduced neatly. Colors looked accurate and adequately saturated. Some shots with colored lighting could have created problems, but those failed to occur, as the tones remained nicely tight and concise. Black levels appeared deep and rich, while shadow detail was clean and appropriately thick. The denseness of the imagery could have turned The Fog into a visual mess, but happily, the image consistently looked very positive.

I also liked the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Fog. Remixed from the original monaural affair, the audio remained fairly strongly anchored in the front, but the new track expanded the horizons nicely. It presented a good sense of general atmosphere and presence, though much of the track remained rather monaural. Music showed modest stereo spread at times, while effects tended to emphasize general ambience. I heard some minor panning and movement, and also a few localized elements, but the track didn’t try to expand terribly far beyond its original parameters. The surrounds provided some basic reinforcement but not much else.

Audio quality seemed dated but decent. Speech came across as reasonably distinct and accurate. Some flatness interfered at times, but usually dialogue sounded fine, and I heard no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects appeared somewhat tinny and harsh at times, and the track seemed to accentuate treble too much. However, music sounded fairly bright and dynamic, and the score displayed some effective bass response on occasion. Overall, the audio lost some points due to the moderately shrill tones, but it still seemed above average for its era.

This DVD release of The Fog packs a nice roster of supplements. We start with an audio commentary from director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill, both of whom were recorded together for this running, screen-specific piece. A veteran of these affairs, Carpenter usually interacts with actors such as Kurt Russell (The Thing and others) and Natasha Henstridge (Ghosts of Mars). Those pairings benefit Carpenter, as the exuberant personalities of the performers complement his fairly low-key demeanor.

Such participants go missed during the track for The Fog. While a reasonably informative piece, it lacks the spark heard during the better Carpenter commentaries. On the positive side, Carpenter and Hill have known each other for years, so they seem comfortable together. Neither dominates the commentary, and both offer a fair amount of nice notes and factoids about the film.

Unfortunately, both seem pretty low-key, so the track moves slowly. Both also often tend to simply describe the on-screen action, and they stick with too many technical elements. Carpenter often tells us little more than the locations involved. The commentary remains at least average as a whole, but after the many other compelling John Carpenter tracks, this one seems like a disappointment.

Next we discover two different documentaries. The newly-created Tales From the Mist - Inside The Fog runs 27 minutes and 56 seconds and provides the usual mix of movie clips, stills and footage from the set, and new interviews with Carpenter, Debra Hill, production designer/editor Tommy Lee Wallace, director of photography Dean Cundey, and actors Adrienne Barbeau and Janet Leigh. Jamie Lee Curtis appears only via material shot in 1980, and we also see a few snippets of Carpenter from the same period.

Overall, “Mist” offers a nice recap of the production. We hear about the aftereffects of Halloween’s success, how Carpenter and Hill came up with the story, casting, production and post-production issues, reshoots and other elements. Carpenter even tosses in a compelling discussion of why he likes to film 2.35:1. The absence of new interviews with Curtis and others feels a little disappointing, but otherwise I find this to offer a very interesting and concise documentary.

Less useful is Fear on Film - Inside The Fog, a seven-minute and 41-second featurette from 1980. it includes a few movie clips but mostly consists of “talking head” shots of Carpenter, Hill, Curtis, Barbeau, and Leigh. (These sessions provide the same material seen in the 1980 clips in “Mist”). Essentially a promotional piece, “Fear” gives us a quick overview of the film, its situations, and its characters. While better than most of these sorts of featurettes, it remains bland and superficial.

In the Outtakes domain, we find a pretty standard gag reel. It includes four minutes and seven seconds, most of which show the usual goof-ups and giggling. The Storyboard to Film Comparison area lasts 85 seconds and shows an early scene in which the characters Williams and Wallace get attacked. The storyboards appear on the top and the movie runs on the bottom. Nothing special here, though the drawings seem amusingly crude.

Within the ”Advertising Gallery” we locate three trailers - one theatrical and two teasers - and three TV spots. Some stills appear as well. The Original Posters section shows six images, while Film Memorabilia displays two ads and the cover of the screenplay. The Photo Gallery splits into two sections. “Behind the Scenes” provides 48 photos and “Publicity Scene Stills” includes 18 pictures. The DVD’s booklet tosses in a letter from John Carpenter as well as some quick production notes.

Lastly, The Fog includes an Easter egg. Click left or right from the commentary option to highlight some spooky eyes. This allows you to watch 159 seconds of fog-creation outtakes. Much of this material already appears in the new documentary, but it’s still somewhat fun to see.

While overshadowed by some of John Carpenter’s better-known creations, The Fog nonetheless provides a reasonably compelling and creepy experience. The movie lacks much of the overt horror audiences might expect, but it creates a nicely eerie atmosphere and succeeds in its own right. The DVD offers positive picture and sound along with a pretty nice package of extras. All of this and a low list price of less than $20? The Fog is a good movie and a solid DVD; the cheap cost makes it a bargain.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0483 Stars Number of Votes: 62
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