Shout! Factory // 1980 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // July 19th, 2013
What you can't see won't hurt you...it'll kill you!
Shout Factory's offshoot, Scream Factory, hits another home run by snagging the rights to the cult classic 1980 horror film, John Carpenter's The Fog, which rolls in this July with a newly minted high definition transfer and all new special features.
In the California coastal town of Antonio Bay, a centennial celebration is about to begin. Unfortunately, this isn't an anniversary anyone should be attending due to the town's sordid history. As the date creeps up slowly, strange things are happening around town -- televisions are turning themselves on, chairs are moving on their own, and phones are ringing off the hook. Making things worse, an ominous fog that has rolled in off the coast. The reason is insidious; it appears that in 1880 the founders of Antonio Bay robbed and sank the Elizabeth Dane, a clipper ship owned by a wealthy man with leprosy named Blake.
Using the gold aboard the Elizabeth Dane, Antonio Bay has been constructed on a foundation of lies that are now coming back to haunt the townsfolk, including stalwart resident Nick Castle (Tom Atkins, Night of the Creeps), a young hitchhiker named Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis, True Lies), a local radio DJ (Carpenter's real life ex-wife Adrienne Barbeau, Escape from New York), a haunted priest with connections to the past (Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild), and the town's centennial organizer (Curtis' real life mother Janet Leigh, Psycho). Will the sins of the past tear apart the citizens of Antonio Bay? Or can they escape the unimaginable horror that lays within The Fog?
The Fog arrived as John Carpenter's writing/directing career was starting to really build momentum. In fact, The Fog was Carpenter's first theatrical release to follow his breakout 1978 horror hit Halloween. During that interim Carpenter helmed two made-for-TV films (Someone's Watching Me! and the biopic Elvis!) while still finding his footing as a horror director. The question was: could The Fog reach the same dizzying height of success that Halloween did? While The Fog was a commercial hit, it's not considered one of Carpenter's true masterpieces.
I know there are some horror fans that will see this as blasphemy, but I find Carpenter'sThe Fog to be one of the director's lesser efforts. It's not that The Fog is a bad film; to its credit, The Fog is filled with creepy atmosphere and genuinely skin-crawling moments. The Fog's biggest stumbling block is that it has a lot of build up without a truly satisfying payoff. The ghosts that appear from the fog aren't nearly as scary as when they're lurking invisibly inside it (they're like mummies who know how to use farm implements). Like a slick looking car with a weak engine, The Fog looks good but doesn't have a lot going on under the hood.
Certainly Carpenter is able to wring good performances out of a fairly impressive cast. Halloween holdover Jamie Lee Curtis plays essentially the same woman-in-peril role, only to slightly lesser effect. Tom Atkins (who would also show up a few years later in the Carpenter produced Halloween III: Season of the Witch) and Hal Holbrook are the lead males, each doing a respectable job with their roles (Holbrook is especially good, looking like he's going to fall apart at any moment). The effects work is fair enough, although once the ghostly apparitions finally make their way out of the fog viewers may be slightly let down by the cheap glowing eyes and gauze wrapped appendages that pass for terror. Carpenter was able to make the fog itself a character in the film as it slowly rolls over hilltops and under doors, creeping along like it has a mind of itself. Carpenter's use of the widescreen format is, as usual, excellent -- the director is able to frame scenes to squeeze out a maximum amount of chills.
The Fog is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen (Carpenter's favorite aspect ratio) in 1080p high definition. Overall Scream Factory has done a nice job with this transfer. Although the print isn't pristine (it was not a high budget film, after all), certainly this is the best The Fog has looked in a long time. Colors are evenly saturated (usually) and black levels are solid. There's a mild amount of natural film grain, but it doesn't distract from the viewing. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio in English. The biggest boost is from Carpenter's tense, sparsely melodic music score. There are some directional effects to be found in this track, but overall it's a mostly front heavy audio mix. Also included is a DTS-HD 2.0 track in English, as well as English subtitles.
This Collector's Edition of The Fog includes an audio commentary with director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill; a second (and newer) commentary with actors Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, and production designer Tommy Lee Wallace (director of Halloween III: Season of the Witch); a recent interview with Jamie Lee Curtis discussing her career; a couple of featurettes on the making of the film ("Tales from the Mist: Inside the Fog", "Fear on Film: Inside the Fog", "The Fog: Storyboard to Film", "Horror's Hallowed Grounds: A New Look at the Film's Locations"); some outtakes; theatrical trailers, TV spots, and a short photo gallery.
I unabashedly love John Carpenter's movies. One of the reasons Carpenter has stayed in such good standing is that his films, while sometimes wildly uneven, are never boring and always brimming with interesting ideas. Even Carpenter's less successful films -- Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Escape from L.A., Village of the Damned -- are never a chore to sit through. Except for one out-and-out dud (The Ward, which has thus far been the director's swan song), Carpenter's batting average is truly impressive. The Fog isn't Carpenter's best work, but it's a fun little ghost story that's certainly worth any horror fan's time. Just make sure to skip the lamentable 2005 remake.
Not Guilty. Despite the years, it still holds up as an effective atmospheric tale of terror.
Review content copyright © 2013 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* TV Spots
* Photo Gallery