The Fog
MGM // R // $19.98 // August 27, 2002
Review by D.K. Holm | posted August 24, 2002
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The Movie:
John Carpenter followed up his surprise success on Halloween with this modest horror film in 1980.

It's not the worst Carpenter film ever made, but it isn't one of his highest achievements. It begins with a Poe quote, "Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?" which frankly doesn't seem to have anything to do with the subsequent film. But it is a Poe quote and links the film with the Corman Poes of the '60s, and with Carpenter's own affection for horror writers like Poe and Lovecraft.

It's Antonio Bay, California, and it's the weekend of a 100th anniversary celebration of the town's founding. It's also the 100th anniversary of a time when the citizens of the city, all crooks, misled gold-bearing ships to the rocky shore where Antonionians robbed and killed the hapless seafarers. One of the ships was the Elizabeth Dane, and its ghostly, red-eyed remnants are looking for justice.

Several sets of people eventually converge on each other during a night of terror that ensues after a reconnaissance mission by the team of vengeance-seeking ghosts. First there is hitchhiker Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis), and the man who picks her up, fisherman Nick Castle (Tom Atkins). There is a Jaws feel to this part of the movie. Then there is the Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh), the town's real estate agent and the main force behind the day's celebration. Her assistant Sandy (Carpenter-regular Nancy Loomis) and Father Malone (Hal Holbrook), the man who knows the secrets of the town, are in her story line. But the main character seems to be KAB jazz station disc jockey Stevie Wayne (Carpenter's then-wife Adrienne Barbeau), who is stuck out there alone in a lighthouse, watching the deadly ghost-bearing fog roll in while trying to warn the citizens about it. She tells them to get up to the church, where a battle develops. Call it Assault on Parish 13. In the end, Stevie has her own battle with a ghost on the roof of the lighthouse. Once again in a Carpenter film, a small cadre of people is attacked by powerful zombie-like creatures.

The cast is filled with Carpenter regulars, such as Charles Cyphers. Newcomer John Houseman has a small part in the beginning as a ghost story declaiming sailor. And look for Darwin Jostin of Assault on Precinct 13 as a doctor.

But aside from its contiguousness with previous and later Carpenter films (Escape From New York was next), the film is a minor, if competent member of the Carpenter filmography. Robert Cumbow, in the second edition of Order in the Universe: The Films of John Carpenter (Scarecrow, ISBN 0 8108 3719 6), his excellent, definitive study of Carpenter's work, makes a case for the film's fun quotient, and notes the consistent theme in the film of storytelling as a frame that imprisons the characters during the duration of the movie's events. There are some good shock effects, and brilliant cinematography by Dean Cundey, but there are also some awful shock effects, and obviously stagy sequences in under-illuminated low-tech interiors. The disc is really for Carpenter completists only, which isn't all that bad a thing to be.


VIDEO: Originally an Avco-Embassy film, MGM does a fine job with this flipper, which has the widescreen image (2.35:1, enhanced for wide screen televisions) on one side, and the full frame version on the other. The B or full-frame side only has the audio commentary extra. As mentioned, Dean Cundey's cinematography is gorgeous, and worth the price of the disc. The transfer appeared flawless. [11 Septermber, 2002: A reader e-mailed me a reminder that in fact this transfer, probably derived from the laser disc too like the extras, looks awfully grainy, especially in the darker scenes, such as Barbeau climbing up the roof of the lighthouse (I thought that was intentional, because of the fog). I watched it again and though Cundey's exterior scene-setting shots are still fine, indeed the darker scenes are grainy. This reader writes, "At the beginning of the film after Houseman tells his story, you can see grain just as the camera pulls over his head before the credits are shown. If you look at let's say BLADE 2 & then THE FOG, you will see what I mean. The grain isn't as bad as on the new RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD dvd but it's there none the less & I didn't notice it on the copy I have from the LD. I've noticed this on several MGM releases. I'm glad this film has been released but I'm a little disappointed with the transfer …I might just be overly picky having watched newer films which are 100% grain free. I have to keep in mind that this is a 20+ year old film. However, I have seen some older films that do look better like Dario Argento's DEEP RED & the recent GIALLO COLLECTION from Anchor Bay. MGM should be praised for at least releasing this gem with all the supplements from the laserdisc & adding some new stuff including the 5.1 track. At least they put an effort into their horror titles unlike PARAMOUNT who don't even include trailers for the fans." ]

SOUND: The Fog offers a panoply of sound choices. First off is "digitally enhanced English 5.1 Surround" track. There is also English mono, and French mono, with English, French, and Spanish subtitles.

MENUS: The animated musical menus offer greenish hued images from the movie. The disc offers 32 chapter scene selection for the 89 minute movie.

PACKAGING: A keep case bears a new design for the cover rather than the poster, looking more The Thing than a ghost story, with a green color scheme, with images from the movie on the back, and a insert with the chapter list and more pix.

EXTRAS: It's hard to deeply love The Fog, but if you do, you're going to spend a lot of time with this disc, because the extras are abundant.

Director John Carpenter and Producer Debra Hill Audio Track Carpenter and Hill are frank about the fact that they had to make the film twice, because the The Fog just didn't work the first time around. They point out how the film was "saved" in the editing room. Carpenter, who favors long takes, had to see scenes chopped up for scary inserts. He admits that the film was his take an old-fashioned ghost story, but that the story got lost and didn't deliver the chills. Carpenter and Hill walk you through the locations, rather rapidly and they get on well together. It's a Criterion level commentary. It's also an old one. This commentary comes from the Image laser disc, recorded in 1995; Carpenter makes passing references to the film he has just finished, Village of the Damned.

"Making Of Documentaries There are two. "Tales from the Mist: Inside The Fog" is a new doc made just for this DVD. Directed and produced by Jeffrey Schwartz, it s 28 minutes long, and contains interviews with Barbeau, Leigh, Hill (who talks about a fog she saw with Carpenter at Stonehenge which inspired the premise of this film), Carpenter (who talks about the EC roots of the revenge tale, and the real story of a California town that lured ships ashore to crash, which they then robbed; but I worry about the big dark lump on his right forehead), Tommy Lee Wallace, Dean Cundey, Curtis (in footage from the second doc). Most are frank about how bad the film turned out to be in post-production, requiring it to be juiced up with more shock effects.

The second is called "Fear on Film: Inside The Fog," a 1980 documentary. "Fear," directed by Steve Wacker, is seven minutes long, and has too much trailer style footage. It does feature interviews, on a TV set against a blue background, with Carpenter, Hill ("The Fog isn't really a roller coaster ride. It's more like the Whip"), Janet Leigh (Re: Psycho, "I still cannot take a shower"), Adrienne Barbeau ("We shot a scene in The Fog with me on the lighthouse and the ghosts are after me, and t was physically demanding, the incline of the lighthouse was very steep, it was a difficult thing just to keep climbing up there. By the end of that day , into the next day, I felt like someone had pulled my arm out of my socket, I ruined my boots, ruined my hands, black and blue, but I enjoy that kind of thing, I don't mind it at all"; in the audio track, Hill says that it was her hands and booted feet for the inserts), and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Outtakes There are four minutes and eight seconds worth of outtakes, with lots of cursing, screw-ups, and clowning around.

Storyboard to Film Comparisons. At one minute and 25-seconds, the disc offers a rather brief, if accurate, comparison, of the scene where the ghosts attack two guys on a dock. The comparison does show just how carefully Carpenter sticks to his original conceptions.

Advertising Gallery The two-minute theatrical trailer in full frame, and with a long vertical scratch at the start, is a little blurry, and gives away too much. There's a 52-second teaser trailer, and another 51-second teaser trailer that is much more effective for being much more vague, but is also a little dark. There are three rather scratchy 30-second TV spots. Five original posters, and three film advertising memorabilia items round out this section. Some of this material appeared on the laser disc.

Photo Gallery "Behind the Scenes" gives you 48 color and black and white images of actors and crew laughing and enjoying each other, placed against a green backdrop. "Publicity Scene Stills," offers 18 mostly black and white images.

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