Directed by John Carpenter
Distributed by The Scream Factory
Of all the films produced during John Carpenter’s golden period, the one that this reviewer revisits the least is his 1980 ghost yarn The Fog. That’s no major slight on the film, which still stands head and shoulders over most others of its ilk. I simply don’t connect with it as much as I do with, say, Halloween, The Thing, or Escape from New York. In fact, before this week I hadn’t seen the film in more than a few years. Fortunately, the new bonus features-laden Blu-ray from Scream Factory gave me a good reason to reevaluate this early 80s gem.
For those unfamiliar with the film, a brief synopsis: In the coastal town of Antonio Bay, a legend persists of Captain Blake, whose ship was led to ruin by a misplaced beacon fire. Now, on the town’s centenary, the Captain and his undead crew have returned to take bloody vengeance on Antonio Bay, with an assortment of colorful characters running afoul of the zombie pirates. These poor folks include local radio DJ Stevie Wayne (Barbeau) and her son, Andy; local Nick Castle (Atkins) and his recent acquaintance, Elizabeth (Curtis); festival organizer Kathy Williams (the great Janet Leigh) and her assistant, Sandy (Halloween’s Nancy Kyes); and Father Malone (Holbrook), a priest who may have the answer as to the nature of Blake’s vengeance. As the deadly fog that heralds the arrival of Captain Blake’s men envelops the entire town, this small band will have to fight to survive the night, all while attempting to discover the reason for this evil and how to defeat it.
Watching the film again, this reviewer found that it still isn’t his favorite Carpenter (by a long shot), but it stands as one of the better spooky slashers that the earlier part of the decade had to offer. Carpenter’s direction is assured as always, especially when it comes to crafting some of the film’s creepier sequences. Cinematographer Dean Cundey’s work is typically gorgeous, while Carpenter’s synthy score keeps the movie icily tense throughout. The cast is uniformly great as well, populated with Carpenter regulars and acting veterans.
A pity, then, that the film features no indelible characters, which I believe is my biggest problem with it. Sure, the story has a couple of holes and it isn’t as intense as some of Carpenter’s better films, but it’s the lack of a Snake Plissken or Laurie Strode or Napoleon Wilson or R.J. MacReady that weakens the movie. The closest we get to honest Carpenter heroes are Stevie and Nick, but that’s more due to the actors’ natural presences than the writing which supports them. Still, all that aside, The Fog remains a fun, very well made film that any Carpenter fan would do well to revisit from time to time.
Scream Factory, as is to be expected, has done a bang-up job bringing The Fog to Blu. The new transfer is mostly sharp throughout with nice colors, though there is the occasional softness from time to time. The 5.1 audio track is perfectly solid, if not sterling, while a 2.0 track is available as well.
But as with most Scream Factory releases, this disc really shines with its bonus features. We have (deep breath): two audio commentaries (an older track with Carpenter and Debra Hill and a track with Barbeau, Atkins, production designer Tommy Lee Wallace, and moderator Sean Clark); My Time with Terror, featuring Jamie Lee Curtis discussing her time as a scream queen and the filming of The Fog (spoiler alert – after all these years, she doesn’t like the film); Dean of Darkness, a discussion with Cundey about his career; Fear on Film: Inside The Fog, a vintage featurette; Tales from the Mist: Inside The Fog, another featurette, this one from a few years ago, with the older collaborators looking back on the film’s making; a storyboard-to-film comparison of the boat attack sequence; a new episode of Sean Clark’s always fun “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds”, which opens with a pretty great bit featuring Clark riffing on John Houseman’s opening campfire tale; a great four-minute gag reel; an FX reel showing some neat tricks the crew pulled with practical fog; a collection of theatrical trailers and TV spots (two of which are pretty neat ads for a double bill of The Fog and Phantasm; a slideshow of publicity stills, lobby cards, and poster artwork; and a closer look at the storyboards from the boat attack sequence. All in all, a damned impressive package.
While The Fog isn’t Carpenter’s best film (or his second best… or his third best… or…), it is an important entry in the catalogue of a master in the genre. And as such, it remains essential viewing for fans of his work. I could think of no better way to revisit this film than with this Blu-ray. Hats off to Scream Factory for another exemplary job!
Buy this one, folks (if you haven’t already).
3 1/2 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5