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The Fog

The Fog on DVD

Just in time to cash in on the theatrical release of the remake comes a repackaged version of the John Carpenter original.

Alas, the only difference between this release and the 2002 special edition, appears to be that this one gets rid of the full screen version and adds the anti-pirating icons to the back of the box.

Heckuva deal, eh?

"John Carpenter’s The Fog" is a terrific ghost story, a horror movie that, despite some silliness, is a lot more moody, atmospheric and, well, scary, than many that have come since.

And though it has a few graphic frames, for the most part Carpenter and his co-writer/producer Debra Hill leave the scariest stuff to our imaginations - and that, not gore, is what makes a great horror movie.

This is a well crafted and told story and if you like other Carpenter films you’ll probably feel right at home here.

Antonio Bay, California, is a tiny town with a centennial coming up. One hundred years ago the town was founded, and this is cause for celebration. But it’s also cause for pause, because it turns out there was far more to the town’s founding than the townsfolk know - and the horrible secret is now coming back to haunt them in no uncertain terms.

Adrienne Barbeau leads the ensemble cast as Stevie Wayne, a single mother who owns and operates the town’s tiny radio station, located spectacularly in a lighthouse on the rocky coast. How small is this station? It’s so small it appears to only be on the air during the evening, from suppertime till just past witching hour - and we can just imagine how profitable that must be!

And aren't those the hours she should be home with her kid? But we digress...

Also along for the ride are Jamie Lee Curtis as a free-spirited hitchhiker who’s just passin’ through at exactly the wrong time. Her real life mother, Janet Leigh, is Kathy Williams, a local mover and shaker; Hal Holbrook is Father Malone, keeper/discoverer of the town’s heinous secret, and John Houseman is Mr. Machen, seen at the film’s opening scaring the pants off some young kids around the campfire.

It’s one heck of a cast and they all turn in terrific performances. But the real star is Carpenter and his/Hill’s script. They manage to take this lovely location and turn it into a truly frightening place, with fog that rolls in menacingly and actually becomes a character in the narration.

But it’s what’s in the fog that’s even worse….

Okay, when Barbeau figures things out (kind of), her character goes from strong and independent woman to some kind of strange animal who blubbers and babbles over the airwaves, at one moment warning and potentially freaking out the populace and in the next moment tearfully donning verbal sackcloth and ashes, whining her apologies to her young son (who, for all she knows, isn’t even listening to the radio; at that hour, he really should be in bed anway). This silliness is the only thing we could really fault about The Fog, though on second thought the radio personality's alternating between frightening listeners and gushing at them could be said to foreshadow today’s mainstream news media to a "T."

But we digress again…

Carpenter has a real knack for crafting truly scary movies. Halloween, which wasn’t really a slasher film (okay it was, but it wasn’t a grossout like many of the films it spawned), was frightening. So is The Fog, and so on through movies like The Thing (possibly the best horror/sci fi film ever), Village of the Damned, Christine, and right up to Vampires. He’s also made some damn good other films, and this reviewer will always proudly admit that Big Trouble in Little China and Dark Star are among his all time favorites. He’s inflicted a couple of stinkers on us, too, but then again who hasn’t? Ever met my kids?

Anyway, The Fog is early Carpenter, which in some ways is Carpenter at his best, unfettered by a major studio and clearly at the top of his game.

The DVD gives the movie its due, which is great. It’s offered in anamorphic widescreen and for the most part the picture is very good indeed. It actually ranges from excellent to okay, but is usually closer to excellent, with sharp edges and good color - and a transfer that features good contrast between the dark darks and light lights.

Audio is supposedly remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1 surround but there’s scarcely any surround (although one instance of rear channel use near the end certainly makes up for any lack earlier). It was obviously a low budget flick and in those days the audio often lost out to the picture, which is too bad. But they’ve done as good a job with the sound here as they could, and the result is pretty good all things considered. And Carpenter’s score, as usual, comes through well and does a good job of heightening the tension.

For extras, MGM has really piled on the stuff.

You’re treated to a running commentary by auteurs Carpenter and Hill - and Carpenter commentaries are always worth hearing. There’s also a documentary retrospective that’s quite fascinating, as well as an original 1980 promotional reel that isn’t as good but which is still welcome (though the new documentary scoops some of the footage from here, which makes it quite redundant).

There’s also some storyboard to film comparison stuff, some pretty funny and/or interesting and/or lame outtakes, photos and the like. In all, it’s a good package that gives this classic horror flick its due.

John Carpenter’s The Fog, from MGM Home Video
90 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible /Pan&Scan, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Houseman, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook
Produced by Debra Hill
Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, Directed by John Carpenter


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Updated May 13, 2006