Review Date: December 26, 2002
Released by: MGM
Release date: 8/27/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
How does one follow up the most successful independent film of all time? There is only one thing harder than creating an excellent low budget movie - topping it. Sam Raimi made Crimewave after The Evil Dead. Night of the Living Dead sent George Romero to The Crazies. Oh, and The Blair Witch Project? We're still waiting to see if Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez will ever get behind the lens again. Carpenter took a different path. After a couple of TV movies, he and co-screenwriter Debra Hill teamed up again to give viewers a little ghost story simply titled The Fog. Often overlooked, The Fog is one of the classics in the horror genre, mixing old style storytelling with updated filmmaking. MGM has thrown in some new features to accompany popular extras ported over from the 1995 special edition laserdisc to give Carpenter's 'other' box office success a long awaited digital upgrade.
With wide-eyed children around, Mr. Machen (John Houseman) delivers a frightening ghost story to set the tone for the film. He tells the tale of the Elizabeth Dane, a clipper ship from a century ago whose final run ended in a fatal manner. As the crew approached the shore, a blinding fog rolled in. With visibility at zero, the men set course towards a light they saw through the thick of the fog. The light turned out to be a campfire, leading the ship into a rocky shore and killing all who were aboard. After the ship and crew were at the bottom of the sea, the fog left as quickly as it arrived, never to be seen again. The story tells us that when the fog returns to Antonio Bay, the men will rise up from the depths of the sea and search for the fire that led them to hell.
Antonio Bay is a small community seemingly set apart from the rest of the world. They are also on the eve of celebrating their centennial. When the clock strikes midnight some strange things begin to happen. Car horns blare, inanimate objects begin to move and lights turn on by themselves. The machines have a pulse of their own for an hour. During that time we are introduced to a variety of characters. Father Malone (Hal Holbrook), the drunken priest whose church walls hide a disturbing secret. Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), a local DJ whose sexy voice transmits radio waves from a lighthouse. Elizabeth Solley (Jaime Lee Curtis) is a hitchhiker who gets a ride from drifter/man-whore Nick Castle (Tom Atkins). These four get an early glimpse at the 'celebration' the fog and its inhabitants are to bring.
As the day progresses, the town begins to prepare for the evening festivities. Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh) and her assistant, the sharp tongued Sandy (Nancy Loomis) lead the way for what is to be a landmark event for Antonio Bay. All the while, we learn that there may be more in store than fireworks and guest speakers. Stevie's son Andy (Ty Mitchell) finds a 100 year old piece of driftwood with the word Dane inscribed on it. Father Malone reads from his grandfather's journal, giving a darker take on the clipper ship from the past. With the backstory continuing to open up, the day turns to night and a fog rolls into Antonio Bay. While celebrating a past based on a lie, our characters prepare to face the present, filled with fear, mayhem, and grudges. The fog has a life of its own, proving that the fisherman's ghost stories may be more than fiction.
The task John Carpenter and Debra Hill were given seemed impossible. They were told to follow up Halloween with something just as scary. The good news is they pretty much did it. The bad news is that The Fog rarely gets such recognition. It is easy to see why The Fog got lost in the shuffle. Terror Train, The Shining, Friday the 13th, Maniac, and The Changeling were released in 1980 as well, causing a haze around Carpenter's latest. As the horror genre began to evolve into a bolder and more visual experience, this old fashioned ghost story had a hard time separating itself from the pack. It is a throwback movie, using mood and music to create suspense. Tackling the theme of man versus nature, Carpenter and Hill use the fog as a bridge between past and present. Antonio Bay residents have been misled regarding their roots, and the dead have come to show them the truth. While the ghosts hide within a natural element that already invokes fear, it is up to residents to learn from their mistakes to regain solidarity.
With viewers wanting more gore, the studio wanted to satisfy. As a relatively tame movie, The Fog certainly needed some spice to keep the momentum going. Some scenes were added to the final product to give the movie some more 'life'. While some of the scenes that were ultimately added don't hinder the film, they don't necessarily help it. Carpenter and Hill also recognized that audiences were becoming more visually stimulated. They tried to add gore without being gory. It's just food for thought, but these last minute additions added to The Fog pose an interesting question. Could it be the viewing public that has corrupted the later John Carpenter movies? Often times, critics and audiences long for the early films of John Carpenter, and wander why his films today don't stand up to the these classics. I am a fan of his entire career, but I recognize that Ghosts of Mars is not on par with Christine. Carpenter was creating innocent horror movies that utilized the viewers imagination to generate fear. The Fog gave us a simple, scary movie and execs felt audiences needed a little eye candy. Many people are under the impression that gory equals scary. Carpenter showed us with Halloween and to a lesser degree The Fog, that scares could come without gore. However, a film always comes back to the bottom line. Gore sells. In an age where rock soundtracks, picture perfect casting and shocking visuals have become the norm, we can look back to the early 80's to see where true scares turned into cheap scares, then into over the top deaths. Now we face a multitude of Scream rip-offs as we wait to be told, again, what is scary.
Carpenter has added layers to the successful mood of Halloween, but has maintained its creepy spirit. Gone is Everytown, USA (Haddonfield). We are now on the desolate Antonio Bay, where strange electrical occurrences take place at midnight and weapon wielding silhouettes are far too common. We no longer have a band of friends waiting to be picked off by the Boogeyman, but a collection of strangers and townsfolk fighting for their lives. Similar to Dawn of the Dead, we are given an "us against the world" type of conflict. The residents have no chance of outside help and are forced to deal with the situation at hand. The Fog demonstrates Carpenter's growth as a filmmaker as he covers more ground with the camera while not forgetting the fundamentals for success.
While the cast does boast familiar faces, there is little depth given to their characters. Led by the future ex-Mrs. Carpenter, Adrienne Barbeau does a wonderful job going from a laid back DJ with a sexy voice to a concerned parent and citizen. The little used, but rarely overlooked John Houseman does an excellent job of setting up the film's tense mood with his ghost story around the campfire. He gives an intense tale to the youngsters all while setting up the backstory for the audience. The Fog also marks a passing of the "Scream Queen" torch. From her days in Psycho, Janet Leigh has become a fan favorite in the genre. It is only fitting that her daughter, Jaime Lee Curtis, follows in her footsteps. This mother-daughter combo didn't have a lot of screen time together, but it was a nice gesture of Carpenter to tip his hat to Alfred Hitchcock with his casting decision.
Previously, the only way to own a widescreen version of The Fog was to have the special edition laserdisc. MGM has broken that by providing us with a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that is stunning. Laserdisc owners will be proud of the more polished look that the DVD provides. Those of you who have only seen The Fog on a muddy, pan and scan VHS tape, have never actually seen this movie. While the film does show its age a little, the color remains sharp and vibrant. The Fog is a rather dark film, so lighting is a key element. Dean Cundey, the film's cinematographer, does an outstanding job of setting up Carpenter's great shots.
Also included in this release is a pan and scan version of the film. For once, I am glad both versions are present. From Assault on Precinct 13 on, Carpenter has gone with at least a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. By having a pan and scan version of The Fog readily available, it should be easier to open the eyes of anyone who doubts the benefits of a widescreen presentation. Those who don't like the dreaded black bars will be amazed when they see just how much of the screen they actually lose with this direct comparison.
Never did I imagine The Fog with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. While I am pleased with the results, this low budget gem was made with mono sound in mind. Most of the action takes place up front with very little use of the rear speakers. The center channel provides crisp dialogue while the front speakers use music and effects to fill out the sound. One extra that was not ported over from the laserdisc was the isolated film score. The chilling theme that accompanies the movie would have been a welcome addition, so laserdisc owners can still gloat a little. The film offers secondary tracks in English Mono (for the purists), and a French Mono dub.
First off, DVD fans are treated to an excellent screen-specific commentary by writer/director John Carpenter and writer/producer Debra Hill. Originally recorded in 1995 for the special edition laserdisc, the two manage to cover all aspects of the film. Topics range from technical information, props, actors, crew, memories, influences, and the daunting task of following up a blockbuster in Halloween. The two obviously enjoy one another's company as there is rarely a lull in conversation. Carpenter and Hill never come across dull while discussing technical information. Their voices project the passion they have for filmmaking, adding life to topics that could be considered boring to some. The Fog is certainly a highlight in their respective careers. They look back on the movie as parents would watch old home videos of their children. Their enthusiasm for film and relaxed nature should be a benchmark for anyone who records a commentary.
There are two documentaries that are featured on the disc. The original, shot in 1980, runs 7:40 and is titled "Fear on Film - Inside 'The Fog'". There are clips featuring John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Janet Leigh, Jaime Lee Curtis, and Adrienne Barbeau. They all discuss what it is like to make a horror movie while adding a few personal subplots as well. Barbeau comments on how she and Carpenter "became friends and onward". Leigh and Lee talk about the mother-daughter "package" and how to act on the set. The original documentary also shows a few clips from the movie. The snippets are old and unrestored, giving even more validation to the job MGM did with the DVD. The second documentary is quite longer at 27:55 and is titled "Tales From the Mist - Inside 'The Fog'". It serves up new material while giving us a modern day look at everyone from the original documentary (except Jamie Lee Curtis). New topics include the transition from Halloween to The Fog and how they came up with the idea for the film. Influences range from comic books to historical events. Some material is duplicated in these two documentaries, but both will keep your attention. They manage to cover similar ground without seeming redundant.
The outtakes are very funny, highlighted by John Houseman's "Shit". Clocking in at 4:07, on the surface it seems that DVD fans got slighted. The laserdisc outtakes ran a bit longer with the inclusion of some special effects tests. For those interested, MGM has just hidden this extra within the disc, so DVD owners will have to work for these goods. The easter egg is hidden to the left of the audio commentary as a set of eyes will complete what laserdisc owners have seen for years.
The Storyboard to Film comparison covers a 1:25 scene when the men on the Seagrass discover their ship has a few extra passengers. The comparison is presented with the storyboard on the top of the screen, as the film runs on the bottom. The disc also contains two theatrical trailers, a teaser trailer, and three TV spots. Rounding out the extras are some behind the scenes and publicity stills, posters, and memorabilia. Overall, there are 75 pictures to enjoy.
One thing that is not on the disc is the addition of some liner notes from John Carpenter. The notes give some brief information that was taken from the Original Theatrical Production Notes and the L.A. Herald Examiner. There are also a few fun facts about the film and those involved with it.
Again John Carpenter has shown that it doesn't take a blockbuster cast and outrageous budget to formulate success. With only a budget of $1 million, The Fog earned more than $21 million during its theatrical run. Though it will likely be overshadowed by other Carpenter favs, one can only hope that the digital upgrade will give the movie some more exposure. MGM has combined a great transfer, excellent sound, laserdisc extras, and new supplements to give fans a DVD to be proud of. With a MSRP under $20, this disc needs to be in every horror fans collection. Highly recommended.
Movie - A+
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B
Supplements - B+
- Running time - 1 hour 30 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1, English & French Mono
- English, French, & Spanish subtitles
- Audio Commentary by John Carpenter and Debra Hill
- Storyboard to Film Comparison
- Original 1980 Documentary
- New Documentary
- Advertising Gallery
- Liner Notes by John Carpenter