When talking about John Carpenter most people immediately think of "Halloween." When I think of John Carpenter, I immediately think "The Fog." After seeing publicity shots of the movie in 1978 I immediately went to theaters when the movie opened theatrically back in 1979 and I fell in love with this movie unconditionally. To me, it is Carpenter’s best movie and one of the most memorable horror films ever made. It may not be the goriest or the most shocking. It may not be the most thought-provoking or suspenseful, but it is without a doubt the most creepy and atmospheric horror film ever banned on celluloid. The image of the fog rolling over the hills as if it had a life, the silhouettes of the undead against the fog and Blake’s glowing eyes, these are images that are synonymous with horror that is created for the eye and the imagination. It is what you don’t see that makes it so incredibly powerful.
For an eternity it seems DVD fans had to wait for this film to finally come to DVD. Countless re-schedules and delays put the film into the realm of "vaporware" more than once and most fans had already given up hope for a decent DVD release of the movie. But now MGM Home Entertainment is finally bringing us Carpenter’s masterpiece and the result is everything fans could have hoped for.
Antonio Bay is a small town on the coast of Northern California and it has its share of fog throughout the year. But starting one night, the fog seems to have changed. It glows from within and seems to have a life of its own. It moves quickly and seemingly with a purpose and out of the fog comes death and terror.
It has been 100 years since the foundation of Antonio Bay and the town is getting ready to celebrate its anniversary. But what no one knows, is that this lovely town had been built on blood money. A group of men had lured a ship onto the cliffs that night 100 years ago in order to get to its cargo – gold! The entire crew got killed in the rough waters, and the fierce rocky shore. 100 years the inhabitants of florishing Antonio Bay had been safe but now the ghosts of the past have returned with a vengeance to claim their victims, to make them pay for their murder.
As you can see from the synopsis, "The Fog" is a ghost story of revenge, and a fairly traditional at that – which adds to its charm. Combined with the incredible visuals that John Carpenter and his cinematographer Dean Cundey have conjured up however, it becomes a feast for the eyes and senses.
The movie features a great cast with Jamie Lee Curtis in another scream-queen part, Adrienne Barbeau as the strong protagonist and the sensual voice on the radio, Janet Leigh as the town’s mayor and Hal Holbrook as the haunted priest who finds out about the dark, bloody secret of Antonio Bay. As each of the characters storylines merge, the film becomes more and more tense and ends in a climax that is nothing short of mesmerizing. Get ready to take a deep breath when the film’s end credits begin to roll to shake off the tension of the movie’s final minutes.
For some reason "The Fog" is constantly overlooked in Carpenter’s body of work – probably because it is not as exploitative, and therefore less sensational, as some of his more recognized films. In terms of atmosphere however, no other film can even come close to what "The Fog" delivers. The beautiful cinematography and the great locations, combined with solid acting and masterful editing make "The Fog" a timeless horror highlight that has more in common with classic horror films than modern fare, and should be appreciated as such.
MGM Home Entertainment is releasing "The Fog" in a new widescreen transfer on this DVD that is enhanced for 16x9 TV sets. It is properly framed at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and allows you to take in all of Cundey’s breathtaking cinematography. On the flip side you’ll find a cropped pan and scan version that is not even worth checking out given the movie’s innate and strong usage of the widescreen format for image composition. The print is free of defects and speckles, creating a very clean and stable presentation. Occasional shots show slight signs of grain, which is a limitation of the original production, which, after all, was shot on a very modest budget. The anamorphic transfer however makes sure to bring out all the intricate details of the movie. The definition is beautiful and restores even the most subtle shades and image details. Subtle layers of fog are visible without any distracting artifacts and without ever losing definition. The stark contrast of the film and the countless backlit shots are perfectly reproduced without edge-enhancement, making this the best visual presentation of "The Fog" ever. Free of compression artifacts and with its high level of definition, this is the way I always wanted to see this movie. Bold, stark, rich in color, finely delineated and free of chroma noise or other limitations of all the other formats.
The disc also contains a newly remixed 5.1 channel Dolby Digital audio track along with the original mono track and a French mono language track. The remix is very subtle and does justice to the movie. Surround usage is limited and mostly used to create a better and more engulfing layer of ambiance rather than distinct surround effects. Some of the technical limitations of the original track have been overcome with an extension of the frequency response and better dynamic range. Dialogues sound natural and have a better roll-off than the original elements, making them less harsh and allowing them to integrate better with the overall sound bed. The dynamic range is also improved giving the stingers in the film even more effect that before without distortion and sibilance.
"The Fog" contains the commentary track that was previously found on the Laserdisc. Featuring John Carpenter and Debra Hill, this is one of the best Carpenter commentaries ever recorded, eclipsing even the one on "The Thing." It manages to do so many things at the same time. Much to the delight of his ambitious fans, John Carpenter is typically known for sharing a lot of real technical information in his commentaries and this one is no different in that effect. However, he also covers a lot of anecdotal stuff and is very conversational at times. Debra Hill further adds to that by reminiscing a lot about what went on on the set during the shoot and explaining the general approach to doing this film. Informative and entertaining, this commentary packs it all.
The DVD also contains two featurettes. The first one is a new 29-minute piece called "Tales From The Mist." It features new interviews with John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Dean Cundey, Tommy Lee Wallace, Janet Leigh and Adrienne Barbeau, as well as some clips of older interviews with Jamie Lee Curtis among others. The thing I like best about it is that it gives the filmmakers the chance to finally reminisce about the movie in public, after all this time. The result is a view that is much less biased and tainted by the production itself. Carpenter’s recollection as to how the film didn’t work in its first cut and how he had to go back and shoot a lot of new material to keep adding to the movie until it finally worked the way he wanted to, his telling how everyone almost gave up when the film just didn’t deliver at first, and all the other moments in this featurette are great gems for fans of the movie. It is a shame Jamie Lee Curtis is distancing herself so much from her early films that she never agrees to participate in anything related to them - remember she also wanted no piece in the spectacular Special Edition of "Halloween" that Anchor Bay put out some time ago – especially since those are the parts many of her fans love and remember her for the most. There was a time when she used to be - rightfully – very proud of these films.
To make for it we get a good piece of Adrienne Barbeau, who essentially carried this movie and makes way too few public appearances anyway, so who misses Jamie Lee Curtis, really?
The second feature is the original 1980 promo featurette with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. Called "Inside The Fog" it is a 10-minute piece that is entirely consistent wit hthe film itself and contains some great moments.
A collage of outtakes is also part of the release, giving you a good chuckle as principal actors forget their lines or when members of the crew play tricks on the cast. They are very enjoyable, though the sound quality is quite bad.
The DVD is rounded out by a storyboard to film comparison of one scene from the movie, a vast selection trailers and TV Spots, a few poster images and a photo gallery of publicity stills and shots from the set. As a hidden feature, the DVD even includes about 3-minutes of behind-the-scenes footage.
"The Fog" is making a great showing on this DVD release. The presentation of the movie has been meticulously prepared and is without notable flaws. The extras are entertaining and informative and especially the commentary track stands out as a gem for fans, so the verdict is very simple. This is the DVD version of "The Fog" we all have been waiting for. Go and get it!