Although not an immediate favorite, John Carpenter's THE FOG ($20) has grown in my estimation to be one of the director's most memorable efforts. Unlike HALLOWEEN, which was a tense shocker, THE FOG is an atmospheric throwback to an old style Hollywood ghost story. Certainly, the movie has its share of shocks and bits of gore, but for the most part, Carpenter builds tension subtly, in the style of the old Val Lewton movies, by making the audience think that they've glimpsed things lurking in the fog. Of course, the bits of horror and gore that are actually shown in THE FOG are indicative of the changing sensibilities of the genre during the late seventies and early eighties. However, it is Carpenter's creepy old style approach to THE FOG that consistently sends shivers down audiences' spines and has earned the film a reputation of a minor horror classic in the twenty plus years since it was released.
THE FOG opens with an old salt, played by the legendary John Houseman, who spins a ghostly yarn around a campfire on the beach of Antonio Bay. Exactly one hundred years ago, a ship named the Elizabeth Dane became lost in the fog off the coast of Antonio Bay and the crew began following an onshore campfire that they thought would lead them to safety. However, instead of finding a safe haven, the ship broke up on the rocky coastline and sank, taking all hands to a watery grave. As the town of Antonio Bay prepares to celebrate its centennial, the fog that appeared a century before returns, bringing with it the ghostly crew of the Elizabeth Dane, who have come in search retribution against those who lead them to their deaths all those years ago. To say anymore about the plot would spoil it for anyone who has never had the opportunity to experience John Carpenter's THE FOG. The plucky cast of THE FOG features Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Tom Atkins, James Canning, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Loomis and Hal Holbrook.
MGM Home Entertainment has made THE FOG available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. A full screen presentation is provided on the opposite side of the disc, but for the life of me, I can't imagine anyone finding a severely cropped and scanned version of a John Carpenter movie enjoyable. That aside, the wide screen transfer is truly superb; bringing out the beauty of Dean Cundey's wonderful cinematography. Since his work for John Carpenter, Cundey has gone on to become one of Hollywood's premiere cinematographers, but his genius is clearly evident in this early low budget effort, which looks like a far more expensive film than its one million dollar budget would indicate.
The image on the DVD is crisp and very nicely defined. Complex lighting situations are rendered flawlessly and with impressive detail. The film contains numerous dark sequences and a lot of optical processing work, which are reproduced with surprisingly little noticeable grain. In general, colors have a natural level of saturation and flesh tones look appealing. There are instances of stronger hues throughout the course of the film, but they are completely stable and noise free. Blacks are right on the money, plus the picture has clean whites and very smooth contrast. Shadow detail is good, but much of the photography is designed so that the viewer is unable to see whatever is lurking in the dark. Dual layer authoring tends to keep digital compression artifacts virtually unnoticeable, even with all the difficult to encode fog effects in the film.
For this release, THE FOG has been upgraded from monaural to a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel sound mix. Although this remix isn't as gimmicky as some might like, I think that THE FOG is well served by the atmospheric quality of the soundtrack. The forward soundstage dominates the new mix and there are distinct sound effects that utilize the stereo imaging. Dialogue is rendered crisply and with complete intelligibility from the center channel. As for the surround channels, they serve to supply the track with an ambient sense of atmosphere, which is subtle, but effective. Considering the age and budgetary restrictions of the original production, fidelity is reasonably good and the track is well worth amplifying for John Carpenter's creepy minimalist score. English and French monaural soundtracks have also been encoded onto the DVD, as have English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDs stylishly creepy interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials. Co-writer/director John Carpenter and co-writer/producer Debra Hill are on hand for a running audio commentary, which was originally featured on the wide screen Laserdisc release of the film from the mid-1990s. This is an informative and entertaining commentary track; maybe not Carpenter's personal best, but certainly better than a whole lot of other director's commentaries.
Newly produced for the DVD is a nearly thirty minute documentary entitled Tales from the Mist: Inside The Fog. This is a great program that features recent interviews with John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Leigh, Dean Cundey and Tommy Lee Wallace, as well as vintage interviews with some of the above and Jamie Lee Curtis. Next we find the original 1980 documentary Fear On Film: Inside The Fog, which is interesting in its own right, but the ten-minute program really doesn't compare to the newly produced documentary. Also included on the DVD is about four minutes worth of outtakes, a storyboard comparison, a theatrical trailer, two teaser trailers, three TV spots, a poster art gallery, a memorabilia gallery and two photo galleries.
John Carpenter's fans have waited a long time for THE FOG to come to DVD. I can honestly say that MGM has done a fantastic job with the DVD in terms of the film's presentation and supplements, so the wait is more than justified. If you are a Carpenter fan, don't hesitate in picking up a copy of THE FOG. However, if you have never seen this Carpenter's homage to old style Hollywood ghost stories, get the disc- the DVD is definitely the best way to see this minor genre classic short of a theatrical re-issue.
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