Reviewed by Patrick Cooper
Following the overwhelming success of Halloween, John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill could have played it safe with a rehashed slasher following the conventions that made them the wunderkinds of the horror genre. Instead, they crafted a highly unconventional little ghost story that’s more Edgar Allen Poe than Michael Myers. Despite its flaws, The Fog holds up really well and its darkness-drenched atmosphere still manages to deliver a wicked bad case of the willies over 30 years later.
After a wonderful opening scene that establishes the film as a campfire tale of yore, we’re treated to a tour of the quiet coastal town of Antonio Bay, whose centennial anniversary is approaching. Then a series of bizarre occurrences happen one night, like windows shattering for no reason, car alarms going off, and over at the old church, Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) is nearly killed when a large stone falls from the walls. Behind the stone Malone finds his grandfather’s journal from the late 1800s, which reveals some dirty secrets about the town, including some malevolent spirits out for revenge. Malone’s a bit of a drunk so he has a difficult time putting the pieces together in his head.
With the humble budget allotted him, Carpenter managed to occupy Antonio Bay with a terrific cast. While they’re not fleshed out very well, the characters work really well together once they’re finally united at the end of the film. Over at the lighthouse, radio DJ Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) warns the local townsfolks about a dense-as-hell fog rolling in. She’s the mouthpiece that brings the citizens together, as she remains alone and terribly vulnerable in the lighthouse.
Then there’s the fisherman (Tom Atkins) who picks up promiscuous hitchhiker Jamie Lee Curtis. Based on Halloween III and The Fog, Atkins can get laid by young women whether he has a mustache or not. Meanwhile, the immortal Janet Leigh and Nancy Loomis (who played Annie Brackett in Halloween) are busy planning the centennial festivities in the midst of all the foggy madness. While the cast is great, none of them play compelling characters. The stretches of dialogue, particularly between Atkins and Curtis, do little to engage the audience. All we can do is sit around and wait for the fog to roll in again.
The fog and moody atmosphere of Antonio Bay are the best characters in the film. Carpenter and his frequent cinematographer Dean Cundy did incredible work making the fog effect move and react to the environment – giving it a presence of living, creeping evil. While Halloween has, for the most part, a claustrophobic feel, The Fog utilizes wide-open spaces to create a sense of choking isolation. On the level of atmosphere and shadows, The Fog excels. It’s Carpenter’s visual storytelling style at its best. I admire what Carpenter and Hill were going for, but while crafting a fun, densely atmospheric ghost story, character development was sacrificed somewhere along the way.
The Fog is presented in 1080p in 2.35:1 widescreen. The film was shot quickly on a meager $1 million budget (plus $200,000 for re-shoots), meaning it wasn’t the best circumstances as far as lighting goes. So no one should expect a pristine looking transfer. The saturated colors and sharp shadows only add to the film’s moodiness though.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix is nice and subtle. Carpenter’s synth score sounds fantastic.
Audio Commentary with John Carpenter and Debra Hill: this is transferred over from a previous release of The Fog. Fans know that Carpenter gives one helluva commentary track and this one is no different. It’s steeped with details and insight about the film and essential listening for sure.
Audio Commentary with Barbeau, Atkins, and production designer Tommy Lee Wallace: while this track is not nearly as informative as the Carpenter/Hill one, it is a lot more rowdy as the three have a blast revisiting the film. You won’t learn too much from this one, but it’s a fun listen.
“My Time with Terror” with Jamie Lee Curtis: she hates this movie and makes it a point to say how much she dislikes it. Naw, she’s not that harsh, but she does talk about how she was reduced to a scream queen after Halloween. She does talk about Road Games, which is a fantastic Ozploitation film in which she again plays a hitchhiker who sticks her thumb out to the wrong guy. She also recounts the on-set tension between Carpenter and Hill, who had recently split up.
“Dean of Darkness” with Dean Cundey: this is a great 20-minute look at Cundey’s collaborations with Carpenter. Cundey discusses his background and obsession with composition throughout his career.
“Fear on Film: Inside the Fog”: this vintage clip features Curtis, Carpenter, and Hill discussing their personal experiences working on the film.
“Tales from the mist: Inside The Fog”: another vintage, but more recent look at the making of the film. Carpenter (like he does on the commentary) goes into detail about how disappointed he was when he saw the first cut. He goes over what they shot to make the film work better and stuff like that.
The Fog: Storyboard to Film: this really great storyboard comparison highlights Carpenter’s detailed drawings of the sailer encounter scene.
Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: A Look at the Film’s Locations: Sean Clark hosts this fun tour around the film’s shooting locations. The lighthouse looks like a real bitch to film around.
Outtakes: old video of bloopers and such.
Special Effects Tests: two minutes of guys waving smoke around the church.
Trailers, TV spots, photo gallery
AND an Easter Egg…send nudes and I’ll tell you what it is.
AROUND THE WEB
this week in horror
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