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A Northern California fishing community, built 100 years ago over an old leper colony, is the target of revenge by a killer fog containing zombies rising from the sea to take revenge for their deaths.
For more about The Fog and the The Fog Blu-ray release, see the The Fog Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on July 25, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: John Carpenter
Writers: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, John Houseman, Tom Atkins, James Canning
» See full cast & crew
The Fog Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, July 25, 2013
John Carpenter relays an anecdote about what sparked his idea for The Fog in the commentary ported over from the previous DVD release included on this new Blu-ray release. Carpenter and producer Debra Hill recount having visited Stonehenge on a blustery day filled with the famous English mists, at which point Carpenter turned toward Hill and asked, "What if there were something in that fog?" Having just returned from a visit to Stonehenge myself, on a crystal clear blue day where the iconic monument was in fact overrun with so many different avian species I felt I had wandered into a traveling road show version of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, I have to assume that this only goes to show that while Stonehenge will invariably suggest the horror genre to different visitors, the particulars may well be dependent on that day's weather. This is obviously said in jest, but it provides a nice insight into how a transitory moment of observation can be woven into such an unlikely film. Carpenter and Hill might have used that moment to craft a film of zombies emerging from the British mists and marauding through Salisbury Plain (hey, I need to patent that concept), but instead that seminal idea was fleshed out (no pun intended) to become a fun little ghost story that takes place not in England but on the similarly fog enshrouded coast of Northern California. The Fog combines the fanciful spark of inspiration of "killer fog" with some quasi-historical accounts of an intentionally scuttled ship and the after effects of the wreck on nearby inhabitants who arranged for its demise in order to plunder its gold. The Fog crept out in the wake of Carpenter's overwhelming success with Halloween, and so expectations were perhaps unreachably high for the film. The Fog has not enjoyed quite the reputation that Halloween has, but looking back on it now from the vantage point of some 30-plus years, it holds up surprisingly well and delivers a number of significant chills along the way.
Like any good ghost story, The Fog purports to be a tale told around a campfire (with a brief cameo by John Houseman as the yarn spinner), and Carpenter and Hill also further hedge their bets by including a brief quote from Edgar Allan Poe which talks about "dreams within dreams". Considering the carnage which is about to follow, that might be amended to "nightmares within nightmares", but in fact The Fog has a rather playful ambience to it even as it doles out its scares. Hill mentions in the commentary how around $200,000 extra had to be spent on the film after principal photography had wrapped in order to generate more scares, since it's undeniable that The Fog, unlike Halloween, relies much more on mood than graphic blood and guts to achieve its thrill ride.
The (fictional) coastal community of Antonio Bay is about to celebrate the centennial anniversary of its founding when a number of mysterious things start happening. All sorts of inanimate objects start taking on lives of their own and the town's local priest, Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) is almost killed in his office when a large piece of stone falls from the ancient church walls and lands right where he had been sitting a moment earlier. Malone notices the dislodged stone has revealed a cubby hole that he never knew existed, and in that hideaway he finds an old journal from his grandfather revealing some unseemly facts about Antonio Bay's founding. There's also an ominous warning about vengeful spirits that quickly lets us know that all these bizarre phenomena afflicting the town do indeed have a malevolent intent.
As with many tiny coastal communities, Antonio Bay has a number of colorful inhabitants. Aside from Father Malone there's local disc jockey Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), who broadcasts from a scenic lighthouse, trucker Nick Castle (Tom Atkins), who picks up comely hitchhiker Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis), and town doyenne Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh), the force behind the centennial celebration. Stevie has a young son Andy (Ty Mitchell) who provides an important but initially unrecognized clue to the shenanigans when he brings home a piece of driftwood inscribed with the word Dane on it. Only slowly do the town's residents come to discover that their town was founded by a bunch of literal gold diggers who intentionally sank a ship named the Dane, killing its crew and taking its gold. It may have taken a little time, but there are some very angry spectral entities back for a visit, and they're not in a good mood. "An eye for an eye" then plays out (in one case kind of literally), as the six former crewmen of the Dane decide to kill a half dozen of Antonio Bay's residents as just desserts.
In a way that single fact is The Fog's single biggest problem, for if the ghosts are only going to kill six people, it simply becomes a numbers game once the carnage starts, as the audience counts down to "revenge achieved". The fact that the film starts out with a trio of gruesome murders means there really aren't that many more killings in store, one way or the other. What does work in the film is a stifling mood of isolation, along with some admittedly hoary but still pretty effective chills, including a supposed corpse coming alive on an autopsy table (with, of course, the first signs of life occurring in the back half of the frame while Elizabeth, who's also in the room, has her back toward the table).
What sets The Fog apart from its typical ghostly kin is the fact that film is as much a morality tale as it is a traditional thriller. There's a karmic element to The Fog that actually provides at least as much suspense as the "who's going to die next?" subtext does. The Fog is probably a tad cheesier than Halloween, which may account for its less lustrous repurtation, but it's a fun ride nonetheless, one that weaves a well wrought story out of a moment's observation.
The Fog Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Fog is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory imprint Scream Factory with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. Cinematographer Dean Cundey supervised this new high definition transfer and the results are largely laudatory if one understands a few things about the original film and its look. The Fog was not luxuriously budgeted to begin with; as Debra Hill clearly states in her commentary, the film's principal photography was completed for less than $1 million, a paltry sum even in 1980, with an additional couple of hundred thousand added for reshoots after the first screenings didn't go very well. As Hill and Carpenter also discuss in their commentary, at least some of the film was shot under less than ideal circumstances, with natural (almost nonexistent) lighting sources and on the fly framings. Most importantly, many if not most of the special effects are opticals, a technique that in and of itself frequently adds dirt, grain and softness. Therefore, anyone expecting The Fog to offer a pristine, digitally pure, appearance are simply not being realistic. This new edition of The Fog features much better saturated color than previous versions (including the region free Blu-ray from a few years ago), and I personally noted no egregiously tweaked color grading that has stirred up a storm on some forums (including ours here at Blu-ray.com). Grain is completely intact, and in fact is rather overwhelming in some darker scenes, and there is also a minimal amount of damage to be seen in isolated moments. The inadequate lighting situations do result in some unavoidable loss of shadow detail and outright crush on more than one occasion, but these are endemic to the source and not a fault of the transfer. Overall, though, the image is reasonably sharp and well detailed and is certainly head and shoulders above previous versions on home video.
The Fog Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Fog features a repurposed lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix as well as the original mono mix delivered via DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The 5.1 mix is not overly aggressive and so prefers a lot of the charm of the original mix while subtly opening things up, especially with regard to Carpenter's synth drenched score and at times some of the spooky foley effects. Fidelity is strong, though a little boxy sounding at times (my hunch is swaths of this film were post- looped), Dynamic range is very wide.
The Fog Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Fog Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Fog has never quite attained the cultural cachet that Carpenter's Halloween has, but it's a very entertaining and often fairly spooky entry in Carpenter's filmography. There's an undeniably silly aspect to some of the scares, but the moral fiber of the film is where it derives some unexpected power from. This new Collector's Edition features excellent video and audio and comes jam packed with great supplements. Highly recommended.
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