26th Oct2018

‘The Fog: Collector’s Edition’ Blu-ray Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, Rob Bottin | Written by John Carpenter, Debra Hill | Directed by John Carpenter

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I have a feeling The Fog is underpraised because it’s not Halloween and it’s not The Thing. Too traditional, maybe. Too hokey. Too folkloric. But for me it’s the equal of those two classics, which arrived two years either side of this 1980 chiller. One part The Blob-style ‘50s monster movie and one part ‘70s zombie flick, wrapped in spectral clothing, it may not be the John Carpenter movie audiences expected, but that’s okay. The Fog is its own beast. After the success of 1978’s Halloween, which was as rough ‘n’ ready as they come, The Fog benefits from a bigger budget. The production values are painted on the screen. More impressive still is Carpenter’s poise and patience. Instead of pacing things up, he goes for the slow burn. After the opening fireside ghost story, the first ten minutes are almost wordless.

The coastal town of Antonio Bay is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary. According to an ancient journal, a century ago six of the town’s founders deliberately scuppered a leper ship called the Elizabeth Dane. Now, the spirits of that ship have returned, and they intend to kill six people in recompense (a wonderfully creepy decree that’ll have you counting in your head). The seamen arrive in a shroud of dry ice, armed with hooks and swords, to wreak havoc on the town. They’re led by the fearsome Blake, played by SFX maestro Rob Bottin.

Potential victims include the local radio host Stevie (Adrienne Barbeau, returning after having featured in Carpenter’s 1978 TV movie, Someone’s Watching Me!); Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis), a young artist-drifter hitching rides along the Californian coast; Nick (Tom Atkins), an alpha guy with whom Elizabeth shacks up; Father Malone (Hal Holbrook), the local priest whose grandfather wrote the revelatory journal; and Kathy (Janet Leigh), the busybody wife of a missing fisherman. Somehow they must find a way of breaking the curse and stopping the killings.

Carpenter conjures a dreamlike atmosphere that he would never go on to replicate. It’s actually a far gorier film than Halloween, but much of what lies between the setpieces is mood-building. Shots of the night-time ocean, broiling with incoming mist; shots of the town after dark, empty and virtually silent but for the soft sounds of Stevie on her midnight show. Carpenter doesn’t focus on any particular character – the star is a quiet place in the dead of night.

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That’s not to say the town is dead. In daytime, as the town prepares to celebrate its grim centenary, he captures some of the community energy that once made Spielberg’s Amity Island feel so lived-in. And the blazing Californian sunlight offers some stunning widescreen photography of the wind-battered coast, deepening the sense of an isolated place in the path of an unstoppable evil.

The film’s lack of a single-protagonist focus means no one is safe, and the characters are sketched pretty well. Smartly, Carpenter and (long-time collaborator and co-writer) Debra Hill offer three separate threads. Father Malone sees the curse before anyone else, but his shame means he keeps it to himself; Elizabeth and Nick are approaching the mystery as a detective investigation; and Kathy and her PA see the strange events as mere humorous coincidence. The result is a classic horror conceit: we the audience see the whole picture – the ghoul standing behind the hero, if you like – but the characters are dangerously ignorant. Then there’s Stevie, trying to tie these threads together. If only she’d figured it out sooner…

It’s strange now to see Curtis playing a supporting role. Her character is kind of superfluous, beyond being an exposition sponge. And Curtis and Atkins (23 years her senior) are fine actors individually, but they make for an ill-fitting couple, however aged-down he appears. Elsewhere, Holbrook chews scenery most excellently in the role of Father Malone, a man carrying the weight and guilt of his family history. And Leigh – Curtis’s mother, of course – is great in the role of a woman too busy to grieve.

In crafting his brooding nightmare, Carpenter produces some of his best music – a mite less distinctive and punchy than some of his other themes, but rich and textured, combining synth pads as warm as blood with descending piano rolls which sound like tolling bells. The lighting is superbly arranged, making simple yet effective use of backlit fog to produce a sense of incoming doom. Closer up, Carpenter uses bold reds and greens – unnatural, almost theatrical – to give glow to his prey and incite a feeling of unease. The colour blue means that characters don’t have to mention plunging temperatures too often.

The Fog is a sumptuously atmospheric and scary horror film, which can stand proudly alongside Carpenter’s other early classics. I love it; I love its unique mood and its silliness-with-a-straight-facedness; and I love that it is getting the remaster and boxset it has always deserved.

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This 4 disc limited Collector’s Edition, sees The Fog stunningly restored in 4K, in a beautifully packaged with a stylish, newly commissioned illustration on the cover. It contains a 4K UHD of the feature as well as a Blu-ray feature disc, extra features disc and the original soundtrack on CD. It also contains 5 artcards, a newly illustrated theatrical poster and booklet containing behind the scenes stills, articles and an essay from celebrated film journalist Kim Newman.

Extras:

  • Retribution: Uncovering John Carpenter’s THE FOG: A brand retrospective documentary produced by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures and featuring interviews with cinematographer Dean Cundey, production designer/editor Tommy Lee Wallace, photographer Kim Gottleib-Walker, make-up effects artist Steve Johnson, Carpenter biographer John Muir, music historian Daniel Schweiger, visual effects historian Justin Humphreys and assistant Larry Franco
  • The Shape of The Thing to Come: John Carpenter Un-filmed: A brand new featurette looking at the John Carpenter films that never were
  • Easter Egg – surprise!
  • Intro by John Carpenter – an interview with director John Carpenter originally recorded for a French DVD release in 2003
  • Scene Analysis by John Carpenter - Director John Carpenter analyses key scenes from The Fog, in an interview from 2003
  • Fear on Film: Inside the Fog (1980) – A vintage featurette which includes an interview with John Carpenter
  • The Fog: Storyboard to Film – original storyboards
  • Outtakes
  • TV Spots
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • Photo gallery incl. Behind the Scenes
  • Audio Commentary with writer/director John Carpenter and writer/director Debra Hill
  • Horror’s Hallowed Grounds with Sean Clark – a fun tour of the film’s locations hosted by Sean Clark
  • Audio commentary with actors Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins and production designer Tommy Lee Wallace

The Fog is available on 4K UHD and Blu-ray from 29th October 2018, courtesy of Studiocanal.

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