John Carpenter’s The Fog – the director’s 1980 follow-up to 1978’s slasher masterpiece, Halloween - showcased the master of horror at his nerve-shattering best, crafting a creepy, suspenseful, supernatural tale of betrayal and revenge in a sleepy coastal California town. It’s long been a film I associate with summer (despite the film’s early spring timeframe), and, like the aforementioned Halloween (as well as Spielberg’s Jaws), it’s become something of a ritual for me to revisit the The Fog on the annual basis. This year presented me with an extra-special treat as Scream Factory brings The Fog to Blu-ray smack dab in the middle of the dog days of summer, loaded to its rotted gills with extras!
It’s late April in Antonio Bay; a small-yet-prosperous fishing town on the eve of its centennial celebration upon which the town’s denizens plan to honor its founders. As the clock strikes midnight, the quiet town is jarred from its slumber by a cacophony of car alarms, barking dogs, and shattering glass as an eerily luminescent fog makes its way inland from the coast before drifting back out to sea a mere sixty seconds later. Local radio personality, Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), watches from her lighthouse-based radio station as the mysterious fog retreats out to sea, and issues a warning to any vessels that may find themselves caught in its path.
Meanwhile, on the small fishing boat, The Seagrass, the ship’s three man crew prepare to return to Antonio Bay after a night of drinking, and hear Stevie’s weather alert. At first, the ship’s captain questions the radio host’s meteorological skills, but, sure enough, the glowing fog appears on the horizon, and quickly engulfs The Seagrass, rendering its instruments useless, and shorting out its electrical system. The men head above deck to repair their engine just in time to see a massive, ancient schooner drift silently along their comparably tiny vessel’s starboard side. As the men try to make sense out of what they’ve just witnessed, they’re boarded by a group of shadowy scallywags, who proceed to murder the crew, leaving The Seagrass dead in the water.
The next morning, while the rest of the town prepares for its celebration, fisherman Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) and his newfound friend/hitchhiker, Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis) learn that The Seagrass has not returned to port. Sensing something’s amiss, Nick and Elizabeth enlist the aid of another local fisherman and head out to the trawler’s last known position.
Back in Antonio Bay, town organizer, Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh), and her none-too-eager assistant, Sandy (Nancy Loomis), pay a visit to Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) in hopes that the problematic priest will be sober enough to deliver the benediction at this evening’s festivities. What they find, however, is a deeply disturbed Malone who, during the prior evening’s disturbance, discovered the one hundred year old journal of his grandfather, detailing the true origins of Antonio Bay. Origins that include fleecing the fortune of a leper named Blake who was promised a settlement for his people in exchange for a large sum of gold but were, instead, lured to the rocky shores of the bay, where their ship, the Elizabeth Dane, sank to the ocean floor, taking Blake and his crew with it.
As Malone reads the contents of the journal to a horrified Kathy and Sandy, revealing the true nature of the men the town plans to honor that evening, Nick and Elizabeth discover the fate of The Seagrass crew, and, as the night descends upon Antonio Bay, so, too, does the glowing fog that carries the vengeful spirits of Blake and his crew.
The Fog proved quite the departure for Carpenter and collaborator, Debra Hill. While still something of an intimate film in terms of budget (just north of $1 million dollars!), the scope of the film was something much larger than the duo’s previous offerings, with a larger cast of characters, greater stakes, and a supernatural element that they’d only hinted at in Halloween. It was also released during the early days of the slasher boom that Carpenter, himself, had inadvertently started, making this very old-fashioned, surprisingly bloodless ghost story something of a hit or miss affair for both critics and audiences who were all looking for the director to deliver the next Halloween. However, despite thematic differences between this and his previous outings, The Fog is very much a John Carpenter film; from the assured photography of Dean Cundey to the director’s expert use of light, shadow, and sound, the lineage between The Fog, Halloween, and Assault on Precinct 13 is obvious and undeniable.
Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition of The Fog presents the film in a 2.35:1 1080p transfer that is lush, well-defined, and true to the film’s low-budget origins. Fine detail is evident in close-ups, but somewhat quashed in wider shots due to the inherent graininess of the print, but it’s still leaps and bounds better than any previous incarnation of the film. The accompanying soundtracks – both a DTS HD 5.1 and 2.0 Master Audio tracks – are each exceptional in their own right, with the purist-friendly 2.0 track offering a bit more in terms of evenness, while the 5.1 track delivers a touch more firepower in terms of volume. To be honest, I didn’t find much of a difference between the two in terms of immersion, but, in this rare occasion, I preferred the 5.1 track over the mono as I found the spread did offer a clearer representation of Carpenter’s excellent score.
Scream Factory loads this set up with a collection of extras, some new, and others carried over from the excellent 2002 MGM DVD release. Of the vintage offerings, the best is the commentary track by Carpenter and the sadly departed Debra Hill, in which the two offer a warts-and-all recollection of the often turbulent production, as well as some great insight into the concept, casting, and execution of the project.
Also carried over from the DVD release is a pair of featurettes, including the vintage (circa 1980) documentary, Fear on Film: Inside the Fog, which is an early EPK-style piece filled with short sound bites from the cast and crew scattered amongst scenes from the film. The second featurette is a 2002 special made for the DVD release, which is more of a retrospective on the production and legacy of the film, and features then-new interviews with Carpenter, Tommy Lee Wallace, and Dean Cundey. Also carried over from the DVD are Storyboard-to-Scene comparisons as well as a short collection of extremely low-quality-yet-very funny outtakes.
New extras include a feature-length commentary with Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, and Wallace that is quite a fun listen, thanks especially the wisecracking Atkins and very energetic Wallace. Barbeau is somewhat restrained at first, but she joins in on the fun soon enough, making this gathering of old friends an insightful and enjoyable listen.
Dean of Darkness gives us a lengthy conversation with cinematography legend, Dean Cundey, who offers an interesting smorgasbord of tidbits about both the film and his career.
Scream Factory also scares up yet another installment of the hugely entertaining Horror’s Hallowed Grounds. Hosted by the loveable punk-horror enthusiast, Sean Clark, this episode offers visits to many of the film’s most iconic settings, and also includes another surprise visit from one of Clark’s “arch-enemies” that had me laughing out loud. It’s become a bit of a running gag, and those familiar with the series will know who I’m talking about, but let’s just say that he’s in top form, here.
The really big coup for Scream Factory is the inclusion of an all-new interview with Jamie Lee Curtis entitled My Time with Terror. This isn’t just a quick throwaway, either, as Curtis gives us a lengthy look back at her Scream Queen period, discusses the difficulties of working with Carpenter and Hill post-breakup (made all the more difficult by the constant presence of Carpenter’s future-wife, Adrienne Barbeau), and her very frank feelings on the quality of the work she did during that period. It’s disarmingly honest stuff, and, seeing how averse Curtis has been to discussing this time in her career, a major bonus for Scream Factory!
Rounding out the extras is a collection of trailers, stills, and various ephemera, as well as a neat Easter egg that’s worth searching the menu for.
Scream Factory strikes again with yet another must-own Collector’s Edition of a fan-favorite film, and, for me, this one stands alongside their releases of Halloween III and The Town that Dreaded Sundown as my most-anticipated. The Blu-ray doesn’t disappoint, as it presents the film looking and sounding its best, and loads it up with a comprehensive collection of goodies both old and new, making the choice of whether or not to upgrade over the MGM DVD a no-brainer! Highest recommendations!