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Monday, September 30 12:00 AM EST

DVD Review: The Fog

By Enzo Laszlo, Movie Guru


Starring Adrienne Barbeau
Jamie Lee Curtis
Director John Carpenter
IMDB Page Link
US Opening 2/8/1980
Rated R
Genre Horror
Features Commentary Track
Dolby 5.1
Two "Making Of" Featurettes
Storyboard-to-screen Comparison
Promo Gallery
Trailers/TV Spots
Buy DVD? Yep

The appeal of the modern "horror" film is in its ability to reach us on a subconcious level, to prey upon fears we weren't sure we had. M. Night Shyalaman is building a successful career for himself based on this primitive theorem. The surprise hit Blair Witch Project instilled its fear through intimate perspective, bonding itself to its audience through the eyes of its tormented characters. Though this may seem a new wave in modern "Freak Chic," in truth the approach dates back to the very advent of the genre. F.W. Murnau created overpowering emotion in silent black-and-white in the Expressionist film Nosferatu. Hitchcock achieved immortality with a shower curtain and a wig in Psycho. In these and many other instances, the ontology of horror is the connection of the audience to the plight of the everyman. A prime example creeps in from the sea in John Carpenter's The Fog. Newly available on DVD, Carpenter's 1979 paradigm of understated terror places it everymen, in this case the town of Antonio Bay, against a supernatural fog with a long-forgotten vendetta. The film features Jamie Lee Curtis, her real-life mother Janet Leigh, and Carpenter's then-wife Adrienne Barbeau (yeah... that woman in the white gown in Swamp Thing) as the townsfolk bent on uncovering the secret of The Fog.

The Fog is essentially a campfire ghost story. Indeed, the film begins with masterpiece thespian John Houseman in Alan Hale garb recounting the origin of the ghostly vale to some impressionable and as-of-yet-emotionally-unscarred young campers. Like those classic tales, the protagonists of the narrative could very well be you or me. Combined with complex portrayals by Barbeau and Curtis and Hal Holbrook as a priest whose conscience is also haunted, the intended victims of The Fog reach out to us like next-door neighbors pleading for solace from a storm. Again and again, Carpenter has expressed his mastery of placing familiar and unremarkable human characters against seemingly insurmountable otherworldy odds. Like Laurie Strode stalked by Michael Myers or R.J. MacReady trapped in the Antarctic wastes with an all-consuming alien virus, we become who we watch and the byproduct of that synthesis is Fear. While perhaps not quite as effective in this right as Halloween or The Thing, The Fog expertly continues this classic tradition with some silhouettes and some dry ice.

What makes The Fog fall shy of the towering Carpenter benchmark is its scattered approach to its ensemble narrative and a rather anti-climactic ending. Not quite enough time is spent with each of the characters and their convergence and final tribulation at the end of the film is subsequently met with little fanfare. In addition, the denoument that explains the true motive and story behind the Fog's unhuman thirst is sketchy and overly brief in its revelation. These minor weaknesses detract little from the creep factor of the film and its lasting effect on viewers.

In those respects Carpenter has expertly succeeded. Few who sit down with this DVD on a dark night alone will be unable to pass by or begrudgingly pass into another spectrally encloaking fog bank without a second glance, without a shudder... without wondering just what might be in there with you.

Aside from Carpenter's finely crafted film itself, available in both widescreen and pan-and-scan (which should be viewed as punishment in any westernized civilization) and Dolby 5.1 surround sound, the DVD contains a number of bonus features. There is a very informative commentary track by the smoky-voiced maestro himself John Carpenter and co-writer/producer Debra Hill (this commentary being a bit more informative and focused than the overly informal commentary track for Big Trouble in Little China). There are also two short documentaries: the newly constructed and highly entertaining "Tales from the Mist" which features recent interviews of director, cast, and crew intercut with behind-the-scenes footage, and "Inside the Fog" which was originally produced in 1980. There are two collections of outttakes, one being the classic collage of unremastered line flubs and offhand moments of filming, the other being an easily detectable easter egg of Fog Creation footage (just keep pressing down on the Bonus Features Menu until you see The Eyes). There are also interesting although largely forgettable storyboard-to-screen comparisons and a production gallery of posters and promo items.

MGM has put together a great package with The Fog DVD, one unquestionably worth picking up for anyone who loves John Carpenter, or who just loves a good scare. Grab the DVD and perhaps a significant other, dark night, lights out... you get the idea. Chances are you make not look at those mysterious low-lying clouds of vapor in quite the same way again.

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