Saturday, July 20, 2013

Blu-ray Review: THE FOG (1980)

THE FOG (1980)
Collector's Edition Blu-ray 

Label: Scream Factory / Shout! Factory 
Region Code:
Rating: R
Duration: 90 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curttis, Tom Atkins, John Houseman, Janel Leigh, George "Buck" Flowers 
Tagline: What You Can't See Won't urt You... It'll Kill You!

John Carpenter's The Fog (1980) opens with a great campfire tale on the eve of Antonio Bay's 100th anniversary. Actor John Houseman begins with the phrase "11:55, almost midnight, enough time for one more story..." before he relays a tale of  vengeful sailors returning from their watery graves to a group of children, it's pitch perfect and sets the tone for entire film, it's a traditional and inspired piece of cinema. 

 After the tale at the stroke of midnight strange things begins to happen in Antonio Bay as an unearthly and unseen presence sweeps through the sleepy village causing a rash of supernatural phenomena, horns blare and sirens wail. A local fisherman named Nick Castle (Tom Atkins, Night of the Creeps) drives down a windy scenic nighttime road as we hear the seductive sounds of DJ Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau, Swamp Thing) broadcasting from her  lighthouse studio. Castle picks up a perky hitcher named Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis, Terror Train) when suddenly the windows of the truck shatters violently, the incident apparently so damn frightening that it seems to have scared the clothes right of Elizabeth as the next scene features the pair in a post-coital glow nestled in Castle's bed, ha ha. That Tom Atkins is a chic magnet, thrill me baby. 

At the local Church the drunken Father Malone (Hal Holbrook, Creepshow) sips wine when a sudden rumbling of the Earth loosens a stone in the wall of his rectory revealing a small relief. Inside is the century old diary of one of Antonio Bay's celebrated founding father, Malone's grandfather. The writings in the book implicate Malone and five other conspirators  whom deliberately shipwrecked the clipper ship Elizabeth Dane and it's crew of lepers just off the coast to plunder their riches. 

This same night at sea the fishing trawler the Seagrass and it's crew are overcome by a eerie supernatural fog bank that's arrives from out of nowhere. A century old clipper ship pulls up alongside them and they are boarded by sword wielding, crusty sailors sheathed in fog. It's quite an eerie sight and the men are slaughtered, gutted by hooks and run-through by swords. The next day the bodies are discovered and Antonio Bay might never be the same again, at the stroke of midnight the seaside village is inundated by glowing fog and the arrival of vengeful specters, there's definitely something in the mist! 

The Fog (1980) is an effective little chiller, and while it may not regarded as well as John Carpenter's slasher classic Halloween (1978) but I think it's pretty a fantastic watch, it remains one of my most cherished ghost stories of all time. Antonio Bay is the perfect setting for Carpenter's ghostly revenge thriller, too. It's views are both scenically gorgeous and eerie, particularly when the fog rolls in with the salty lepers in it's midst ready to gut those unfortunate enough to be overcome by the incandescent mist.

And what a cast! We have Jamie Lee Curtis (Terror Train) at her scream queen prime and Tom Atkins who a this point was not just yet a genre staple in great supporting roles. Plus Hal Holbrook, (Ritual) who effortlessly classes up every joint, is pretty great as the drunken priest. The star of the show is the sultry Adrienne Barbeau (Swamp Thing) as the velvet-tongued late night DJ who's sexing up the airwaves on the bay from her remote lighthouse studio. She's truly the star of the film, sort of at the center of everything and the first two put the pieces together, when she's left alone to face off against vengeful spirits in the lighthouse it's great stuff, a real nail biter. Also spicing up the cast are George "Buck" Flowers (They Live) and Janet Leigh (Psycho) in smaller roles, there's just not a bad apple in the bunch. John Carpenter even shows up in a brief cameo at the top of the film. 

It's  super-creepy, from the very start with the pitch prefect campfire tale The Fog (1980) is a spooky haunted attraction, in an age of pre-digital effects we get are some creative old school ingenuity, the fog effects are fantastic and put to shame the soulless 2005 remake. To this day  I cannot see a fog bank and not imagine salty sword-wielding sailor with glowing red eyes emerging to reap their awful revenge. The crusty sailors effects created by Rob Bottin are great and we see quite a bit more of them here with this hi-def presentation that we've ever gleaned before, while it's certainly not a bloodbath film it's grisly in it's own gritty little way, the deaths stick with you. Check out the gruesome death of the poor horny weatherman, a hook right through the throat!

The film is more or less a traditional tale of spectral vengeance but it can get a bit schlocky from time to time and if you know anything about me you can appreciate  that I do love a fair amount of schlock. A few weird jump scares are peppered  throughout that seem slightly incongruous to the scenes wrapped round 'em and here's why... Carpenter administered numerous re-shoots and re-edits following his displeasure with the first cut of the film feeling it lacked shock and awe so he ramped up the violence and gore, and I think it's a better film for it. Another observation is that the sea-faring ghosts seems more like soggy zombies than unearthly specters, which is actually more menacing. Maybe not a perfect film but a spectral classic just the same, this is essential chiller cinema.  

Blu-ray: The Fog (1980) gets a brand new 1080p widescreen (2.35:1) transfer supervised by cinematographer Dean Cundey and it's a marked improvement over the standard-def DVD.Colors appear natural and vibrant while the black levels are deep, this is a very dark film and we're seeing things here in 1080p that we've never seen before,with some very nice fine detail and a nice intact grain structure.

Audio options include English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and a 2.0.  Both are nicely balanced and quite strong with a definite edge going to the 5.1 for the atmospheric use of the surrounds, adding more depth to the proceedings. John Carpenters score still sends shivers down my spine, it's definitely one of those Carpenter films where the visuals and audio elements come together perfectly, it completely ramps up the tension. Optional English subtitles are included on the disc. 

Reversible Artwork
Onto the special features we get all of the extras from MGM's 2005 DVD including the fantastic commentary with writer/director john Carpenter and writer/producer Debra Hill. Always have been a fan of the Carpenter commentaries and this is a great one with an unvarnished recounting of shooting the film and the re shoots and edits done after a disastrous first screening. We also get the two retrospective featurette with input from John Carpenter, Deborah Hill, Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Dean Cundey and Tommy Lee Wallace, a reel of outtakes, storyboards, TV spots and trailers, plus some neat special effects test footage.These were great extras and it's great to see them carried over for Scream Factory's Blu-ray. 

Scream Factory offer a few brand new features beginning with an audio commentary with  Actress Adrienne Barbeau, Actor Tom Atkins and Production Designer Tommy Lee Wallace and it's  warm and friendly one filled with great anecdotes, it's a fun listen and you can tell the trio quite enjoy each others company.  

My Time with Terror with Jamie Lee Curtis (27:54) features the former scream queen in a really talkative mood, this is great stuff. As she sits down for the interview she comments on the fog rolling in just outside the window, noting that it bodes well for the interview and it surely does. Curtis talks about her time on the film and is very honest about how she felt about the film, apparently it's just not her thing, go figure. Lucky for we slasher fans the scream queen speaks about her work on 80's slasher classics Terror Train (1980), Prom Night (1980) and the ozploitation thriller Road Games (1981) with Stacey Keach, probably my favorite of the new extras.

Dean of Darkness (18:40) features cinematographer Dean Cundey speaking of his collaborations with John Carpenter including Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981), Big Trouble in Little China (1986) and the first two sequels to Halloween. It's a great listen as he talks about the style and lighting of each film, noting in particular the great atmosphere of this particular chiller. 

Of course Sean Clark returns with another edition of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds – A Look At The Film’s Locations (20:22), always a fun romp and you gotta love Clark's corny sense of humor. Finishing off the new features is an Easter egg hidden away on one of the menus, spoiler alert, it's am ABC Sunday Night Movie promo for The Fog (1980). The set also includes a slip case featuring a great illustration by Justin Osbourne, plus a sleeve of reversible artwork, thinking this is the best artwork so far! 

New Scream Factory™ Special Features:
- New HD transfer of the film supervised by Director of Photography Dean Cundey
- My Time with Terror with Jamie Lee Curtis - Exclusive interview with Actress Jamie Lee Curtis discussing The Fog and covering her legendary early 80s “Scream Queen” career.

- Audio commentary featuring Actress Adrienne Barbeau, Actor Tom Atkins and Production Designer Tommy Lee Wallace
- Dean of Darkness - Retrospective interview with Director of Photography Dean Cundey about his many legendary collaborations with John Carpenter (18:40)
- Horror’s Hallowed Grounds – A Look At The Film’s Locations with host Sean Clark (20:22)

- Easter Egg (1:02)

Extras from the MGM™ DVD Edition:
- Tales From The Mist: Inside The Fog Featurette (27:58)
- Fear On Film: Inside The Fog Featurette (7:42)
- The Fog: Storyboard To Film Comparison (1:25)
- Outtakes (4:10)
- Theatrical Trailers (4:34)

- TV Spots (3:05)
- Special Effects Tests (2:39)
- Photo Gallery (8:02)

- Storyboards (2:18)
- Audio Commentary With Writer/Director John Carpenter And Writer/Producer Debra Hill

Verdict: Thirty plus years later John Carpenter's The Fog (1980) is still an effective chiller with some great atmosphere and an fantastic cast. When I think of a well-crafted tales of terror with a healthy dose of grue this classic immediately comes to mind, an essential purchase. Scream Factory keep doing it right, another outstanding Blu-ray edition  4 Outta 5