The Fog (1980)
Review by Doc Ezra

Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill
Directed by John Carpenter
Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Houseman, Janet Leigh, and Hal Holbrook.


Rating: R

Anamorphic: Yes. 2.35:1 widescreen

My Advice: Own it (unless you live in a lighthouse)

John Carpenter stunned the film world with his first feature, Halloween, which reigned as the highest-grossing independent film in history until three students got lost in the Blair Witch's woods. So when it came time to put together his sophomore effort, expectations were high. The result was a classic ghost story of revenge, The Fog. A truly spooky flick, it went for a different set of nerves than Michael Myers and his wicked knife preyed upon, and it cemented Carpenter's reputation as a master of the scare for nearly two decades.

The film centers around the tiny town of Antonio Bay, California, which is approaching the centennial of its founding. But when a mysterious fog bank rolls into town, and people start dying, it's up to a drifter, a radio DJ, a town busybody, and the local priest to get to the bottom of the mystery and, hopefully, save the town from this supernatural threat. Meanwhile, more and more of the town is covered in the mystery cloud, and the shambling figures glimpsed within it claim more and more victims.

This is one of Carpenter's finest, and definitely a classic. Which is made even more amazing when you watch the documentaries, and discover that the film almost never saw the light of day. The original edit was apparently abysmal, and a frantic effort was made to increase the scare factor, adding most of the shambling ghosts and a few of the more visceral scares in reshooting. The final product that saw release is seamless, however, and if you hadn't heard Carpenter say it himself, you'd never believe that the first cut sucked as bad as he claims.

The performances are excellent throughout. Barbeau's husky-voiced DJ manages sultry and scared stiff almost simultaneously. Curtis' turn as the hitchhiking bad girl is decent, though not as good as her turn in Carpenter's first flick. Janet Leigh is perfect as the town matriarch trying to make sure the festival goes on as planned, and Holbrook makes a great showing as the priest whose investigations slowly reveal the town's terrible secret, much to his horror. John Houseman is always worthy, and while he has a fairly small role in the picture, it's worth it to hear him swearing in front of ten-year-olds in the outtakes when he flubs a line.

The disc is stacked with extras, not to mention presenting a brilliantly clear transfer of the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Extras include a pair of docus (both quite good, and a bit longer than is typical for "making-of" featurettes), then and now, along with galleries of advertising, stills from production, a fairly cool storyboard-to-film snippet, and the aforementioned outtakes. Add to this the commentary with Carpenter and Hill themselves, and you've got a hard-to-resist package. The commentary is very informative, and shares details about the original concept work on the story, difficulties with the shoot (the lighthouse location in particular was a beast to work with), and the last-minute reshoots and re-edits that were needed to make the film acceptably scary enough.

If you're at all a fan of scary movies or John Carpenter's early work, The Fog has to be in your collection. If all you've seen of Carpenter is Vampires, then run out immediately and get this one to burn the horror that was that film out of your brain.

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