The Fog - Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Our celebration tonight is a travesty. We're honouring murderers.
PictureSupervised by the great Dean Cundey, himself, this new transfer of The Fog is stunning, folks. No question about it. Stunning. Scream Factory, who have undertaken the restoration themselves, present the film 2.35:1 and encoded via AVC. This US release is strictly region A, and it comes with a huge amount of expectation and high hopes – which I am happy to report it more than ably meets.
I think it looks fantastic, especially as all we’ve had on BD before this was that appalling sham from Optimum on region B, which doesn’t even warrant being labelled as hi-def.
The image is now darker and more realistic, whilst still retaining fabulous fidelity and bold primaries. Lush greens and vivid reds – Stevie’s phone and the penetrating demonic eyes of Blake – and the interior of the church and the tavern are terrifically warm and visually stimulating. Occasionally the screen is suffused in an eerie glow that doesn’t emanate from the fog, such as the weatherman’s red-bathed station, and this saturation never poses an issue. You would think that if ever a transfer was going to suffer from banding, it would be The Fog, with the titular stuff swirling about the frame for great swathes of the running time. But this is not the case at all. The luminous satanic cloud that rolls in off Spivey Point and engulfs the haunted Antonio Bay reveals texture and densities hitherto unseen.
The brighter elements that pulse within do not pose any issues. The “nuclear cross” holds fast and doesn’t bloom, burn or warp as it intensifies to supernatural glory. This moment also brings in some intense colour to both Father Malone and the wraithlike Blake before going supernova, and the disc copes excellently with this transition. Skin tones are far better than ever before, right across the board.
Midnight blues are super-cool and, thankfully, back in place after that previous travesty. Plus, there is nothing boosted here.
Importantly, grain does not appear to have been unduly interfered with. It looks nicely resolved to me and garners a finely film-like texture. Occasionally it grows thicker. Some darker shots don’t look quite as clean or as clear because of it, and a couple of views across the beach when Andy spies the gold coin are dirtier and more weathered, but this is down to the source and is not a problem. Three-dimensionality is very good indeed. Carpenter’s films are always strikingly composed, especially those that were lensed by Cundey, and this image offers absolutely standout objectivity within the frame. Aiding this enormously is the simply breathtaking depth of field. Those environs of Point Reyes and the stunning views across the bay from Sir Francis Drake Blvd, and the vista boasting the lighthouse, itself, are amongst the most impressive that I have ever seen in a horror film, and this transfer ensures that they look crystal clear, immaculately composed and so vivid you think that you step out into the them and face that bracing sea breeze. Look at the image of Andy and Mrs. Kobritz in different parts of the house and at either side of the frame, with an enormous distance seen looking out across the bay through the windows between them. This sort of thing is wonderfully crisp and immaculately presented.
The changing hairdos and lengths of both Barbeau’s and Curtis’ locks is readily apparent throughout the film, revealing some of the reshot material, but separation and clinical finite detail is also very keenly displayed in these barnets, as well as in wrinkles, crags, pockmarks (sorry Tom) and whiskerage. The gouged eye-sockets on the salvaged corpse are easier to inspect now ... and this added definition clearly shows that it wasn’t Rob Bottin’s hand that crafted the illusion. There is a bit more of a “glistening” on maggot-face atop the lighthouse, and seeing the light of life slowly wink out in a hacked-up fisherman’s eye is now much more clearly rendered.
There is better definition on the waterlogged mariners, such as the shabby costumes and the tools of their vicious trade, even when perceived through the glowing wisps of the fog. Look at the scene of Janet Leigh and Nancy Loomis as they drive up to the church, the camera looking in from the hood – very detailed faces and hair. This, folks, is how the majority of the film looks too, with only a smattering of softer moments.
Contrast is mostly fine. From sunny vistas with shadowy patches to luminescent fog rolling over the darkened town with clear definition of street lights and signage, this is an image and a transfer specifically trained to cope with the extremes of light and dark, and frequently everything in-between all within the same frame. Daylight is brisk and natural. Those landscape shots are sumptuous, and the best one just has to be the moment when clouds pass over the sun and the shadows slide across the otherwise luxuriant setting of Stevie’s beach-house. But when Mrs. Williams and Sandy arrive at the venue for the Centennial Festival and take a sneak peak at the statue, the central image is very hazy. Perhaps another couple of shots also exhibit this, but I would assume that this is source related.
Black levels are superb. By now, you should know my taste in such things can be very forgiving towards intensely black imagery ... but even I have to admit that there could well be some crushing going on here, although it doesn’t bother me, personally. The Sea Grass, actually a model, looking all alone and vulnerable out on the black expanse of the ocean is really dwarfed by overcrowding blackness.
The thick, oozing night-times submerge the buildings like tar. Then there is the darkness around the town’s celebrators as the power goes out and they resort to candles. And, perhaps best of all, and certainly cheekiest, there is the moment when Holbrook’s Father Malone reaches out of the gloom of the pews to greet Janet Leigh. The shadows are exactly what you want – deep and bloody dark, and totally convincing. There isn’t a great deal of subtlety to them, that’s for sure, but I would say that they complement the imagery of the film with greater visual power and depth that we have experienced before.
Is that some noise bubbling away in a distant window? Look slightly fuzzy to me. Well, you know what, if that’s all we’ve got to worry about on the digital front, we should all be happy, Fog-bound bunnies. Edges have not been sharpened, action and camera-panning is consistently smooth. Oh, mind you, we still have that crazy-quick zoom into Mr. Machen’s face during that opening yarn that really doesn’t fit in with the visual style of the rest of the movie. I know he says the word “suddenly” and we, ahem, suddenly zoom in, but it never looks right to me. But it's on all the home video versions released so far.
Go looking for it and you will spot some print damage. It is mostly tiny and innocuous, and easily dismissable. Some red flashes flicker around the extreme right of the frame at one point. The film hails from 1979. I would expect something in the way of wear and tear.
There’s a little smudge on the lens as Atkins and Curtis motor out across the sea, and a couple of lines and specks. Recently, I’ve seen people complaining about gate-weave being seen in some of these older transfers. Jeez, get a life! There’s some here too, for that Poe quote at the start, but this is not like the opening titles Lifeforce. I actually like it when it happens. I find it very evocative and totally reminiscent of pure celluloid. All things considered, this looks considerably better than I ever anticipated. By far the best that I have ever seen The Fog look, and that goes for a couple of theatrical screenings in the last decade. I can't seem to remember if that crash-zoom was present in those, though. It must have been, I guess.
The Fog looks fab. Fact.
SoundWe have two audio mixes to choose from, both lossless. There is a fine DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that does a bang-up job with accuracy, width and presence, and a more involving, dynamic and aggressive 5.1 variation. Personally, I stuck with the surround track, although you won’t have any problems with the stereo option.
Now, the previous Optimum disc also carried a 5.1 lossless track. To be honest, I haven’t checked back with that to see if this is the same, but it wouldn’t surprise if it was. The audio is unmistakably and understandably very frontally asserted. The stereo spread is wide and the approach towards us is effective ... up to a point. Rear-support is not extensive, I’m afraid. In fact, there really isn’t much of it to speak of at all.
Carpenter’s jingling piano-synth main theme attains scintillating clarity and pitch. Having heard the remixed (full) version from Alan Howarth (who joined Carpenter from Escape from New York onwards but has retrofitted CD releases of Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13 as well as The Fog), it is nice to hear this original film take with such distinction and resonance. That sea-shell echo as the main theme evolves is utterly beguiling. The pounding Reel 9 track, the music that accompanies the final assault as the fog, and Blake, roll in is full of insistent pounding and ominous bass, that suspenseful rhythm really driving froth with growing terror and anxiety. The mix deals this out with dexterity and vigour, filling the room with palpable menace and threat. Play it loud.
Although all the channels are not utilised, the score filters around you, especially those threatening low tonal passages that positively hum and throb upon the air. The baleful foghorn floats mournfully across the soundscape. Voices and music on the radio sound appropriately dislocated. The movement of the ghost-ship convincingly passes us. The sloshing of the sea against the hulls of boats can also be heard, but the creaking of their timbers is better balanced well within the mix and helps to provide a fair degree of viewer immersion. When the rears play their part, and none of it is particularly noteworthy, it is most in aid of ambient extension. Thus, we get the wind blowing and some icy electronic whooshing from Carpenter’s synth, but the hubbub from centennial shindig and from the bar are threadbare and virtually non-existent. Again, we really shouldn't be looking for too much in this department - the film simply wasn't designed with such things in mind.
Stingers paralyse the senses with electrifying energy, as you would expect from vintage Carpenter, and the sound FX for the cutting, stabbing, slashing and eye-gouging are the aural equivalent of Lucio Fulci’s visual mutilation excess. God, they are beautifully horrid ... and they come across with stomach-lurching potency. Big John's electronic blasts come crashing, jangling and positively clutching out at you with as much menacing savagery as those ghostly maritime arms smashing through the church windows. The chunk! and meaty ripping of all those wicked weapons scything into flesh is certainly discernible, too, but somehow I would have thought that a little bit more detail and clarity could have been afforded them. There is one nice aural sweep from front to back when the spooky driftwood ignites itself, but this only lasts for half a second. The pounding on the lighthouse door, and its subsequent wrenching from its hinges is pretty powerfully presented, too. And the monstrous sound effect of Blake gripping the great golden crucifix has a nice deep bass rumble, but it really only serves to show just what energy could have been achieved with this remixed soundscape. Otherwise, the bass levels are merely adequate. The track does plenty of good things, though. Listen to the snapping shut of the pocket-watch that opens the film in that tremendously well-lensed first shot that introduces us to Mr. Machen. Listen to the blips on the radar of the Sea Grass as its final crewmember awaits his fate below deck. Listen to the sound of the KAB radio station jingles as we hear them from different angles and distances as Stevie makes her way to the lighthouse. Listen, of course, to the insistent hammering on doors by mangled mariners’ fists and weaponry. The sudden falling of a slab of masonry is nice solid jolt, as is the breaking of the glass in Nick’s pickup, which is demonstrably more emphatic than heard in the 2-channel. But one effect that never really sounds authentic is when Nick hurls Father Malone’s bottle against the pew. The smashing of the glass this time out seems to come from somewhere else entirely.
There is rarely any slip up with the dialogue. Be it Curtis’ lozenge-sucking drawl or Houseman’s brittle diction, or Cypher’s cocky chat-ups or that blood-freezing, distorted voice from the past that sizzles through Stevie’s cassette player, almost everything comes across clearly. However, Curtis’ looped dialogue on the boat as she and Atkins are taken out to meet the Sea Grass doesn’t sound so well connected. In these earlier films, her voice did sound quite unusual, as though ineptly dubbed at times. So, hey, let’s blame her!
To be honest, although I had hoped for more, this is still mostly very effective and enjoyable. Whichever track you choose, you’re sure to get goose-bumps. A strong 7 out of 10.
ExtrasAll the bonus features from the previous Special Edition DVD from MGM have been ported over … but Scream Factory have actually added some nifty new stuff, too! But before we get to all that … whilst I quite liked the customized artwork for The Howling, I must say that I’m not too fussed on their imagery for The Fog. Whilst Blake and his crew look fine, the cast members look dreadful. Thankfully, the original poster art is on the reverse, albeit the publicity shot of Jamie Lee and the groping hand that does not bear much similarity to the actual footage in the movie. Ahh, well … at least you get the choice, eh?
First off is the Commentary from John Carpenter and Producer and Co-writer Debra Hill. Let's put it this way, if you have any interest in filming techniques, the benefits of widescreen, steadicam and panavision, then this is the track for you. Carpenter, whilst in entertaining motor-mouth mode, bangs on about the technical side of the filming The Fog for most of its duration but don’t expect the same level of fun and freedom as his series of yak-tracks with Kurt Russell. Don't get me wrong, this is still very interesting and intensely scene-specific, but he seems almost anal about camera changes, set-ups, dollies and tracking and two-shots. He does reveal that he loved the location so much that he bought a house there, and he is polite and respectful about Adrienne Barbeau who, at the time, was his wife … just after he’d split up with Hill! One cool tidbit - the metal steps in the lighthouse are actually those used in the Nautilus, from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
A brand new commentary graces this release. We can now hear the reminiscences of production designer/editor/ghost/prop-wrecker Tommy Wallace and actors Adrienne Barbeau and Tom Atkins in a lively and very enjoyable group chat. Well, perhaps I shouldn’t use the term “group” chat because, to be perfectly honest, this is basically The Tommy Wallace Show, folks! Taking up the lion’s share of the time, Wallace is terrific at providing detail, anecdote and on-the-fly observation as the film unfolds. Naturally there is some crossover with the Carpenter track, but this feels altogether more fun and much fresher. More involving.
Also new is a 20-minute interview with Jamie Lee Curtis which allows her to discuss her tenure as a Scream Queen. Thus, we not only hear about The Fog, but also her early Halloweens (not H20 and Resurrection), Prom Night, Terror Train and the Stacy Keach thriller, Road Games. She is articulate and entertaining and typically frank. Her own opinions of Halloween II, which she admits she only made for the fans, are quite amusing and definitely on-the-money.
This release gains another new interview in the form of a decent chat with Dean Cundey, in which he discusses the innovations in cameras, lenses and lighting that he took advantage with when working in these distinctive early years with John Carpenter. As with Curtis, the interview looks at these cult projects, analyzing the techniques and the challenges he faced with each new production, but doesn’t go any further into his outstanding cinematography over the decades.
Fast becoming a favourite feature of mine on these Scream Factory releases is Horror’s Hallowed Grounds episodes from Sean Clark. This is one of the best so far. I’ve already discussed the locations for The Howling and Clark dealt with them with burning envy, and I have to say that the areas and environs that he visits for The Fog make me still more jealous. Since I first saw the film, aged ten, I have been absolutely enthralled and totally smitten the coastal towns and countryside of Northern California, and the gorgeous Point Reyes, that boasts most of the action in the film, is absolutely top of my wish-list of places to … well … move to. Carpenter fell in the love with the place too, and bought a house there. One day … one day … I’ll be knocking on his door to borrow a cup a sugar. Clark brings his usual brand of freewheeling humour and genuine affection to the tour, and BIG POINTS go to his brilliant take-off of Houseman’s Mr. Machen intro. Loved it, bro!
There are two little documentaries bolstering this edition. The first entitled Tales From The Mist (27.54 mins)is a newly produced feature made exclusively for this DVD with some great input from John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Dean Cundey (who, especially, gives a smart segment on the 2.35:1 anamorphic ratio), Janet Leigh, Adrienne Barbeau, Tommy Lee Wallace (jack-of-all-trades) and some old footage of an interview with Jamie Lee Curtis. Halloween gets a few nods, as does Carpenter's penchant for EC Comics, which flavours the movie's corpses out for revenge theme, and Barbeau maintains that her strong-woman character is influenced by Carpenter's admiration for his hero, Howard Hawks. It is also nice to hear that it was in good old Blighty that Carpenter and Hill got the idea for The Fog - the spiritual home of the classic ghost story. Speaking of which, both Poe and Lovecraft are namedropped, too. A great little retrospective piece, without too much in the way of back-slapping.
The next featurette, Fear On Film - Inside The Fog (7.39 mins) is from the time of the film's release and is produced by Mick Garris. This is a grainy TV broadcast that has a couple of terrible quality clips and a clutch of talking heads from Carpenter, Hill (with the most frightening hair you've ever seen), Curtis (with the second most frightening hair you've ever seen), her mum and Barbeau. Not bad for its brief running time.
Then we get four minutes of Outtakes. Hear John Houseman swear when he forgets his lines. See zombies dance. See Adrienne Barbeau gurn for the camera. Man, she was sweet back then! But, best of all, see the naff original take of the body in the closet. Thank God, they swapped that shot.
The Storyboard-To-Film Comparison (1.23 mins) details the scene in which the tipsy crew of the Sea Grass meet the bloodthirsty crew of the Elizabeth Dane. It'll end in tears, I tell you.
The Advertising Gallery offers us the Theatrical Trailer and three TV spots, posters and memorabilia. The TV spots feature some really bizarre voiceovers. “What in the living hell is out there?” Sheesh!
And finally we get a Photo Gallery which features Publicity and Behind The Scenes stills.
All in all, this is a fantastic selection of bonuses that is sure to please. The Commentaries are informative and entertaining and the new interviews are definitely well worth a look. Personally, I really love the Horror’s Hallowed Ground series … and I want to accompany Sean Clark on the next set of tours. Yes, mate, even Return of the Living Dead Part 2!!!! (Mind you, the same church as Father Malone’s is featured in that, too.)
VerdictCombining the moody creeps of the ghost story with the violence of the slasher flick, the shock roll in as thick and as fast as the titular Fog in John Carpenter’s classic coastal chiller.
Whilst it may not be a masterpiece of the genre, The Fog is a sleeper that continues to impress its original fans, and certainly gains new ones all the time. Not the most successful mix of spooks and carnage, but a supremely atmospheric chiller, just the same. The ensemble cast aren't all up to scratch - I'm not even sure why Jamie Lee Curtis is actually in the film, other than to capitalise on the success of Halloween - but the visuals and the setting are tremendous, making it one of the most mesmerising and hypnotic horror films to come out of Hollywood. The Sea Grass sequence and poor Stevie Wayne battling vengeful Blake's cronies are standouts, though. I loved it as a kid. I love it now, although it sure does wear its lame bits like a badge.
Once again, Scream Factory have put together an outstanding package for this cult-cherished movie. The commentaries are excellent, as are the new interviews. The older material is still very worthwhile, and now we get Sean Clark taking us on a tour of those gorgeous locations. The new transfer is highly impressive indeed. When Dean Cundey has personally supervised it, I don’t think you have much ground to argue with the results. The image is darker and not daftly boosted, the fidelity is excellent and the level of clarity and detail on offer, staggering. The audio may not be quite as rewarding, but it still delivers the goods, with Carpenter’s distinctive score resonating with haunting and skin-prickling power and finesse and those electrifying stingers scaring-up a treat.
Carpenter was, perhaps, struggling to find something that would retain his clout after Halloween's impact and was, quite possibly, bullied into making another horror film by fans, the money men and the weight of cinematic expectation. Escape From New York was just around the corner and then, confidence and experience having grown, more classic wonders up until the mid-80's, when his creative juice would begin to dry up. The Fog still represents a risk-taking and imaginative enthusiasm that should not be overlooked.
An awesome release that comes very highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £29.99
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