By Ray Schwetz
After the astronomical success of the independent film classic "Halloween," any film that director John Carpenter chose as a follow-up was doomed to be a disappointment. Although his choice, "The Fog," met with mixed critical views (a trend that would plague most of the auteur's career), it was far from a financial failure.
Personally, I feel this is one of his best films. It is a genuinely creepy, well structured ghost story with a supremely suspenseful ending that will have you wriggling in your armchair.
Immediately, the film grabs you with its campfire tale opening. It is the eve of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the township of Antonio Bay. John Houseman tells the tale of how, at the witching hour, a leper colony at sea crashed its ship into the rocks after mistaking a campfire for the lighthouse. During the witching hour on this evening, the electric lights, appliances, cars, and alarms go berserk.
Soon after, the town priest (Hal Holbrook) finds his grandfather's diary hidden in the walls of the church. He reads it and discovers that the campfire tale is true. He discovers that the township of Antonio Bay was built up using gold that rightfully belonged to Blake, the leader of the leper colony. An unearthly fog rolls into Antonio Bay, and within lurks Blake and his undead comrades...
Carpenter's ex-wife Adrienne Barbeau stars as a smooth jazz disc jockey, who operates a radio station from within the town's lighthouse. Isolated from the rest of the town, she is vulnerable. Bravely, she stays there to alert the town of the fog's progress. Barbeau turns in a stellar performance as the sexy DJ, who is also a strong willed single parent.
The supporting cast is equally good. Jamie Lee Curtis plays a spunky hitchhiker, Tom Atkins ("Halloween III: Season of the Witch") plays a New England trucker type searching for his missing fisherman friends, and Janet Leigh plays a town official with a one-track mind. Other notable performances are turned in by hammy Hal Holbrook as Father Malone, Nancy Loomis (whom "Halloween" fans will remember as Annie), and Darwin Joston (who played the mysterious criminal in "Assault On Precinct 13").
Carpenter is a master at milking creepy atmosphere from even the most peaceful settings. "The Fog" is no exception. The New England town and creepy lighthouse setting are utilized to maximum effect. The fog itself becomes a major character in the film! As usual, Carpenter's effective minimalist synth score intensifies the creep factor.
The DVD reviewed here is a French Region 2 DVD release
from a company called TVI. It's available for roughly $24 on www.amazon.fr. As of yet, there has been no announcement for a domestic release of this Carpenter classic. With the recent release of MGM's movie-only DVD for "Escape From New York," and the upcoming theatrical release of "Ghosts of Mars," I'm hoping that will change.
The DVD contains a new anamorphic widescreen transfer
letterboxed at an approximate 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The good news is that the video transfer is gorgeous. There was a lot of controversy over the previous widscreen laserdisc release from Image back in the mid-nineties, due to the apparent unavailability of a better source print. The Image laser was transferred from a very scratchy print. I was still satisfied with the laser because it was widescreen for the first time and it contained a Carpenter commentary, isolated score track, gag reel, and other extras. This DVD is certainly light years ahead of the previous transfer.
There is little artifacting, the colors are strongly hued, the picture is sharp, and the print is relatively scratch-free (aside from the opening AVCO-Embassy logo). The only downfall is that the film has burned-in French subtitles.
The audio is labeled on the box as Dolby Digital. The audio of the previous laser release was presented in mono. My receiver tells me that the audio is Pro-logic. To my ears, the French DVD appears to be Dolby Digital mono. However, it is one on the better mono tracks I've heard. The music fares well and dialogue is clear. Bass response is low, but the sound isn't tinny.
Unfortunately, there are no extras--not even a trailer. So, hold onto your laserdiscs! This region 2 release has a neat menu screen and options to watch the film in French or in the original English (with burned in subs). Whether or not you purchase this Region 2 release depends upon your level of obsession with the film or the director. Because my obsession is extremely unreasonable, I couldn't wait for the (hopefully) eventual domestic release. The transfer is great, so Carpenter completists will be satisfied.
NOTE: Those with the region disabled Apex-600A players will be disgruntled because the player doesn't process the 16:9 enhancement correctly, but those Carpenter fans with other region free players or DVD-Roms will be happy.