The Fog was John Carpenter’s follow-up to his breakthrough hit Halloween and while this underrated gem is often overshadowed by its predecessor, it bears mentioning that it shares much in common with the director’s urban western Assault on Precinct 13, still his greatest achievement. Kent Jones of Film Comment called Carpenter “the last genre filmmaker working in America” (indeed, a resilient Carpenter still makes analog films while everyone else is moving with the digital tide). Perhaps that’s the key to understanding Carpenter’s success in the ‘70s. When the director remade Howard Hawks’s classic western Rio Bravo as Precinct 13, he showcased a style every bit as genre defying as that of his idol’s. Though there’s no mistaking the noir and western elements at work in Precinct 13, it is first and foremost an urban horror film. It’s only natural that Carpenter’s popularity waned as soon as audiences demanded more gore. Still, when Romero (Night of the Living Dead) and Cronenberg (Scanners) were giving audiences what they wanted, Carpenter was more successful at scaring the populace with what it couldn’t see. In The Fog, a neon-colored mist descends upon the 100-year-old hamlet of Antonio Bay. Carpenter’s use of 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen is beyond legendary and his compositions evoke a town that may as well be the last remaining one on the face of the earth. Adrienne Barbeau’s radio host makes for a fascinating heroine. Not only does her on-air shtick make for great narration but her allegiance to her community and job is fascinatingly called into question as she watches her home being consumed by the fog. She’s “on top of the world,” using the airwaves to guide citizens to what should be the only safe place in town: the old church. Carpenter’s use of silence is every bit as impressive as his direction of character movement. The slowness with which his characters walk through his frames (across a beach, down stairwells) evokes an existential relationship between nature and man but, more importantly, one between a spiteful past and a misbegotten present.
The Fog finally makes its way to DVD on this MGM Home Video edition of the film, preserving the film's original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Some minor compression artifacts abound but the transfer as a whole is remarkably clean. Shadow delineation is impressive and the colors are ultra sharp. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is a bit flat, though Carpenter's score and Dan Wyman's "electronic realization" never suffers because of it. A pan & scan version of the film is included on the disc's second side for non-film lovers.
This DVD edition of the The Fog boasts one of the better retrospective documentaries around, "Tales From the Mist: The Fog." This 29-minute feature is a condensed version of Carpenter and Debra Hill's commentary track, which appeared on the film's laserdisc edition. Carpenter and Hill generously reveal the film's influences (shows like "Tales from the Crypt," locations like "Stonehenge" and literary sources like H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe) and the challenges they faced on the set. The ten-minute, 1980 "Fear on Film: The Fog" featurette is not as informative but it's certainly lots of fun. Also included here is a storyboard comparison, a series of outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage, two stills galleries and an impressive lot of theatrical trailers and TV spots.
Studios are rarely this good to films like this. Certainly more for Carpenter fans, this DVD edition of The Fog is for their permanent collections.