Release Date(s)1980 (September 13, 2022)
Studio(s)AVCO Embassy Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
- Overall Grade: A+
After creating an iconic horror villain with their 1978 classic Halloween, John Carpenter and Debra Hill followed it up with a somewhat more nebulous antagonist in the form of The Fog in 1980. Things didn’t go quite as smoothly for them this time. While the first cut of Halloween had fallen a bit flat until Carpenter added his legendary score, Carpenter and Hill felt that music alone wasn’t enough to save The Fog, so they scheduled extensive reshoots, adding more scares, more atmosphere, and more graphic violence. Halloween was noteworthy for the way that it generally avoided the latter, but the slasher movies that followed in its wake emphasized the gore more than anything else. In order to stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace, they felt that The Fog needed a more tangible threat than the amorphous one that they had originally conceived. The shadowy Blake became much more literalized, and his victims died in increasingly more concrete fashions. Yet at its heart, The Fog is still a ghost story, not a slasher movie, and that’s actually where it benefited the most from the reshoots.
That fact is made crystal clear right from the prologue, which features John Housemen in Maximum John Houseman mode, telling the tale of the wreck of the Elizabeth Dane to a group of children. It’s pretty obvious that this is an added scene, since it’s not directly connected to the main story. Strictly speaking, it’s unnecessary, since all of the information in it is conveyed elsewhere during the body of the film. Yet it’s impossible to imagine The Fog without this moment, since it sets the tone perfectly for everything that follows, including a series of added supernatural shenanigans that plague the town of Antonio Bay during the opening credits. None of that makes any sense relative to the rules that define the rest of the film—since Blake and his cohorts have such a clear mission, why would they waste time the first night knocking things over and moving chairs around rooms? Yet what The Fog may lack in narrative coherency, it makes up for it in terms of atmosphere. All of these narratively unnecessary moments are essential to building the mood, and that’s where The Fog shines more than anything else.
Houseman also adds some necessary gravitas to the proceedings, as do veteran actors Hal Holbrook and Janet Leigh. Their earnestness helps to paper over the majority of the holes in the plot. Having Jamie Lee Curtis and Tom Atkins as leads certainly doesn’t hurt, either. The pair have a natural chemistry with each other that overcomes the flimsy characterizations in the script. The Fog is also aided by the presence of several Carpenter regulars, including Charles Cyphers, Nancy Loomis, George “Buck” Flowers, and Napoleon Wilson himself, Darwin Joston. (It’s a shame that Carpenter used Joston in only two films, as the man had a presence all his own.) Even legendary makeup artist Rob Bottin makes an onscreen appearance as Blake. Of course, the film is really owned by the sultry voice of Adrienne Barbeau as Stevie Wayne. She could have easily had a real career as a radio deejay—there’s no need for suspension of disbelief whenever she leans into the microphone and starts speaking in her inimitably seductive tones.
Still, the real stars of The Fog are unquestionably cinematographer Dean Cundey and Carpenter himself, both as director and composer. In a film where atmosphere is everything, they delivered that ambience in spades. When Roger Ebert reviewed The Fog in 1980, he complained that the fog was too vague of a threat to work as a villain, as it was something with which viewers couldn’t identify. (This coming from the same critic who also complained about the first-person camerawork in Friday the 13th, because he said that it made viewers identify with the killer. When it came to the horror genre, Ebert lacked narrative coherency of his own.) Ebert couldn’t have been more mistaken about The Fog. First of all, the real threat isn’t so much the fog itself as what’s hidden inside of it, especially considering the reshot material in the final cut. Yet with Cundey’s brilliant lighting, the fog does take on an elegant, mysterious menace of its own—and yes, Carpenter’s iconic score adds to the experience in incalculable ways. His minimalistic, repetitive themes work harmoniously with the images at a subconscious level, and as a result, the whole is far greater than the sum of its individual parts. Carpenter and Hill may have felt that the initial cut needed something extra, but fortunately, Carpenter resisted that instinct when it came to his score—it’s a definite case where less is more. In the end, everything came together into a remarkably effective ghost story that transcends the limitations of its own narrative, as well as the vagaries of its production. When something works, it works, and The Fog works well indeed.
Dean Cundey shot The Fog on 35 mm film using Panavision Panaflex cameras with Panavision C-series anamorphic lenses, framed at 2.39:1 for its theatrical release. For this version, StudioCanal scanned the original camera negative at 4K resolution, cleaned it up, and then graded it for high dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are included on the disc). The final grade was approved by Cundey. Anyone who is familiar with the wildly different grades that he has approved for Halloween over the years might read that sentence with some justifiable trepidation, but the good news is that there’s nothing as drastically revisionist on display here (though there still have been some changes). The better news is that this appears to be a different encode than the one that StudioCanal used for their own problematic release, where the compression wreaked havoc with the HDR10 layer, causing macroblocking and other artifacts. Please note that some people have also reported issues with persistent flickering on the StudioCanal version, but there wasn’t any visible on this disc when viewed on a JVC RS2000 projector, so either it’s been solved here, or the problem may have been display-dependent.
The resulting image is a sharp and detailed as the original anamorphic lenses will allow, and it’s nearly immaculately clean. The new encode handles both the grain and the ubiquitous fog effects quite well, with few significant artifacts of note. Again, The Fog is never going to be the last word in fine detail, because there’s only so much that can be wrung from the original negative in the first place. On the other hand, there’s another factor involved here that does increase the perception of detail, and that’s the HDR grade. It improves the contrast range and offers some very deep blacks, but there’s more subtle gradations within them. Previous versions have been prone to crushed blacks, but that’s not really an issue here. When things do go completely black, it’s because they should. On the other end of the spectrum, when things get hot after Blake grabs the gold cross, they get really hot now.
The most pleasant surprise is that the expanded contrast and color gamut in this HDR grade improves even the most mundane moments during the film. When a shadow from a cloud passes over Stevie Wayne’s house at 26:17, the shadow seems deeper, with more refined foliage both inside it and outside of it. That’s especially noticeable in the foreground greenery at the bottom of the frame. It’s a case where the improvements in contrast provide more clarity for the details that already exist within the frame. There’s little that could be done to improve things further, so for the time being at least, this is pretty much the definitive presentation of The Fog.
There’s a variety of different English audio options available, including two new ones: a Dolby Atmos mix, and a restored version of the original theatrical mono track in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. The previously available 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Stereo-encoded 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks are also included, as are optional English SDH subtitles. Finally getting a lossless version of the original mono is a huge bonus, and it will definitely be the first choice for many fans, but the new Atmos mix is certainly worth a listen. While purists may insist that mono is the only way to go, personally I’ll always opt for hearing Carpenter’s score in some version of stereo. His music provides atmospherics of its own regardless of what the sound effects may be doing, and that greatly enhances the experience of watching his films. There’s a greater sense of presence in the Atmos mix, with more ambience as well as a bit of directionality to the sound effects. The previous 5.1 and 2.0 mixes still largely retained the mono nature of the original effects, but they’re more spread around here into all of the channels. Most of that is a matter of processing, but be aware that there have been a few new effects added as well, such as a splashing sound from the feet of the ghosts as they pound on the door of Dan’s weather station. None of the new effects are particularly intrusive, but for those who consider such additions to be heretical, that original theatrical mono track is still available as an option. Even better, the previous 5.1 and 2.0 mixes that don’t include the new effects are also included, so if you like the stereo music but don’t want the added effects, that’s still an option as well. It’s nice to have choices.
Speaking of choices, in keeping with many prestige titles these days, Shout! Factory’s 4K Ultra HD release of The Fog comes in several different flavors. All of them are 2-disc sets that include a 1080p Blu-ray copy of the film, as well as a slipcover that duplicates the artwork on the insert, while the Steelbook release features new artwork by Devon Whitehead. The commentary tracks are duplicated on both discs, but the rest of the extras are spread between them—some are UHD only, and others are Blu-ray only. That’s the easy part; now things get complicated. There’s also a Steelbook available, and a variety of different kinds of swag, depending on which version that you choose—and some of them are limited editions, so a few of those choices may have already been taken away from you. Shout! has once again worked with Sacred Bones records to provide a 7” 45rpm record on black and blue colored vinyl. That set is housed in an eye-catching black and silver case designed by Chris Bilheimer. There’s also a version that includes an exclusive Stevie Wayne action figure produced by NECA, plus there’s a set of enameled pins, and different posters as well. There’s one mega-set that includes everything, but there are also versions that include various combinations of the individual goodies. Frankly, the basic Sacred Bones set is probably the sweet spot, as it includes the record and the nice box, but none of the trinkets. Your own mileage may vary, but at least you have plenty of options. The following extras are included on each disc:
DISC ONE: UHD
- Audio Commentary with John Carpenter and Debra Hill
- Audio Commentary with Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Tommy Lee Wallace, and Sean Clark
- Retribution: Uncovering John Carpenter’s The Fog (HD – 44:55)
- The Shape of Things to Come: John Carpenter Unfilmed (HD – 9:03)
- Introduction by John Carpenter (Upscaled SD – 8:40)
- Scene Analysis by John Carpenter (Upscaled SD – 3:40)
The vintage commentary with Carpenter and Hill was originally recorded for the 1995 Image LaserDisc release, so along with the outtake reel, it’s the oldest extra on this set. Carpenter’s commentaries have always been wildly variable depending upon who his collaborators are, and unfortunately this one falls on the side of being too dry and overly descriptive. (He really needs a Kurt Russell to keep him energized.) There’s still plenty of good information to be had here, especially since it was recorded only 15 years down the road from the original production, so their memories were fresher. Since Hill died of cancer in 2005, it’s an invaluable record of her own thoughts about the film. The commentary with Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, and Tommy Lee Wallace was recorded for the 2013 Shout! Collector’s Edition Blu-ray. Sean Clark from Horror’s Hallowed Grounds serves as an uncredited moderator, and his presence is always welcome, since he keeps things moving any time that they threaten to get bogged down. Of course, he had a lively group to work with here, so his prodding was much less necessary than it has been on other tracks. Wallace takes the lead much of the time, since he’s the one who knows the most about the production details, but there’s plenty of cheerful banter between the actors as well. While it’s not completely free of gaps, and they do fall back into just watching the film toward the end, it’s still a fun track.
Retribution is a retrospective examination of The Fog that was produced by Daniel Griffith’s Ballyhoo Motion Pictures for StudioCanal’s UHD release. It includes interviews, behind-the-scenes photos, and clips from the outtake reel. The interviews combine new and archival footage of crew members Tommy Lee Wallace, Dean Cundey, Kim Gottlieb-Walker, Larry Franco, Steve Johnson, and Carpenter himself. It also includes interviews with writer/historians John Kenneth Muir, Justin Humphreys, and Daniel Schweiger. Retribution provides a broad overview of the cast, locations, production, effects, post-production, and release of The Fog, and it’s a nice introduction for anyone who hasn’t already spent very much time delving into the production of the film. It’s also a good refresher for those who already have. The Shape of Things to Come is an interview with Muir, once again produced by Daniel Griffith at Ballyhoo, covering the many unrealized projects with which Carpenter was involved. That includes scripts that he wrote that were directed by others, productions that he never got off the ground (like his lost lamented Creature from the Black Lagoon remake), and films where he walked away or was removed during pre-production. The Introduction and Scene Analysis with John Carpenter were originally taped for the 2003 StudioCanal DVD. The Introduction features Carpenter giving his own overview of the production, while the Scene Analysis includes the moment from reel 9 where Stevie Wayne’s son Andy is rescued. Both of these extras have non-removable French subtitles.
DISC TWO: BD
- Audio Commentary with John Carpenter and Debra Hill
- Audio Commentary with Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Tommy Lee Wallace, and Sean Clark
- My Time with Terror (HD – 21.46)
- Dreams of Darkness (HD – 18:40)
- Tales from the Mist: Inside the Fog (Upscaled SD – 27:58)
- Fear on Film: Inside the Fog (Upscaled SD – 7:42)
- The Fog: Storyboard to Film (Upscaled SD – 1:26)
- Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (HD – 20:23)
- Outtakes (Upscaled SD – 4:09)
- Special Effects Tests (Upscaled SD – 2:40)
- Theatrical Trailers (HD – 3 in all – 4:33)
- Trailers from Hell (HD – 3:28)
- TV Spots (HD and Upscaled SD – 6 in all – 3:04)
- Photo Gallery (HD – 97 in all – 8:07)
- Storyboards (HD – 28 in all – 2:23)
All of these extras are the same ones that Shout! included on both their 2013 Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release, as well as on their 2017 Steelbook re-release. My Time with Terror is a lively and entertaining interview with Jamie Lee Curtis, produced by Michael Felsher via his Red Shirt Pictures. For many years, the only major source for her thoughts about The Fog was a 1980 radio interview that has been included on various soundtrack releases for the film, so it’s wonderful having a newer one to provide a retrospective bookend for that. She openly admits to not being a fan of the film, but she’s still grateful for having had the experience. She also talks about some of her other horror films like Prom Night, Terror Train, and Road Games. Regardless of how she may feel about The Fog, she still gives John Carpenter all of the credit for launching her career. Dreams of Darkness is a Red Shirt interview with Dean Cundey, who talks about the ways that he and Carpenter used framing to create and emotional reaction from the audience. He gives a few basic biographical details before discussing his work with John Carpenter on The Fog and other films.
Tales from the Mist: Inside the Fog is a making-of documentary that was originally produced for the 2002 MGM DVD release of The Fog. It includes recently recorded interviews with Carpenter, Debra Hill, Adrienne Barbeau, Tommy Lee Wallace, and Dean Cundey, as well as archival interviews with Curtis. Fear on Film: Inside the Fog is a television piece from 1980 that was used to promote the film, featuring interviews and film clips. The Fog: Storyboard to Film is a split-screen comparison of the fateful encounter between the Seagrass and the Elizabeth Dane. Horror’s Hallowed Grounds is Sean Clark’s 2013 visit to the original shooting locations for The Fog. (Watch out for a surprise appearance from someone completely unrelated to The Fog—although if you’re a fan of the show, it really won’t be much of a surprise at all.) The Outtakes reel includes footage of flubbed lines, other mistakes, and some general hamming around. (If you look closely, you’ll notice that one of the clips is from an early version of one of the scenes, prior to the reshoots.) The Special Effects Tests is raw footage of the various fog and lighting effects that was originally part of the outtakes reel, but it’s listed separately here. The Trailers from Hell features filmmaker Mick Garris giving his thoughts about The Fog. (Note that while the TV spots initially look like there are 3 that run 1:36 total, they automatically skip at the end to a separate set of 3 more.)
Of course, depending on which version that you buy, there’s actually a third disc of extras, and that’s the 7” 45rpm record. It includes the same version of the main theme for The Fog that John Carpenter recorded for his 2017 Anthology album, with the help of his regular collaborators Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies. It’s actually a brief medley of different themes from the film, and not just a re-recording of the main title music. The B-side offers a previously unreleased 2020 recording of the track Walk to the Lighthouse from the original soundtrack album. If you already own Anthology, that’s a pretty slim addition, but it’s a beautifully pressed disc, and the packaging alone is worth the extra money.
This is a genuinely comprehensive collection of extras, as there’s nothing of significance that hasn’t been included here, aside from the soundtrack CD that was a part of StudioCanal’s UHD release. Of course, that’s readily available elsewhere, while the vinyl single is exclusive to this set. There are differences in packaging between the Shout! and StudioCanal versions, as well as variations in the trinkets that the respective companies offer, but from a standpoint of pure content, Shout!’s has everything that you could possibly want. Given the fact that it has a superior encode compared to StudioCanal’s UHD, to say nothing of the new Atmos remix and a restored version of the original mono, this Shout! Factory set is the clear winner between the two. It gets the highest possible recommendation.
- Stephen Bjork