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Some films scared me half to death when I was a kid. Sure, I saw my fair share of horror goodness back in the day (who didn’t?), and all have probably affected me to some degree in later life. Topping the list was Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series, The Thing (another John Carpenter film), A Nightmare on Elm Street and of course The Fog. Is this a good DVD for the forthcoming Halloween festivities? Read on.

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Movie
Forgive the comparison, but portions of The Fog have always reminded me of the old Scooby Doo cartoons. Dark, occasionally creepy and set in predictably remote locations to create an intensified illusion of fear. This obvious technique of positioning these characters in an isolated abyss more often that not works and Carpenter really nails it with this effort. As for the story he wields? Well, it’s moderately simple but does offer some interesting twists and turns to keep you guessing; it goes a little something like this. The good folk of Antonio Bay are celebrating their town’s one hundred years since foundation, but while the people prepare for this event, a strange fog engulfs everything in sight. It isn’t long before numerous savage killings raises consternation as to what is happening to them. It becomes a fight for survival against this unknown terror, but what does it want, and who or what is it hunting?

One scene in this film that has endured for over a decade and really sums up this whole film in my mind is the ‘ship at sea’ sequence. A rusty old ship bobbing up and down on the calm sea, miles from land, naturally, sights a large mist moving towards them from the darkened horizon. When it eventually consumes them, things get real nasty. Every time I see this, the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It is a truly great scene and if it doesn’t at least creep you out a little, you must truly be made of steal. Scenes like that are scattered throughout the film (the fog’s advance on the lighthouse is great too) but the ending may leave something to be desired. I found it to be marginally interesting at the time but it does raise one’s eyebrows slightly.

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Carpenter films always have the usual hallmarks: the semi-electronic music, cheesy death scenes and quality direction by the man himself. The Fog is no different from his numerous other classics, in fact this film is perhaps more beautifully shot and tad more stringent that Halloween and The Thing. Of course, what makes those better films are the screenplay’s that fuelled them in the first place. In this instance, this is where The Fog suffers. In fact, it is its only real flaw. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad or a product of loose imagination, but rather a tad clunky and perhaps a fraction too cheesy in places. In lacking the cohesion and stability of Carpenter’s other efforts, The Fog was ultimately overlooked. Perhaps somewhat shamefully, but overlooked nonetheless.

Video
Shot in an aspect of 2.35:1 and with some touch-ups, The Fog looks pretty good considering its ageing years. I say ‘pretty good’ because it is a far cry from perfection. There’s loads of grain splashed about and the image can often look dirty. I also noticed a good deal of out of focus and blurry images. I am not sure if these were just filmmaking faults or lazy production issues, but they do hamper the DVD somewhat.

One thing to note about Carpenter films is the scarily steady camera he uses. In many ways, this filming technique highlights more image problems than you would perhaps notice from another director with speedy action scenes and camera tricks. At times, you could almost freeze-frame the entire movie; it’s that steady. As a result of this, added grain and rough footage seem more commonplace. On the positive side, this is one of those films that stand to benefit from such sins.

The use of dark colours actually does look great here, perhaps a little too dark for other films, but its fantastically atmospheric here. Overall, I have mixed thoughts on the video transfer; it has some good points and some weaker ones. Generally though, it is good and will only really disappoint hardcore a/v fanatics.

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Audio
One thing I noticed upon selecting the ‘Setup’ screen was the vast torrent of audio options, English 5.1, English Mono, German 5.1 and Mono to name but a few. Selecting the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track was my preferred choice but it did nothing but disappoint me. This track often sounded like it was recorded in 1980, with all the muffled voices and quieter sound-levels throughout. LFE, directional audio…bahh. It wasn’t even too good with front-loaded audio, let alone rear and lower frequencies. I have to confess to experiencing one of the worst Dolby tracks in years with this DVD—a total letdown.

Extras
Exactly why this two-disc set needed a second disc is quite beyond me. The second disc houses only one lengthy feature and several smaller ones, but nothing that couldn’t have been squeezed onto disc one in the first place. An odd decision indeed.

After you’ve seen the feature, John Carpenter’s audio commentary, co-joined by producer/writer Debra Hill is one of the most awkward and fragmented commentaries I have had the misfortune of hearing. Both drone endlessly about the locations, sets and never really going deeper into certain filmic aspects. It is worth listening to (though caution is advised), but drove me crazy after a while.

Let’s move on to the second disc. ‘Documentary: Tales from the Mist’ is a twenty-five minute feature documenting the obvious aspects of production. Included for interview are most of the principal cast and some of the folk from behind the cameras. Not the most interesting or fascinating of material considering it’s the biggest on the disc.

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Also included here is the pretty cool ‘Original 1980 Documentary’. It only last for several minutes and the image quality is dire, but it offers up some decent interview material. It’s very dated by today’s standards, but its inclusion was a good thought.

‘The Storyboard Comparison’ of the ship sequence was somewhat tedious to watch and thankfully only lasts for less then two minutes. As usual with features of this kind, the screen splits into two parts, one showing the film footage, the other showing the rough storyboard scribblings.

The ‘Outtakes’ provided here should have been taken out of the DVD! This feature was horrible. It wasn’t funny; it wasn’t informative and certainly didn’t entertain.

Lastly, we have the trailers and photo galleries to round out the disc. Both are probably not worth viewing, least of all the dated trailers. The photo gallery is not much different either.

Overall
The Fog is a great seasonal film that’ll scare the pants off you if you have any sense of dread within you. Ultimately though, I think it has been shamefully overlooked and misjudged by critics over the years. It does have some problems buried within its concept and more than the occasional cheesy moment, but its great scary fun for a mature audience. For me, it will always continue to make me feel positively unnerved when I see fog drifting outside of my window.

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The disc itself is a hugely under-performing mess. While the picture can be commended and slated in equal measure, it at least holds some promising qualities. The audio and extra features lumped onto this DVD are simply otiose.


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