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Review: John Carpenter’s The Fog

The Fog is John Carpenter’s follow-up to Halloween (setting aside his biopic on Elvis). It’s basically a ghost story about the spectres of mariners who died in a long-ago shipwreck who come back to haunt a California coastal town. The city is having its centennial when a mysterious fog starts to appear, and then things go bump in the night, and people start getting bumped off in the fog.

As with all of Carpenter’s films, even when he’s working on a low budget, it’s beautifully made. He always shoots in anamorphic 2.35:1, a wide-screen format that has become a Carpenter trademark. It gives a film a layer of polish that can make a lower-budget film look much better. He created his own soundtrack, which also cut costs, including the iconic theme.

Like his previous films, the director made smart decisions about shooting economically, getting around any limitations by relying on strong actors. The Fog is about the community as much as the ghosts, which is reminiscent of Jaws. That’s probably its best point, and makes it a much more interesting movie to watch. It has a solid cast: he was able to bring in a lot of his go-to actors, such as Jamie Lee Curtis, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins and Charles Cypher. He also brought in Curtis’s mother Janet Leigh and veteran actor Hal Holbrook.

When Carpenter first viewed a rough cut of The Fog, he thought it was a complete disaster. He reacted by reshooting some sequences and making it a bit gorier (although it’s no gore-fest). It’s all about the atmosphere, however, with the ghosts seen as little as possible. And while it’s not as perfectly made as Halloween or some of his later films, The Fog was a big hit. Its stature has grown over the years, so while it’s not Carpenter’s favourite, it has some rabid fans. It’s certainly an effective low-budget ghost story that expands on what he did with Halloween. That film has a supernatural element, but here he goes all the way in that direction.

The Fog is getting a new UK theatrical release at the very end of October, primarily with Halloween-night screenings (details here for the screenings). It’s the first of StudioCanal’s 4K restorations of John Carpenter films to get a nationwide release, with Prince of Darkness, They Live and Escape from New York coming up within the next month. The Blu-Ray is out on 29 October, and will have a host of features, including a brand-new documentary on The Fog, plus most of the special features carried across from the US Shout! Factory release: interviews, commentary tracks, etc. A 4K ULTRA HD box set comes out the same day, which includes a CD copy of the score.

You can find me over on Psychotronic Cinema.

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