JULY 17, 2013
I would kill to see the original cut of The Fog, which was assembled, deemed unworthy by John Carpenter, and reshaped into the minor classic we have today. The commentary tracks and interviews explain some of the key differences (many to the opening reel), but he also redid his score, which I'd really really like to hear. I'm sure he wasn't wrong - the resulting soundtrack is one of his all time best, in my opinion - but even the worst John Carpenter score is pretty good. If nothing else, seeing this cut would probably be beneficial to those who dismiss the finished film as a lesser JC entry - maybe they could appreciate how much it had improved.
For us folks that already know better, the new Blu from Scream Factory is a godsend. Dean Cundey's photography never looked so good, and it's the rare film of his with Carpenter that wasn't so cramped (Halloween and Escape From New York had to hide their true shooting locations; Big Trouble In Little China was primarily indoors, etc). The shots of DJ Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) are reference quality good - not bad for a 33 year old, low budget horror movie. And the improved sound lets every note of Carpenter's impossibly underrated score hit your ears gracefully, plus the low dialogue issue that plagued a few other Scream Factory releases (including the team's Halloween II) has seemingly been fixed for good.
Oh, and you get the movie itself. I get why it might not work on some; the pacing is a bit odd - especially with regards to its (story dictated) six kills, as three are wiped out in the first 20 minutes and one of the others technically occurs during the film's end credits. As Carpenter explains on the commentary, the movie has three acts (not evenly spaced): the first night that the fog and its murderous ghosts appear, the day after (where the ghosts/fog are MIA), and the second night when they come back. This means a lot of stuff has to happen fast in act 1 as they can only appear from 12-1am - we always laugh about Tom Atkins' quickness in Halloween III where he hooks up with Stacey Nelkin a day after they meet (and after a lengthy road trip), but he's even quicker here, as he picks up Jamie Lee Curtis sometime after midnight and is already in post-coitus cuddle before 1am. Dude should teach a class or something.
But some pacing/structure clunkiness aside, I really dig this one. I almost wish it wasn't coming out until October; it's such a perfect "chilly weather" movie (even though it takes place in the spring). I even turned off my lights to watch it, which I never do - it just seemed appropriate for the low-key campfire story it was emulating (spelled out in the opening scene!). And even though the ghosts are out of commission during the day, Carpenter still packs the film with decent jump scares - that one in the boat, where there's a fake jump instantly followed by real one, still works great. Speaking of which, listen carefully when Jamie Lee screams after the body falls on her - anyone else convinced that's her scream from Halloween (when she goes over the railing) dubbed into the movie? I was hoping Carpenter would mention it on the commentary (which he shares with Debra Hill) but since neither of them even seemed to remember that Charles Cyphers was in Halloween I doubt they'd remember a quick audio switcheroo.
Plus it's a treasure trove for Carpenter fans; only Escape From New York has more of his regulars appearing (all of them besides Nancy Loomis really, if you count Jamie Lee's voice as the narrator). Cyphers, Atkins, Curtis, Loomis, Barbeau, and Buck Flower are all here, plus two timers like Darwin Joston and John Strobel (the guy in Escape who gives Kurt his injection). And the rest of the cast is rounded out by greats like Hal Holbrook and Janet Leigh, so you can't really complain that their roles coulda gone to Donald Pleasence or... well, JC didn't really have any "regular" middle aged women, I guess. And it's got his all-stars behind the camera too; Cundey, editor/production designer Tommy Wallace, Ray Stella on camera, Hill producing... this and Escape are like the Rosetta Stones of his work (I've always found it kind of funny that The Thing is considered by many to be his best movie when it's remarkably low on regulars - hell he didn't even do the score himself!).
As always, Scream has ported over all of the bonus features from the previous special edition (from MGM): the Hill/Carpenter commentary (recorded around 1995) is fun, though as always with JC he tends to get obsessed with pointing out different locations within a single scene and occasionally just narrates the movie. But their memory (save for Cyphers) is pretty sharp, and he discusses the changes to the film and points out which scenes were added mere weeks before the film opened. There's a promotional behind the scenes piece created in 1980 that is amusing to watch, as well as a solid retrospective that has (then) new interviews with most of the cast and crew. Plus the outtakes and other little bits - I went over with a fine tooth comb and promise you that everything is here except for the liner notes inside the MGM DVD case.
And then there's new stuff! Jamie Lee was one of the few omissions on that older retrospective, but they make up for it here with a 20 minute interview that was shot in 2013 - and it's a must-see. Not only do they thankfully shoot her with a real background (her own house, maybe?) instead of those ugly greenscreen backdrops they use on all their other interviews, but she is wonderfully candid and tells a ton of great stories, and ends with a heartfelt message to Carpenter. It's one of the best interview pieces I've seen in a while, and certainly the best on these Scream Factory releases - do more like this! Maybe it's the more comfortable setting that got her to open up as well as she did where so many others just feel like they're telling the same stories they've told before (regardless of whether you've heard them)? Sadly, they didn't do the same for the other new interview, with Cundey - he's got the goofy backdrop, and doesn't seem to be having much fun. He doesn't focus on Fog exclusively (neither did JLC, for the record), but goes over his entire career with Carpenter, which for reasons I still don't know seem to have ended with Big Trouble in Little China (though he says he'll work with him anytime).
The other new video segment is a lengthy episode of Horror's Hallowed Grounds, where host Sean Clark takes folks around on the shooting locations as they exist today, explaining where they were used in the film and where certain things should be prior to their remodeling ("this wall wasn't here before, it was the door that they came through..."). Some of his shtick is eye-rolling, but it's certainly a fun approach to bonus features that I welcome the inclusion of, particularly in this case as it turns out that the convenience store I drive by on Laurel Canyon every time I head over the hill is the one that was seen at the beginning of the movie! Had no idea. Now I'll have to stop and steal some orange juice. Clark also moderates the new commentary track featuring Barbeau, Atkins, and Wallace, which falls silent a few times but is very charming otherwise; they're all good friends then and now, giving it a warmth that you rarely hear on these things (at one point one of them even recognizes one of the others' homes before they do - it's endearing!).
So, unsurprisingly, another winner for the Scream Factory line. Sure, they're working off of a bit of a template at this point, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? And as an OCD sufferer, if another new bonus feature meant having to leave out some of the stuff from the previous release, I'd rather not have it. I can get rid of my old DVD knowing that this has everything it gave me (and more!), unlike other special editions which always take a "start from scratch" approach. It PAINED me to get rid of my "From Crystal Lake to Manhattan" F13 DVD set when my newer editions lacked some of its supplements, but I just couldn't justify the extra shelf space. This makes "letting go" a cinch, and since Blus are thinner, gives me room for more of their releases! Everyone wins.
What say you?