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The Fog: Special Edition

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After scoring a surprise hit in 1978 with Halloween, director John Carpenter and his producing/screenwriting partner Debra Hill attempted a different kind of horror movie with 1980's The Fog. The film tells the story of a mysterious mist threatening the citizens of seaside California resort town Antonio Bay, and Carpenter and Hill wanted a mood to match their subject—something more in line with H.P. Lovecraft, EC Comics, and campfire ghost stories than with the nonstop jolts of knife-wielding bogeymen. But no sooner had they wrapped production on The Fog than the post-Halloween boom of gory horror movies forced a rethinking of their film's literally atmospheric approach to fright. A few post-production re-shoots later, Carpenter and Hill had a Fog that awkwardly lurched between subtle creep-out and blood-spattered impalement-fest. Twenty years later, after a career that can generously be described as hit-and-miss, Carpenter and Hill's opportunistic injection of viscera doesn't irritate as much, in part because their lighter touches hold up. The special-edition DVD of The Fog reveals a good-looking movie, luminously photographed in striking widescreen by cinematographer Dean Cundey, with a fine Carpenter score and an unusually large cast of offbeat characters. Adrienne Barbeau stars as a lighthouse keeper and late-night jazz-radio DJ who keeps tabs on the encroaching horror; Jamie Lee Curtis plays a libertine hitchhiker who gets stuck in Antonio Bay at the wrong time; Curtis' real-life mother Janet Leigh plays the town's mayor, who prepares for a founder's-day celebration that may turn deadly; Hal Holbrook plays the local priest and holder of the documents which explain the curse about to befall them all; and John Houseman shows up for one spooky pre-credits scene as an ancient mariner whispering legends to a group of campers. The Fog's plot is convoluted and goofy, mainly because there's no way to sensibly resolve the "What's hiding in the places we can't see?" concept and the "Oh, it's pirate ghosts with meat-hooks" market concessions. Carpenter mostly tries to create an unsettling mood by having lights inexplicably come on and small objects move on their own. At times, the movie feels like one of the early Close Encounters alien visits stretched to feature length. But removed from its context as the highly anticipated follow-up to a horror classic, The Fog lingers as a crafty and loving assemblage of pulp gimmicks, played out in a location that rivals Hitchcock locales for pure eye-vacation appeal. Then there's the fog itself, which rolls over the cliffs and down the streets of Antonio Bay with inexorable menace, every bit as chilling as it was two decades ago.