Sunday 16 December 2018

The Fog / They Live ★★★★★

Courtesy of StudioCanal, this October brought long overdue 4K restorations of two of John Carpenter’s finest films – The Fog and They Live - to DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray. The films have never looked better and with the new sequel to Carpenter’s iconic masterpiece Halloween recently hitting cinemas, now is as good a time as any to revisit these twisted gems from the horror master.

Let’s start with 1980s The Fog. The film was Carpenter’s second theatrical film after 1978’s Halloween and told the story of a mysterious glowing fog that sweeps over a coastal town in California – bringing with it the vengeful ghosts of mariners who were killed in a shipwreck there, 100 years before. Immediately, I was surprised by just how well The Fog held up. I was lucky enough to experience the new restoration on the big screen at London Film Festival this October and, despite having seen the film many times, was on the edge of my seat throughout. It feels slightly more polished and confident than Carpenter’s iconic theatrical debut with some phenomenal visuals – the silhouette ghosts are just as terrifying today as I imagine, they were in 1980. The film’s cast – including Carpenter’s then-wife Adrienne Barbeau and Halloween star Jamie Lee Curtis – are all superb but the real star of the show is Carpenter himself. No, not his cameo at the beginning of the film, but his iconic score. Far scarier than his Halloween theme, the music fills me with dread whenever I hear it. The Fog is an early masterpiece for the maestro and one of his finest traditional horrors. Carpenter took his filmography in many different directions in the years that followed…

8 years later, Carpenter teamed up with wrestler Roddy Piper to give us some of the most iconic imagery in horror – and certainly one of the most quoted lines in cinema history. I am, of course, referring to Piper’s ad-libbed “I came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass”. But there is a whole film around this line of dialogue, and although it does show its age a little more than The Fog, it still holds up as a really fun satirical action horror. The film follows a drifter who discovers the ruling class are actually aliens concealing their appearance and manipulating people to spend money, breed, and accept the status quo with subliminal messages – only visible when our hero wears a mysterious pair of sunglasses. Yes, it’s ridiculous. But the satire is surprisingly relevant, and the action is still surprisingly exciting, especially as we get into the bullet-filled final act. But the most infamous action in They Live can be found in the uncomfortably long alley brawl between the protagonists, often found on all-time lists of the best fight scenes in cinema. It’s hilarious, fun, scary and action-packed. It’s just pure entertainment and, in my opinion, one of Carpenter’s finest films. But in a filmography as rich as Carpenter’s, choosing the finest is like picking your favourite child.

The Fog and They Live are an amazing pair of films that both hold up ridiculously well for different reasons. The Fog is still a terrifying 90 minutes of horror, while They Live is just as over-the-top and hilariously satirical as it’s always been. John Carpenter is simply one of the finest filmmakers in the history of cinema and this year has proven to be a fantastic time for a fan. Not only are we getting a large amount of 4K re-releases of his finest films – StudioCanal are dropping Escape From New York and Prince Of Darkness next – but we’ve also had the incredible Halloween sequel with a new score from Carpenter himself. What a time to be alive. This incredible pair of masterpieces have never looked better, and are both worth a revisit. 

Sam Love

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