Directed By: Tobe Hooper
Starring: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin
Tag line: "The ultimate in terror!"
Trivia: After the mini-series aired on CBS with excellent ratings there was talk of continuing it as a regular television series
Salem’s Lot, a 1979 television mini-series based on a novel by Stephen King, is the epitome of the word “creepy”. It’s also one hell of a vampire film, a picture guaranteed to get the hairs on the back of your neck standing at attention.
Evil has come to the small New England community of Salem’s Lot, and Ben Mears (David Soul), a writer and former resident who’s recently arrived in town, is determined to find its source. Ben’s convinced his feelings of impending doom have something to do with the big, spooky mansion perched on top of a hill, which, he discovers, was just purchased by a man named Straker (James Mason), the co-proprietor of a newly-opened antique store (his partner, Barlow, is inexplicably absent). As it turns out, Straker’s arrival in town coincides with a string of mysterious deaths, in which the deceased are drained of all their blood. But when the dead start rising from their graves, Ben realizes he’s dealing with a vampire, and, with the help of teenager Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin), sets out to destroy the monster before it transforms all of Salem’s Lot into an army of the undead.
I first saw Salem’s Lot over 30 years ago on cable TV, in a truncated version (the mini-series was given a theatrical release in 1980, with an hour cut from its running time), and it gave me nightmares for a week. First off, the vampire, Barlow (Reggie Nalder), looks a lot like Max Schreck’s title character in the silent classic, Nosferatu, which makes him much more of a monster than the “traditional” vampire, a la Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee. What’s more, Salem’s Lot is filled to the breaking point with intensely frightening moments, like when Ralphie Glick (Ronnie Scribner), a young boy who has recently died, returns as a vampire to “visit” his brother, Danny (Brad Savage), hovering in the mist just outside the bedroom window, or when Mike Ryerson (Geoffrey Lewis), who’s joined the ranks of the undead, drops in on his former teacher, Jason Burke (Lew Ayres). Salem’s Lot also has one of the most effective jump scares ever, a scene set in a jail cell that gets me every single time.
These sequences, and more besides, do their part to make Salem’s Lot one of the scariest vampire movies ever committed to film.