Sunday, March 17, 2013

#944. Salem's Lot (1979)

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.


James Robert Smith said...

I didn't care for the adaptation as it wrecked the version of Mr. Barlow from the novel. In fact, Mr. Barlow should have been played by James Mason who fit the description of Barlow far more than the voiceless rubber mask that they used.

That said, the later 2004 TV adaptation done with Rob Lowe was so poorly written and so terribly directed and shot that I find myself unable to describe the awfulness of it. I've never watched it through because it was so bad that I have always been unable to tolerate more than a few minutes of it at a time. The screenplay was stupid beyond all comprehension and the direction pathetic.

My Memories are made of this said...

I remember watching that show as a kid. It was the most frightening thing I have ever watched on TV since. I made my nephew watch it a couple of years back .He too agreed that it really pushed the barrier of shock and fear. I have never read the novel but might soon.

AKC92 said...

The TV version of Kurt Barlow was much better than the novel's portrayal. The TV version w Rob Lowe stayed true to the book, w terrible results.

Unknown said...

I saw this as a 13 year old kid when it originally aired on CBS way back in 1979. I remember being scared to death and had nightmares for weeks. The casting was inspired and brilliant. David Soul was utterly convincing and dynamic as Ben Mears. James Mason was brilliantly creepy and superb. Lance Kerwin as the young high school kid Mark was perfect especially since he had just starred in James at 16.And an excellent supporting performance by Bonnie Bedelia. Tobe Hooper's inspired direction really gave you the feeling that one by one Salem's Lot was being transformed into a town of The Living Dead.Memorable terrifying scenes. The Click brothers as young bloodsuckers. The visit by Barlow to the Petrie house. The old doctor's encounter with Mike Ryerson sitting in that rocking chair. Marjorie Click literally rising from the dead in the morgue. The pacing was first rate also. Don't bother with the remake with Rob Lowe. I didn't believe the story because I couldn't believe in the lead actor. You want a great scare? Get the 1979 original. I dare you not to be scared. It is still one of the best vampire movies I have ever seen. And I have been watching them for 50 years.