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Salem's Lot (TV Movie 1979) - Plot Summary Poster

(1979 TV Movie)

Plot

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Summaries

  • The successful writer Benjamin "Ben" Mears returns to his hometown Salem's Lot, Maine, expecting to write a new novel about the Marsten House. Ben believes that the manor is an evil house that attracts evil men since the place has many tragic stories and Ben saw a ghostly creature inside the house when he was ten. Ben finds that the Marsten House has just been rented to the antique dealers Richard K. Straker and his partner Kurt Barlow that is permanently traveling. Ben meets the divorced teacher Susan Norton that is living with her parents and they have a love affair. Ben also gets close to her father Dr. Bill Norton and his former school teacher Jason Burke. When people start to die anemic, Ben believes that Straker's partner is a vampire. But how to convince his friends that he is not crazy and that is the truth?

  • Young novelist returning home to Salem's Lot after many years is disturbed by the strange behaviour of its people. He begins to believe that the source of the trouble may be the eerie old Marsten House that overlooks the town.

  • Sinister events bring together a writer fascinated with an old hilltop house, a suave antiques dealer whose expertise goes beyond bric-a-brac and the dealer's "partner" - a vampire bent on draining the local bloodlines.

  • Salem's Lot is a town which a new member, Mr. Straker, has taken as his new "home", and has a mysterious partner, namely Mr. Barlow. Not too long after Straker arrives in Salem's Lot, people start disappearing from sight and dying from odd causes, and no one is sure why, including Ben Mears who is in town to write a new book on the town's rumored haunted house called the Marsten House, which overlooks the town and hides a terrible secret about to be unleashed.

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  • A novelist and a young horror fan attempt to save a small New England town which has been invaded by vampires.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • A brief prologue shows a man and a boy in a Mexican town. They are collecting holy water inside a Catholic church, and one bottle seems to glow with a strange supernatural light, a signal that "they've found us again." This event is shown out of chronological order, taking place after the main events of the film.

    The man is Ben Mears (David Soul), a writer who grew up in the small New England town of Salem's Lot, Maine. Ben has returned to Salem's Lot to explore the traumatic roots of his childhood. He intends to write a novel about an ominous house that overlooked the town of Salem's Lot, visible from all areas of the village and shrouded in a history of death, murder, and mental decay. The main resident of the house was Hubie Marsten, a bootlegger who was suspected in the mysterious disappearances of several local young boys. As a child, Ben was haunted by the idea of what could have occurred in the house; as a young boy, he went into the abandoned house on a dare, and imagined that he saw Hubie Marsten's corpse, which opened its eyes and looked at him.

    Ben hopes to rent the house itself and stay there, but he finds that another newcomer to Salem's Lot has beat him to the punch; a stark looking man named Straker (James Mason) has already rented the abandoned house as a home for himself and his "business partner", a certain Kurt Barlow (Reggie Nalder).

    The beginning section of the film deals with Ben's return to Salem's Lot and the people he meets. Finding the Marsten house unavailable, he rents a room in a boarding house run by Eva Miller. Ben reconnects with an old teacher of his from high school, Jason Burke, who remembers Ben fondly and is glad to see him. The rest of the town seems suspicious of Ben, not only because he is from the city, but also that his wife has recently died in a motorcycle accident where Ben was driving. By chance, Ben meets Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedilia), a young schoolteacher, and begins a romance with her. Susan has an estranged boyfriend, Ned Tebbets, and she tells Ben that Ned will not leave her alone, even though she has ended their relationship.

    Ben has a strange encounter with Straker when he approaches the Marsten house one day and comes face to face with the man just outside the grounds. Straker gives him a strange look and simply says "Good evening" before leaving. The man who has rented the house to Straker, Larry Crockett (Fred Willard) knows nothing of Straker's business partner, Barlow, and in fact has never seen him. Straker and Barlow intend to open an antique shop, which they have also rented in the small business section of Salem's Lot. At the grand opening of the shop, Barlow is still nowhere to be seen, and Straker tells Ben that Barlow is off on a buying trip in Europe. Ben sees a teenage boy in the shop, Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin), and this is the boy that was with him in Mexico in the prologue. As of yet they do not know one another, but they exchange a brief glance.

    Mark is a fan of horror fiction, monsters, and magic. Mark's father is concerned that his son's fascination with these dark subjects could signal a problem, but Mark seems to be a bright, studious boy. He has a part in a pageant that depicts the founding of Salem's Lot, and one evening he has two friends over, Danny Glick (Brad Savage) and his younger brother Ralphie (Ronnie Scribner). On their way home from Mark's house, the boys take a short cut through the woods and a mysterious wind blows up. They become separated and someone attacks Ralphie.

    Cully Sawyer is a trucker who has been hired by Straker to pick up a crate that is arriving by boat, and he is instructed to deliver it to the Marsten house. Instead, Cully hires two other men to do the job, Mike Ryerson (Geoffrey Lewis) and Ned Tebbets (Barney McFadden). Cully needs the night to himself in order to spy on his wife, Bonnie (Julie Cobb), who works for Larry Crockett. Cully has heard a rumor that Bonnie is having an affair with Crockett, and invites him over to the house whenever Cully is gone. As he lurks in the bushes outside their home, sure enough Bonnie calls Crockett and he arrives shortly thereafter. Cully waits a while and then bursts in on them with a shotgun, finding them half undressed and in bed together. He is enraged but icily calm, ordering Larry out of bed and into the living room with him. Bonnie babbles on about how Larry has raped her, and even though Cully knows better, he pretends to question Larry about whether he is a rapist or not. Cruelly, he has Larry place the barrel of the shotgun in his mouth, then pulls the trigger--and the chambers are empty and unloaded. Terrified and humiliated, Larry bolts from the house, but he is intercepted at his car by a shadowy figure that grabs him, unseen by Cully or anybody else.

    The parents of Danny and Ralphie Glick phone Mark's house when the boys don't return home. While Mr. Glick is on the phone with Mr. Petrie, Danny stumbles into the back yard of the Glicks and collapses. Ralphie is nowhere to be found and Danny is incoherent.

    Susan has Ben over to the house for dinner, where her mother reveals in a private moment that she is suspicious of Ben because of his reputation as a "radical" and also because of the death of his wife. She also tells Susan that she wishes she would give Ned another chance. Ben seems to get along well enough with Susan's father, Bill (Ed Flanders).

    Mike Ryerson and Ned Tebbets have a strange experience while making their delivery: the crate they were assigned to pick up seems to move all on its own, slowly sliding forwards in the truck until it is right up against the window of the cab. The crate also seems impossibly cold, as if it's frozen. Ryerson and Tebbets are nervous about delivering the crate to the Marsten house; Straker has left instructions that the crate is to be carried into the basement of the rundown mansion, but neither man wants to venture down there. After the crate is deposited, the men hear footsteps from upstairs in the house, and they both run in terror. Straker had requested that the door be locked with a chain and padlock, but Ned is too terrified to go back into the basement; he tosses the chain and padlock into the basement and both men flee the premises.

    The figure that enters the basement from upstairs is Straker, carrying a small package wrapped in black plastic. He places it on a table and unwraps it, revealing the body of Ralphie Glick.

    Susan and Ben are sharing a romantic night in a secluded place near a lake when they unexpectedly hear a vehicle pull up nearby and another speed off. When they investigate, they find Larry Crockett sitting behind the wheel of his car, dead.

    The next day brings an organized search for Ralphie Glick, of which Ben willingly participates, despite the fact that he knows he is considered a suspect because he is a stranger. While combing the woods near where Ralphie disappeared, Ben finds a small swatch of black clothing on some shrubbery. Straker, who always wears a black suit, is immediately under suspicion. Constable Gillespie (Kenneth McMillan) visits Straker at the antique store and questions him, particularly about the elusive Mr. Barlow. Gillespie requests Straker's black suits for forensic purposes and Straker agrees.

    That night, Danny Glick awakens to find a dense fog outside his bedroom window. From out of the mist, the figure of his brother Ralphie materializes, now looking pale and evil with glowing eyes, hovering through the air and scratching at the window with his long fingernails. Entranced, Danny opens the window and Ralphie floats inside, hovering menacingly over him. The next day, Danny is admitted to the hospital with "pernicious anemia", due to a sudden loss of blood.

    Things rapidly degenerate in Salem's Lot, as various townsfolk disappear or take ill. Danny Glick is victimized once again in his hospital bed by Ralphie, who hovers through the window at night the same way. This time we see Ralphie bare his sharp teeth and bite Danny on the neck. The next day, a nurse finds Danny dead in his bed. The townspeople attend his funeral, during which Mrs. Glick faints from grief. Ben and Mark see one another at the funeral and exchange glances once again. As the mourners leave and Mike Ryerson fills in Danny's grave, the sun fades behind clouds, and Mike responds as if in a trance. He leaps down into the grave and opens the coffin, revealing Danny's body, the eyes wide open and glowing. As Mike looks up at the sky, Danny sits up and bites him on the neck.

    Ben discusses the nature of evil with Jason Burke as they have dinner in a tavern. He feels as if the Marsten house itself is the personification of evil, and that it has attracted evil men to itself once more. Jason is skeptical of Ben's theory. Their conversation is interrupted by Mike Ryerson, who suddenly falls onto their table, behaving erratically. He seems dazed and ill, and barely coherent. He complains of bad dreams, and admits that he fell asleep in the cemetery and stayed there all night. As Mike talks, Jason notices two puncture wounds on his throat, the telltale mark of vampires. Mike cannot remember where he got the wounds. Jason invites Mike to stay the night at his house, and puts him to bed in a guest bedroom.

    In the middle of the night, Mark Petrie is visited by Danny Glick, now a vampire himself. Unlike Ralphie, Danny speaks to Mark, whispering "Open the window, Mark!" while clawing at the glass. Mark becomes entranced, too, but being a horror fan, he understands the ways to ward off a vampire. Breaking the spell, Mark grabs ahold of a crucifix and holds it up to the glass. Danny recoils from it and fades away into the night. The commotion awakens Mark's parents, but Mark says nothing to them about what he has seen, instead telling them he had a nightmare.

    At Jason's house, Jason suffers a nightmare and imagines that he feels a presence in the next room where Mike is sleeping. He awakens and phones Eva's boarding house. Eva summons Ben to the phone, and Jason begs him to come over right away, and to bring a crucifix. Ben, who is an atheist, does not have any religious icons, but he gets a cross from Eva. Eva is perplexed by this; "Mr. Burke's people aren't Catholic, they're Lutheran!" By the time Ben reaches Jason's, the sun has risen. Together they go into Mike's room and find him dead. The window is wide open, and Jason insists that it was closed and locked. Ben isn't quick to embrace the concept of vampires, but the fact that Jason believes it seems to suggest to him that it's possible. He tells Jason that they would both be ruined if they approached others with the idea that vampires had come to Salem's Lot.

    When Ben returns to Eva's boarding house, Ned Tebbets is waiting for him and attacks him in a jealous rage. Ned beats Ben so badly that he is taken to the hospital, while Ned is taken to jail. That night, Jason is alone in his house and he hears someone in the guest bedroom. Carrying a crucifix, he slowly goes upstairs and looks into the room, and he sees Mike Ryerson sitting there in a rocking chair, now a vampire. Suddenly he looks up at Jason and begins to menace him, speaking in a way that was utterly unlike Mike in life. He commands Jason to look into his eyes, but Jason resists and frightens Mike away with the cross. Jason immediately suffers a heart attack, managing to summon an ambulance before collapsing.

    When Ben comes to in the hospital, Susan tells him that Jason is in the hospital with him. Additionally, several bodies have disappeared, and Mrs. Glick has died of "anemia". Ben sets out to prove to others and himself the existence of vampires. He gets Bill Norton to accompany him to the coroner's office so that they may view Marjorie Glick's body and watch for signs of resurrection. Before they leave, Ben tells Susan that about the threat of vampires, and she reacts with shocked disbelief. Bill, who is a doctor, simply refuses to accept the idea that vampires could exist, but he goes with Ben to the coroner anyway. Ben forms a makeshift cross using tongue depressors, and as he recites the only passage from the Bible that he knows, Psalm 23, Marjorie Glick begins to show signs of life. While Bill is in the next room, she begins to shake and then sits up, moaning Danny's name and hissing when she sees Ben. Bill walks into the room and Marjorie attacks both of them; Ben manages to ward her off with the cross, which burns into the flesh of her forehead, and she vanishes.

    Ben returns to the Norton house with a very stunned Bill Norton, who now realizes that the threat is real. Susan has followed Ben's instructions and draped the outside of the house with Hawthorne, thought to be a talisman against vampires. He tells Susan he wants her to take her mother and go to Boston immediately.

    Meanwhile, Ned Tebbets is lying in his cot at the jail when a figure cloaked in black enters the locked cell. Ned is terrified by what he sees; the figure is Barlow, revealed at last as a hideous, centuries-old vampire with inhuman bluish skin and glowing eyes. Barlow attacks him immediately.

    The Petries are conferring with the local Catholic priest, Father Callahan (James Gallery), at their home. It appears to be a counseling session for Mark, who seems to have gone to his parents and told them about seeing Danny Glick at his window after all. The Petries do not believe this and think Mark imagined it because of his obsession with horror movies. While they are talking, a paranormal experience occurs; the house begins to shake for no apparently reason, and the windows implode. A small dark shape hurtles through the kitchen window and lands on the floor, slowly enlarging until it becomes Barlow. He lunges at the Petries and kills them instantly by breaking their necks. Straker enters the house and confronts Father Callahan. Mark runs to his parents and finds that they are dead, and blindly goes to attack Barlow. Barlow instead grabs Mark and holds him at bay, threatening to cut his throat with his sharp fingernails. Barlow seems to be completely mute, communicating instead through Straker. Straker offers Father Callahan a trade; Barlow will spare Mark's life tonight if Callahan will surrender to Barlow and put down his crucifix and face Barlow based solely on the priest's faith and will. Barlow keeps his part of the bargain and releases Mark, who curses him and promises to kill him for murdering his parents. Barlow then easily overpowers Callahan, whose faith has been shaken by Straker's words. The cross he is holding loses its power as Callahan's faith weakens, and Barlow crushes it.

    The next day, Ben tries to round up help to fight Barlow, but numerous people have either fled town or have died. Constable Gillespie even abandons the Lot, fleeing with his family in a station wagon. Before he leaves, he gives Ben his gun. Susan is supposed to leave town with her mother, but instead she goes up to the Marsten house, seemingly entranced by the idea that there could be something supernatural going on in Salem's Lot. She sees Mark Petrie lurking around the grounds, and she follows him into the house. Mark tells her that he's going to kill Barlow, but Susan pleads with him to leave. Suddenly, Straker appears and subdues Mark, glaring menacingly at Susan. When Mark regains consciousness, he finds himself bound tightly with ropes by Straker, who intends to keep him tied up until sundown, when he will surely become a victim for Barlow. Susan is nowhere to be found, and Straker tells Mark he took Susan "to meet the man she came here to meet".

    Left alone, Mark manages to escape from his bonds and runs from the house, running into Ben and Bill Norton in front of the Marsten house. They have come to destroy Barlow and Straker; instead, Mark stays with them and goes back inside to help. Straker appears and kills Norton by impaling him on a large sculpture of antlers. Ben shoots Straker with his gun and Straker finally dies. When they go into the basement to search for Barlow's coffin, they realize too late that the stairs have been removed, and they fall into the cellar, hurting themselves in the process. They find Barlow's coffin inside a root cellar, surrounded by some of the vampires who used to be residents of the Lot. Mike Ryerson and Larry Crockett are here, and a few others. They are dormant because the sun is still up, but after Ben and Mark drag the coffin out into the basement, the sun has gone down. The vampires begin to rise, and Mark is only able to hold them off by temporarily locking them in the root cellar. Barlow awakens, too, but Ben is able to struggle with him and hammer a wooden stake through his heart. Barlow immediately disintegrates into dust, but seems to laugh at Ben as he wonders aloud about Susan.

    Ben and Mark pour gasoline on the Marsten house and set it ablaze, burning the vampires inside and hoping that the flames carry into the near-deserted town itself.

    The final segment of the film repeats the opening sequence; Mark and Ben are now in Mexico, presumably on the run from vampires. A glowing bottle of holy water signals that one of them has found them again. As Mark and Ben return to their bungalow, Ben seems to expect what is waiting for him inside, and he goes in alone. Susan is lying on the bed inside the hut with her eyes closed. "You were so difficult to find!" she whispers. When she opens her eyes, they glow; she is a vampire. Ben knows this already and when he leans down to kiss her, he impales her with a wooden stake. From here, Mark and Ben move on, presumably still pursued by the vampires of Salem's Lot.

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