Director George A. Romero was originally approached to direct a feature film version, but after the announcements of John Badham's Dracula (1979) and Werner Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Warner Bros. decided to turn Salem's Lot into a TV mini-series. Romero dropped out, feeling he wouldn't be able to make the film the way he wanted to with the restrictions of network television.
The exterior for the Marsten House, the film's icon, was actually a full-scale facade built upon a smaller preexisting hill-top house. In total the facade cost the production an estimated $100,000 dollars to build.
After the mini-series aired on CBS with excellent ratings there was talk of continuing it as a regular television series for a while. The idea of making Salem's Lot a TV show never materialized though.
In an interview with director Tobe Hooper, Hooper said that the makeup work on Reggie Nalder had to be constantly touched up as it would crack or fall off while the actor was performing for the camera. Hooper said that the film's finale with Barlow in his coffin required numerous takes to keep the makeup work intact during shooting.
The original novel established many motifs that Stephen King would use in his subsequent novels. It takes place in a small town in Maine, and many later stories took place in the small towns of Derry or Castle Rock. It features a much larger cast of characters than Carrie (1976) did, and most of his later books had a large cast. The main character, Ben Mears, is a professional writer, and another major character, Jason Burke, is a schoolteacher. Many of his subsequent characters were either or both. King himself also held both jobs.
The title of the novel 'Salem's Lot includes an apostrophe in front of the word Salem because the title is suppose to be short for "Jerusalem's Lot"; the actual name of the town where the story is set. To avoid confusion for the mini-series adaptation though the town is mostly referred to as "Salem's Lot" and the first apostrophe was dropped from the film's title.
Though 'Salem's Lot' was only Stephen King's second published novel, like many of his subsequent novels, it has connections to his 'Dark Tower' series. In this case, the character of Father Donald Callaghan appears in the later books of the series.
Larry Cohen wrote the first draft of the movies script but producer Richard Kobritz said Cohen's script was "really lousy" and chose Paul Monash to write the screenplay. Cohen attempted an appeal to get some writing credit on the film, but he was rejected screen credit.
The original intent was for Warner Brothers to turn Stephen King's 400 page bestseller into a feature film. Stirling Silliphant, Robert Getchell and Larry Cohen all had a go at distilling the material down to two hours' length but none of these were deemed to capture the essence of the novel. Eventually the project was handed over to Warner Brothers Television where producer Richard Kobritz felt it would work better as a TV mini-series.
In October, 2013, Intrada Records released a 2CD set of the complete film score, with alternate cues for the edited version of the film which were re-recorded for said edit, in stereo, marking the world premiere release of the score.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The biggest issue that divides fans of the novel and film is the fact that Barlow is depicted as a hissing Nosferatu-like monster in the film, rather than the speaking Dracula-like character of the novel. In an interview with Richard Kobritz he said the decision to go with the terrifying monster figure came out of concerns that a speaking, romanticized villain just wouldn't be frightening enough.