Salem's Lot (1979 TV Movie)
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David Soul manages to become a vampire slayer in the tightest jeans imaginable. Even faulty jeep doors and vengeful plumbers can't hold him back from probing into the secrets of the old, suspicious New England town of Jerusalem's Lot. What compels him is as fascinating as what he uncovers.
The townsfolk range from a shapely boarding house owner to a deliciously smarmy real estate agent to a truly moving school teacher looking for a way out of nowhere. SALEM'S LOT makes you feel you are among friends, sadly, a community of doomed ones. Mood is everything. If you let it, SALEM'S LOT will get under your skin and seep into your nightmares.
There are moments of true horror: the floating Glick brother window knockers, the caretaker in the creaky rocking chair, Marjorie Glick rising from the dead, the vampires vying for Mark's tender neck. Just a few great scenes in a chilling, memorable film.
SALEM'S LOT is the perfect complement to a sleepy, rainy afternoon at home alone. By nightfall, dare to leave a window ajar as the fog rolls in and the undead fatefully rise to quench their thirst.
James Mason is elegance personified as the "Renfield" character who sticks out like a sore thumb in this tight-knit community and makes himself the object of suspicion when he moves into the local haunted house and opens up an antique shop. His European accent, expensive suits and somewhat prissy manners make him a hot item of gossip. So too does the arrival of Ben Mears also cause local tongues to start wagging. Mears was born and raised in Salems Lot, having moved away as a small child. He returns as a semi-successful author and a recent widower, haunted by childhood memories of the Marsten House - the local haunted house in which James Mason now resides. Yet another outsider is Mark, a new teen in town with a morbid collection of horror movie paraphernalia. These three characters are drawn together by force as more people go missing and the small town residents, with their narrow vision, cannot accept what is really happening. It is up to the outsiders - the author who knows, the teenager who believes and the human who is a monster - to solve the mystery.
When the vampire finally appears, it is a frightening, exhilarating experience. Reggie Nalder as Barlow, the ancient Master whom James Mason serves, is a disgusting parasite, a physical homage to Nosferatu with his rat-like teeth, his long bony fingers and his hypnotic eyes. He is the frosting on the cake for this excellent film. By the time he makes his appearance, it is almost unnecessary. The paranoia has already decimated the town, and the fear of the unknown is the greatest monster of all. But though he may be unnecessary, he is not unwelcome. He is a wonderful vampire, a truly hideous beast, a fine salute to what a vampire should be - ugly, vile and obscene.
This is one of my all time favorite vampire films, right up there with Nosferatu and Subspecies. To hell with whining, pretentious vampire Pretty Boys - this is the real stuff, and it doesn't get much better than this.
I give it 10 out of 10 stars!!!!!!!!!
Having said this, I do feel that the book was much, much better than the movie, and I would recommend it as one of the best vampire stories ever written (sorry, Anne Rice, but it's true). But let's be fair and realistic. It's a rare film that excels the book on which it was based. Not one of Stephen King's wonderfully (and horribly) imaginative works has EVER been committed to film in a way that has equaled the written work. Never, ever, EVER. That is something that will just never happen. If it were possible, then nobody would bother to read his books, he would become a screenwriter, and that would be a real loss for the horror genre.
Written for TV by Paul Monash, screenwriter who adapted the marvelous TV series, "V," and directed by one of the Masters of Horror, Tobe Hooper, this movie (in the extended version) closely follows Stephen King's original literary work much better than expected.
While there are campy moments, and the effects could have been much, MUCH better (it WAS post-Star Wars, after all), there are edgy, frightening moments; moments where you literally hold your breath, if you've allowed yourself to be drawn into the movie. Riddled with "scare you" and "edge of the seat" moments, this film, while a bit dated, is still scary.
I previously owned the "cut" version which aired on cable in 1979.
In writing this review, I purchased the full-length version and I must say that I was delightfully surprised. This version was so much better, followed the original work more closely, and added the depth of character development which the "short" version completely obliterated.
In the wake of the remake to be aired in 2004, I thought a fresh viewing of this movie was in order, and so it was. If you have never seen "Salem's Lot" in its 184 minute presentation, please do. It's a classic in the horror genre and will enrich your perspective of the plot by 100%.
Suspenseful and actually scares you from time to time.
It rates an 8.4/10 from...
the Fiend :.
The original captures a time when there was no internet, no cell phones. It was an eerie town, a spooky house and a time that if such an evil could infest a town, it probably would spread fast as in this film.
As naive as I am after all these years, I was actually doing searches for Salem's Lot in Maine and was surprised to know that no such place actually exist. It was just a hypothetical place created by Stephen King. However, the location was in Ferndale California where the infamous "Marsten House" still stands on a road where no other houses are and has "No Trespassing" signs everywhere. Doesn't look quite the same from what I'm told and Hollywood dressed up the outside just for the film.
Classic film, one of my brothers still refuses to watch this movie because of the memories of it scaring the hell out of him. I can't even tell you how many times I have seen it. The original actors were absolutely fantastic, David Soul, James Mason and the whole crew.
I still see the best acting in the world when Ben Mears (David Soul) is telling the story in the bar to his old school teacher (that inspired him to be a writer) about entering the house as a kid on a dare. David Soul shines on this role as if he was meant to do this part.
The same can be said about James Mason. He played the part as he was born just to do this movie.
Great movie, a classic, but why in the world does the DVD not have special features like "interviews"? I would love to see pics of the "Marsten House" today..
You take a 5-Star Horror movie and have no special features. That was my only disappointment..
Scenes that gave me nightmares as a child such as the Glick boys floating up to the windows and scratching on it; Mike Ryerson in the graveyard and sitting in the rocking chair; Ben Mears describing his childhood memory of the Marsten House to the "teacher"; the delivery of Barlow's crate ... etc..etc. All these scenes were built on atmosphere.
Anyone can make a film to shocks and grosses people out, but only the great ones know how to create memorable scenes and give millions of kids nightmares just on suspense and atmosphere all.
Salem's Lot has what it takes. Tobe Hooper did a fantastic job on this film and it is one of my favorites of all-time.
Atmospheric not in the sense that a dry ice machine has pumped a catacomb full of haze and cobwebs are strategically placed in some dark corner, but as a place lived, with naturally dark corners and tangible portents: the old dark house on the hill breathing evil, the antique shop downtown, all velvety smell and musty colors, the small town lined with porticoes bathed in the quiet of a lazy night, yet harboring secrets and vice from inside. Prying eyes staring from behind a curtain.
Oh, at some point vampires come flying through the window, and it's still fine by me, it's one of the better vampire films and at 3 hours it's better fleshed than most of them; but I am just not attuned to the whole vampire lore so I leave this part to be enjoyed best by the traditional horror fan. It is actually one of the more potent retellings of the most familiar story in this field, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was not quite Dracula but that older film with longer shadows, so I will not spoil the discovery for you.
But the first part intrigues me in stranger ways, more suggestive, with menace that goes unspoken. The small-town facade that would later resurface in Twin Peaks.
There is a notion that matters in all this, but which is not pursued at all; the writer who feels from his perspective that it was his presence that awakened evil, it's fitting that it's coming from a writer because it's a self-centered, imaginative notion, but which from our end we know is bogus. Evil was already afoot, and was never centered around him. But he wistfully imagines himself at the center so he can write about it.
So I don't know what happened with Tobe Hooper. He was never very elegant with a camera, the way Argento was or occasionally Carpenter, but he was unmatched in his feel for the aural qualities of film. He could make a room hum with evil. My guess is that, being an intuitive maker, the feel came and went, or he forgot how to tap into it (you can see as early as Eaten Alive how he seems to be desperately trying to capture again the muse that gave him Texas Massacre). Or he plainly stopped actively chasing after the right material.
This was just right for him. Only Kubrick has better adapted Stephen King to my mind.
Writer returns to his New England hometown to discover that the local haunted house is now occupied by a mysterious antique dealer and that the locals are falling victim to vampirism!
This wonderfully made mini-series is a film that I owe much to. Not only did this film make me a big fan of author Stephen King, but a fan of horror films period!
Story-wise this adaptation differs from King's novel in some ways, but it still comes off as an engulfing and down right scary tale. Director Tobe Hooper (who made the great Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974) proves that his talent for creating good horror is not just limited to the big screen. As always Hooper sets up a great atmosphere of darkness and dread that makes this movie captivating. There's scenes of terrific suspense and plenty of hair-raising chills to be found here. High kudos must be given to the makeup department on this film. The vampires in this film are simply frightening thanks to the eerily good makeup work. I have yet to see a vampire film where the blood-suckers are more disturbingly spooky than in this film. Some sequences are just unforgettable - the 'night visitors' tapping at the bedroom windows, an undead Geffory Lewis coaxing his former teacher to look at him, the horrifying attack on the Petrie household, and the taught claustrophobic cellar climax. Special mention should also go to composer Harry Sukman for his powerful music score.
The cast is another strong hold for this film. David Soul does a good performance as the writer returning home to face evil. The late-great James Mason does an astonishing turn as the sinister stranger in town. Lance Kerwin is strong as a young teen, Bonnie Bedelia is charming as Soul's love interest, Lew Ayres is confident as an old school teacher, and Reggie Nalder makes for one terrifying vampire!
An excellent and underrated classic through and through, Salem's Lot is a film not to be missed by true fans of the genre! Beware of edited versions of the film though, the full-length mini-series is the best way to see this one!
Followed by a loose sequel in 1987 and a mini-series remake in 2004.
**** out of ****
This film starred David Soul, James Mason & Lance Kerwin.
I highly recommend this film it is my favourite thing by Stephen King, this film is on for 3 hours but so worth it, you won't want to get up until the 2 discs are over.
There was a time when I thought the filmmaker added a heartbeat to the audio until discovered the heart I was hearing was MY OWN. Do not let others tell you the film is dated (it is) and that it is slow to develop (it is). This film is a real treat in that you get into some really amusing characters, which is important to films of the vampire genre where human relationships are the path of transmission for what is a contagious disease. Hooper creates a slow escalation of anxiety that makes the frightening moment all that much more impactful. (SCENE SPOILERS COMING) Ned Ryerson approaching and standing over the grave of Danny Glick before he surprises everyone by jumping in. The sound of the rocking chair from the upstairs bedroom prompting Jason Burke's ascent up the stairs. Milky mist-draped Ralphie Glick floating outside his brother's bedroom, scratching eerily at the window. (My wife makes me mute the film because the scratching sends chills down our spines).
For vampire iconography, nothing compares to Salem's Lot (1979). Not Fright Night. Not Lost Boys. Not Buffy. Not Twilight. Not True Blood. Not Underworld. Not Interview with a Vampire. Not Return to Salem's Lot nor Salem's Lot (2004). If you want a truly supernatural vampire -- the essence of evil not of this world -- this is the film for you. Vampires do not attend high school proms or make business deals in this film. These vampires are wholly, and by that I mean unholy, inhuman, but nor are they animals. They are supernatural agents. For a so-called dated film, the effects (those fluorescent contact lenses and fangs) are superior to anything I have seen since.
So if you are looking for a couple hours of sustained creepiness, this film delivers like none other.
However the best performance in the film has to be Reggie Nalder in the role of Kurt Barlow. He is without a doubt the most terrifying vampire I have ever seen in any film before. His makeup effects are absolutely wonderful and have yet to be outdone. The musical score also deserves recognition for contributing to the suspenseful, chilling atmosphere that the entire film has. The film is over three hours long but you are so engaged and captivated while watching it, that the time length goes by quickly and ends up only feeling half as long as it actually is. It felt like the perfect blend of classic horror style and modern horror. The atmosphere was so perfect that it felt like you were actually living the events of the film along with the characters. Very few films have that effect for me. Based on the novel by Stephen King who is a mastermind of the horror genre and directed by the legendary Tobe Hooper, there is no way this film could possibly be anything less than amazing. It is truly a perfect horror film and there are very few like it.
The scariness is particularly notable given that this was a TV miniseries - there was therefore never going to be anything particularly gory or visually horrific in it (although Reggie Nalder's Nosferatu-style head vampire Barlow is pretty nasty). But the claustrophobic atmosphere of slowly escalating horror, which made King's original novel so effective, is well duplicated here in audiovisual form. As the vampiric influence spreads, there is a genuine sense of prejudice.
David Soul is an adequate protagonist and Bonnie Bedelia is an attractive damsel in distress, and all the cast do well in the many, many incidental roles. But the film belongs to James Mason, playing a role - essentially, the vampire's "familiar" - unlike anything he had played before, and playing it with gleeful and malevolent relish.
This was strong, strong stuff for telly back in 1979, and still packs a scary wallop.
One of the chief criticisms of this movie, which was actually aired as a 2 or 3 night miniseries, is that it is too long. To appease the critics and fans who thought so, a version was produced, trimmed down to 2 hours. I think it was called "Salem's Lot: The Movie". I can tell you from personal experience that if you watch that version, you are not going to get the full effect. The miniseries is slow, deliberate, and does a great job of quietly ratcheting up the horror until the final climactic scene.
So if you like good horror, and especially if you've had it with the "touchy, feely" romanticized vampire that we seem to have in over abundance these days, then this movie is a must see. If you don't want to devote 3hrs to it in one sitting, watch it over 2 nights, as it was originally intended.
Besides the wonderful job done by the cast, much of the movie's success can also be attributed to the believable and intelligent dialogue between the characters.
One puzzling plot hole: Knowing full well that they had to get to their prey before dusk, why did the hero and the doctor wait until so late into the day? Wide-awake vampire slayers go into action at the crack of dawn, don't they, unless they are in the land of the midnight sun? Or it's convenient for plot development.
And how about that door on the Jeep. Was that an intentional running gag?
For a television movie this will stand up well over time and already has.
Salem's Lot is an almost unknown milestone in horror films. This superb combination of the talents of Tobe Hooper and Stephen King bridges the gap between the Hammer-style films of the 60's and the modern vampire films. Two things to especially note:
(1) This takes place in Everytown, USA and the cinematography reflects the ordinary turned extraordinary (which is the same effect achieved by Bram Stoker's original writing for the audience of his time.) It begins looking almost like a Rockford Files episode and goes dark from there. But even the climax in the evil Marsten house looks *real*, just as you would imagine an old decrepit house to look. You can almost smell the dust. Hey, this was the seventies, the decade of naturalistic lighting. Everything coming out of Hollywood now looks just that - like Hollywood.
(2) It is a shame that anyone today viewing Salem's Lot already knows that is about vampires because when it first aired on TV, the unknown aspect is what made the first half so creepy. Now you just sit there waiting for the vampires to show up. (If I thought that even one person might read this without knowing it was about vampires, I wouldn't write this.) The advertising for the show made no mention of vampires and the effect worked well. I was ten years old when I first saw this. I had seen at least a dozen other vampire flicks - Noseratu, Lugasi, the Hammer films - and I had no clue that this was about vampires. All I knew was that something creepy was going in this town and it was getting creepier and creepier. Only in the second episode when you see someone get bit in the neck did it finally click, "Oh my god, they're vampires." You realize it right about the same time that the main characters do. Highly effective.
Also, superb performances by David Soul, Lew Ayres, James Mason.
The novel "Salem's Lot" by Stephen King, happens to be my favourite novel of all time. And the adaptation to the small screen was not disappointing.
The main vampire, Barlow, doesn't appear till three-quarters into the film. This movie is scary because you do cannot see the Master vampire (not till much later of course). It is very eerie, thinking that something, somewhere is behind the scenes, sucking their blood. The protagonists in the story have no control over this, and eventually, Salem's Lot is turned into a ghost town.
The tension is incredible at certain points. I like the scene when Mears (David Soul) is preparing a handmade crucifix whilst the doctor is making a phone call in another room. Marjory Glick rises from the operating table and turns on Mears! Brilliant!
The acting is good, and I am a bit puzzled why a lot of critics say that David Soul was not ideally casted as Ben Mears. I have to say in his defense, that I thought he was a very good choice. Perhaps the critics however were thinking of "Starsky and Hutch" whilst writing their review of this movie.
I rated this movie 9 out of 10: it is one of my favourite horror movies of all time!!!