Dave Galanter
December 1st 1969 - December 12th 2020
He was loved.

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Nose Norton

Location: Plainville
Member Since: Sat May 17, 2008
Posts: 6,478
Subj: Creature Feature 212: Salem's Lot (1979)
Posted: Sat Oct 31, 2020 at 10:01:10 pm EDT (Viewed 82 times)

I had originally started watching 1970s vampire movies I'd never seen before, like Count Yorga, VampireNosferatuCaptain Kronos - Vampire HunterBlood For Dracula and The Velvet Vampire, but after watching Salem's Lot, I learned of the Vampire episode of Starsky & Hutch and switched gears to TV vampires.  However, since it's Halloween, I figured I should pick a TV vampire with more bite.

On November 17& 24, 1979, CBS aired the miniseries Salem's Lot, an adaptation of Stephen King's 1975 novel.  Produced by Warner Bros. Television and directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre-1974), the movie starred David Soul (Starsky & Hutch), James Mason (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea-1954), and Lew Ayres (Donovan's Brain).

Writer Ben Mears (Soul) returns to Salem's Lot, Maine, to write a book about the haunted Marsten House, which was recently bought by business partners Kurt Barlow and Richard Straker (Mason).  It turns out that Barlow is a vampire and Straker is his caretaker, setting him up in America.  Mears investigates the house, and Straker, as the vampire begins to attack the locals, creating more vampires.  Mears and Mark Petrie, whose parents were killed by the vampire, search the House with the intent of destroying the undead creatures.  They're able to stake Barlow but must go on the run from the rest of the vampires.

I believe I first saw Salem's Lot when it premiered on cable, as I remember some significant advertising.  This is the first time I've seen it since then, though, and I found it really good.  The run time is 183 minutes, but it moves along very well, never feeling dull.  The characters are interesting, especially the secondary characters, and the mix of haunted house and vampire elements is excellent.  The makeup and special effects are very successful.  Focusing on Straker and keeping scenes of Barlow to a minimum makes the scenes with the vampire more striking, as I think too much monster would've hurt it's effectiveness.  Plus, James Mason is great at relaying sophisticated menace.  He's a great villain.  
David Soul and Susan Norton as his love interest are fine though not spectacular.  Lance Kerwin as Mark Petrie is below average.
The theme of a vampire in small town Maine makes for a rather unique story and showcases some of King's oddball local characters.  They make for pretty creepy looking vampires, too.  The ending was intense.
Salem's Lot stands up with some of the best big screen vampire movies.

Memorable Moments:

The opening.  It shows the heroes on the run from the vampires in Mexico and then flashes back to start the story in Maine.  It's a great set up to draw the viewer in.

The floating vampire boy at the window.  Mark is shown as a lover of horror movies and makeup effects and his friend who has been turned into a vampire shows up at his window.  The practical effects are excellent as fog, light and music help to make the scene really creepy.

Barlow's attack on Mark's family.  The scenes builds and builds as the vampire slowly appears in the kitchen.  It only takes seconds but feels like it was longer.  His appearance is shocking but killing the parents with a head-clunking made me chuckle a bit.

The vampire woman in the morgue.  David Soul is able to sell his fear as the woman moves and then rises from under the sheet.  The purple-ish skin, yellow eyes, and bloody fangs look great.  Her destruction from Mears pushing a cross on her forehead, though, is pretty weak with just a fade-out.

Mears and Mark destroying Straker and Barlow.  The house is super creepy.  I like how they don't just happen upon Barlow's coffin.  The vampire actually has defenses when he sleeps.  You start to fear for the heroes as Mears hammers the stake into Barlow and you see the other vampires waking up behind them.  This was the only scene that I remember from the book, which was even more intense. 

Stephen King, of course, is known as a master of horror.  He's written 61 books and over 200 short stories, several of which have been adapted to film, including outright horror classics like Carrie (1976), The Shining (1980) and It (2017), fan favorites like Creepshow (1982) and Pet Sematary (1989) and some clunkers like Maximum Overdrive (1986) and Under The Dome (2014).

Salem's Lot features several familiar faces.  Other stars appearing in the miniseries include Bonnie Bedelia (Die Hard-1988), Ed Flanders (St. Elsewhere-1982-88), Fred Willard (Real People-1979, Modern Family-2009-20), Julie Cobb (a "redshirt" killed in Star Trek-"By Any Other Name"), Geoffrey Lewis (Every Which Way But Loose-1978), Elisha Cook Jr. (The Maltese Falcon-1941, House On Haunted Hill), and Reggie Nadler (The Man Who Knew Too Much-1956) as Kurt Barlow.

Director Tobe Hooper made a huge footprint in the horror genre with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974.  He's also known for slasher film The Funhouse (1981), ghost classic Poltergeist (1982), Invaders From Mars (1986), and The Mangler (1995), also a Stephen King story.  

In 1987, the sequel, A Return To Salem's Lot was released to poor reviews.  There was also a 2-part miniseries remake in 2004 starring Rob Lowe.

You can watch Salem's Lot here:

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