It’s taken me over thirty years but I’ve finally had the chance to sit down to this Stephen King bloody-sucking classic. ‘Salem’s Lot came to life in King’s masterful imagination when he first dared to ponder what would happen if Count Dracula moved into town? Being the genius that he was, Stephen King then turned that spark of curiosity into a modern day horror classic.
Salem’s Lot was the first of King’s books I ever read. I picked up my copy for seven pounds (plus some outrageous import tax) back at Anglia, the only English bookstore (back in the 90’s) we had in St. Petersburg, Russia, and could not put it down. It became the first of many more of the King’s books I would eventually add to my library. For the longest time, ‘Salem’s Lot was in fact my favorite Stephen King book, even beating the stellar accomplishments of The Stand and Pet Sematary for me. As of 2016 IT has become my King favorite, but ‘Salem’s Lot still holds that special place for me. So much so that I had to re-read this past Spring. The same awe and wonder are still there.
So, with the novel still freshly imprinted on my mind, how does the movie hold up? Filmed in 1979, by horror legend Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame, the movie has picked up a wild cult following over the years.
Immediately I’m reminded what this movie could have been. Previously I discussed how George Romero (Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow) was set to collaborate with Stephen King and bring the vampire tour de force to life on the big screen. No disrespects to our beloved Mr. Hooper, but I do feel we were robbed as horror fans. Especially when you compare the demonic duo’s gruesome work with the fan-beloved Creepshow.
Hooper’s movie is good, if not, perhaps, just a little dated. The same slow burn build that he used in his titanic hit TCM was reused for ‘Salem’s Lot. However, whereas I feel the style worked brilliantly for his cannibal masterpiece the same praise cannot exactly be employed for his blood-sucking fiends. Mood, atmosphere, character build – these are all established in the novel. Stephen King brilliantly makes the town of ‘Salem’s Lot a lead character. That’s almost impossible to do, and only a master of the art can pull it off. Not only that, but his main character for the story is the Marsten House, a demonic abode standing – looming – over the sleepy town and acting like a live beacon drawing to itself very evil things. Naturally, drawn to the house is our ancient vampire, Barlow.
The movie follows this same thought, but it would be damned tricky to make a movie where the main characters are both a haunted house and a doomed town. And here is where we stop comparing to the book, because otherwise that would be self-destructive. Last I’ll say on the subject: go read the book!
This may not be my favorite Stephen King film adaptation, but I did enjoy it. The movie works in spite of it’s flaws. The differences from book to film are certainly there, but not enough to ruin some good-old fashioned spooky cinematic fun. Yeah sure, Barlow’s looks are taken straight out of Nosferatu, and his suave old-world hypnotism is replaced by grunts and growls; and yeah ok, his right hand man is no longer the gaunt, bald, menacing presence as he was in the novel, but here acts more like a Disney villain, but it’s still a fun watch nonetheless.
That being said I can’t neglect to praise where this film rocks! I have to give it to the ‘window scene.’ That moment still works and it’s been the nightmare fuel for many viewers over the years. Also, even though I may not have cared for Barlow’s (Reggie Nalder) growling performance, I did love the vampire makeup and effects. Seeing the undead fiends hovering above the ground with eternal hunger and predatory patience makes the movie a must-see experience.
There is a 2004 remake floating around out there, and yeah I’ve seen it. I just can’t remember the damn thing at all. It was that forgettable. This one though will stay with me and it deserves to be considered a classic.
Ok with all that said, I can’t help but think this story is set for a PROPER remake. Stephen King’s works all seem to be part of a remake craze right now, and good thing too! I’m excited. With things like IT, The Stand, and Tommy Knockers all slated for the future I’d like to return to the shadowy streets of ‘Salem’s Lot.