Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Salem's Lot, The Vampires Eat Maine

Between "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "The Funhouse," Tobe Hooper directed a made for TV mini-series based on a Stephen King novel.  I know, nothing says shocking horror like "made for TV" (can you detect my sarcasm?). The two aforementioned horror movies were frightening, but could Mr. Hooper deliver the scares on prime time network TV in 1979?  Yes.  The famed director delivered  a relatively loyal adaptation of one of Mr. King's first novels, in....very shockingly horrific fashion.  The U.S. version, which we will look at today is over three hours in length, while the version that was released in the U.K. is 72 minutes shorter.  The condensed British version should be shunned, as two of the scenes omitted are the opening one and the closing one.
David Soul ("Starsky and Hutch") plays Ben Mears, a boring writer.  He's grouchy and doesn't have much personality, nor do any of the men in Salem's Lot.  He arrives in town to do research on the old Marsten House.  He believes the house is evil, and it's history backs that up.  Susan (Bonnie Bedelia, "Die Hard") falls in love with him immediately. Coinciding with Ben's arrival is the arrival of Mr. Straker (James Mason).  Straker is a mysterious, and classy European who is opening an antique shop in town.  Straker claims his partner, Mr. Barlow, will arrive shortly.  Oh yes....Straker has moved into the Marsten house.  Barlow does arrive...in a crate.  The night he arrives, two children are bitten, and so is the town Realtor (Fred Willard).  The bodies start piling up, and in some very shocking scenes, children vampires stalk other children (see photo below).  Ben tries to convince people that vampires have arrived in Salem's Lot, and they emanate from the Marsten House.  Eventually, a high school teacher (Lew Ayres) and the town doctor (Ed Flanders) team up with him.  
As Barlow and the new vampires go through town like crap through a goose, Ben and his ragtag gang of Van Helsing wannabes must act quickly.  Beware, Barlow has the wisdom of dozens of lifetimes and is always several steps ahead of Ben.  As Ben realizes that he will have to take the battle to Barlow, he convinces his gang that they must enter the menacing Marsten house.  Oh yes, his most loyal follower is Mark (Lance Kerwin).  Mark's parents were ripped to shreds in front of him by Barlow.  Now Mark is a 16 year old vampire hunter. Mark knows the score...he is a horror enthusiast. Uh oh, Straker and Barlow make a move for Susan..now the mission has a rescue component to it. Will Ben, over-matched and scared, be able to save Susan and keep his friends among the living?
Not much gore in this film, but it does contain very chilling scenes that will give you nightmares. Barlow (pictured above) is a very scary vampire.  He sends children vampires after their parents and siblings and preys upon the character weaknesses of the townspeople.  The U.S. version (183 minutes) is ominous, which Stephen King would have appreciated.  The cast is great, the scares are effective, and the discomfort level is maximized.  Until recently, this 1979 adaptation of the best-selling novel was scarce in DVD format.  If you have suffered through annoying teen vampires in modern TV and cinema, see "Salem's Lot," which reminds us that these undead vermin are stuff that horror movies are made of.    


  1. Also, as a note, David Soul was a huge star during this time as was Stephen King. I don't believe this qualifies as a "B" movie. It is stylized, to be sure, when watched today.