Directed by Tobe Hooper
Novel written by Stephen King – Screenplay by Paul Monash
Starring: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Reggie Nalder, and Fred Willard
Young novelist returning home to Salem’s Lot after many years is disturbed by the strange behavior of its people. He begins to believe that the source of the trouble may be the eerie old Marsten House that overlooks the town. Can he uncover the mystery with the help of a young horror fan?
I saw this as a television miniseries when it was released in November 1979. While I’ve seen bits and pieces of it here and there over the years, this was the first time (as an adult) that I watched the film in its entirety. This made-for-television movie scared the hell out of a young 10-year-old Fister – and it did again. Some films stick with you for whatever reason, and, Lord, did this one ever stick. I have a soft spot for small town horror, Stephen King, and David Saul, so as an adult – this movie was a fantastic piece of Fister history. Loved it then – loved it now.
Clearly, the novel is better than the movie, that’s usually a guarantee, but for a television movie, Salem’s Lot was a massive undertaking. The film begins with Ben Mears (Soul) a semi-successful writer returning to Salem’s Lot. He drives his Jeep up the winding road to The Marsten House and seems instantly hypnotized. My love for hometown horror films is so great that this scene gave me goosebumps. While my hometown of Farmer City, Illinois has a similar population as Salem’s Lot, the ghosts I return to visit are much more symbolic. Well, usually. We’ll address that a different time. The ominous Marsten House overlooks the small town, casting a shadow of fear and distrust over the entire city,
Ben returns to his hometown to work on a book, a book that questions the house and if evil is something that can live in the very floorboards and shingles of a structure. If there was ever a home that met those requirements, it’s the Marsten House. This film gets an A+ for casting, location, and direction, providing the viewer a truly sinister reason be wary of such towns and landmarks. Of course, like so many of King’s horror films, a stranger arrives at the town and by his very newness, the town has reason to suspect him. It’s usually for a good reason since Richard Straker (Mason) plays evil’s lackey on expert level.
If this is new to you, I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll stop with the details. The film is as good as it gets for small town horror, you have to throw on Burnt Offerings if you need a reminder of how evil television horror can be. Filled with every type of archetype a small, rumor-churning town can host, they all come out of the woodwork at some point. The drunk, the adulterer, the old money, the doctor, etc. Tobe Hooper provides an expert expansion of the town itself, using its looming shadows and rugged profile to fill you with fear. Coffins, thralls, mysterious packages from Europe, this has it all. If you want to enjoy the film on a new level, I suggest reading King’s book first. Some characters and sequences are omitted and others added to help the flow – it’s nothing unforgivable, but the novel is much better.
If I can say anything about Salem’s Lot, it’s how effective the impending vampirism of the Glick kids becomes. The scene of the vampire Glick floating up to his brother’s closed bedrooms windows is the very definition of horror. Be ready for a three-hour experience if you decide to pull the trigger on this one. It’s long, but so worth it. This gets higher marks for being such a huge part of my early horror development, but it’s a great piece by itself. Rent it this October and turn the lights out for this one.
Check it out, Bub M, not one Starsky & Hutch joke!
Okay, if you’ve seen this, but it’s been awhile, treat yourself to the Glick window scene. Hell, make your kids watch this before bed if they’ve misbehaved. The whole filmed backwards thing still blows my mind.