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‘Salem’s Lot’ (1979) Movie Review: Terror That Still Haunts Me 34 Years Later

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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.

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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,

marsten house

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.

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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.

About Fister Roboto (2239 Articles)
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5 Comments on ‘Salem’s Lot’ (1979) Movie Review: Terror That Still Haunts Me 34 Years Later

  1. Victor De Leon // November 18, 2013 at 1:31 pm // Reply

    I LOVE this movie. Scared the crap outta me and still does. Even my kid couldn’t watch the floating Glick bros. at the windows sequences. It is one of my favorite Hooper films. The adaptation leaves much to be desired but the central themes are still in there. I used to hate when it re-aired without the prologue and epilogue scenes. For a long time there was only a chopped up dvd from Warner Bros. available. Good review!

  2. The floating Glick kid was a polarizing moment as a kid. Love this film and would kill for a nice Blu Ray.

  3. This movie scared me so bad when I was younger, I couldn’t watch it again for 36 years !! And even then I was terrified to watch it, and I didn’t really pay attention to it, because I was so afraid. So now I’m watching it right now (37 years later) (still nervous) and I just noticed at the very beginning they show a church that says something about Guatemala? And I noticed it’s a church without one of the domes. And I’m wondering if this is San Xavier Mission in Tucson Arizona? And what’s weird about that is….back when I first saw this movie it scared me so bad that I was terrified to sleep at night, so I remember being at San Xavier mission and thinking I had to buy a cross to sleep with. So I bought an ox bone cross and I slept with it in my hand every night !! So imagine my surprise tonight when I see this church at the beginning of the movie that I believe is San Xavier mission !! Anyway, long story short, I slept for a year clutching this cross in my hand and was terrified of vampires, so I prayed one night that God would help me with the fear, and when I woke up the cross was broke in two, and I took that as a sign from God to not fear vampires anymore. This is just the greatest movie ever, the acting was incredible, the make up, special effects tremendous, and I really recommend if you have a child under the age of 14, that they don’t see it. I don’t even dare to read the book…

  4. One of my fond childhood memories is the 1979 mini-series “Salem’s Lot”. It’s a Little dated in 2016, but I think it’s still held up pretty well. Just purchased the Blu-Ray from Amazon as a Christmas gift to myself. I can remember watching Part 2 with my parents on a Saturday night back in November 79 – November 24 to be exact.All cozy on the couch with my favorite blanket (I was eleven) and eating pizza. Nutty as it sounds I remember being both freaked out (I was eleven) and enjoying watching such “adult” fare with my parents. I know it’s strange, but the glow of nostalgia is powerful. Dad passed away in August of 2016 so I suppose this production has taken on a greater importance now. Anyway I think it’s still very effective.

  5. This was first shown in mid / late Nov. 1979 ( Why it wasn’t broadcast a month earlier during the Halloween Season will always be a mystery to make me ponder, lol! ). Anyway I was 15 years old, and had never heard of Stephen King or the book Salem’s Lot. I had missed the first part as it was on the previous Sat. night and during my teenage years Sat. nights were rarely spent staying in, in fact that’s pretty much the same now. Funny how some things don’t change. Anyway the following Sat. night was an exception, I was spending the night at my grandmother’s house and she had gone to bed. She lived in a town smaller than Salem’s Lot AND in the middle of F’ing nowhere, now there’s a setting. So I was flipping through channels not that there was that many back then and I turned it to CBS just as the 2nd half was starting and they were showing pivotal scenes from the previous week’s episode. As I watched, it peeked my interest a bit but when the scene showing Ralphie coming thru Danny’s window and biting him came on…the last scene of the 1st episode if memory serves….I was riveted! Up till that time in my life I had never seen ANYTHING on TV that both scared the hell out of me while at the same time totally captivating me. I remember going to bed that night and making sure that both the window shades and curtains in my room and my grandmother’s room were pulled and shut, lol, not to mention all doors being locked. Didn’t have any nightmares but it was tough falling asleep that night. For the next week or so that movie was all me and the very few other friends of mine who had stayed home and watched it talked about. Others at school and / or just hanging out heard us keep discussing it, how good it was, how scary, how hideous the vampires looked especially of course Mr. Barlow etc. Soon we had a LOT of envious friends wishing they had seen it. In fact one of my friends dad had tried to record both parts on his new VCR, his family was the first of us to have one, but he screwed it up both times with the timer, ugh! Fast forward a few years later when we all had VCRs and stores to rent movies at and Salem’s Lot came out. My one friend was into it as much as I was and we rented it, got buzzed on some beer and weed and watched it. It was the chopped version and while it was still good, it just didn’t seem the same with all those scenes cut. At about this time I bought the paperback…1st and still favorite Stephen King book that I read…and it held me every bit as much as the original movie did or at least the 2nd episode. FINALLY in 1996 or so they released the whole 3 hour movie and I wasted no time getting my hands on it, finally enjoying after 17 years the original 1st episode in it’s entirety which I had missed. The 2004 remake wasn’t THAT bad, but, it did leave a bit to be desired. It had scenes from the book not in the 1979 version but then it omitted and added in scenes which should have been there or were not in the book at all, the prologue and epilogue is one specific example. My dream is that someone will do a 6-8 part mini series with everything in the book, nothing left out or added in and DEFINITELY set in the mid 1970’s of course. It won’t happen but I can always hope, lol!

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