My Favorite Movies – Salem’s Lot (1979)

13 Oct

By Tanner Smith

Oh wait, this is a miniseries, isn’t it? Eh, who cares? I’m talking about it anyway–I’ve always considered it a 3-hour movie!

There is a version of “Salem’s Lot” that was cut down to nearly two hours for theatrical release. I found it on VHS tape, bought it for two dollars, and took a look at it…and then I threw it in the trash. It just wasn’t nearly as good as it is in its original 3-hour running time.

Also, it cut out a certain scene that scared the bejeezus out of me as a 12-year-old (and still scares me to this day), which was practically blasphemy.

You may already know the scene I’m talking about. It’s the scene in which we get our first sighting of a vampire in this miniseries–a little boy we previously saw get attacked and killed by an unknown force. Well, now he’s a vampire, floating outside his brother’s window. It’s a creepy-as-hell visual–coming out of the fog outside the window is this hovering child with glowing eyes and long fingernails that make a horrible scraping sound as he taps the glass, silently commanding to be let inside…

That is the reason I still sleep with the window curtains/blinds closed even to this day!!

Based on the Stephen King novel ‘Salem’s Lot, “Salem’s Lot” is a well-made chiller directed by Tobe Hooper, best known at the time for “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” And if you want proof that Tobe Hooper had some hand in directing Steven Spielberg’s “Poltergeist,” look no further than here–both “Salem’s Lot” and “Poltergeist” both maintain the same quirky yet haunting atmosphere of a small town gone mad.

David Soul stars as Ben Mears, an author who returns to his hometown (Salem’s Lot) to write a book about the mysterious Marsten house, where it turns out something evil resides…

I love how the film takes its time easing into the sheer terror that is sure to come–it reminds me of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978),” which also took its time with its terror aspects. When things go from unsuspicious to suspicious to bad to horrible to even worse, it’s worth something to look back at the beginning of the story and consider how we got to the hell that would result in the end.

It also helps that there’s a large cast of supporting characters, most of whom will be horribly murdered and/or turned into a vampire by the end. That includes Ben’s love interest, a teacher named Susan (Bonnie Bedelia), and teenaged Mark (Lance Kerwin), who we know will survive due to a prologue set two years after these events. (Speaking of which, it’s fun to see Ben and Mark in the same scene many times before they’re apparently supposed to actually meet each other.) We get to know all of these people as everything around them turns evil…

What other scenes in this movie scare the hell outta me? Well, there’s a character who becomes a vampire and attempts to hypnotize his human caregiver by opening his glowing eyes, baring his fangs, and chanting in a raspy voice, “Look at me…” That will terrify me. There’s also a wonderfully effective jump-scare involving a body popping out of a coffin in an unfilled grave. And there’s another moment when Mark doesn’t realize that two vampires are approaching him from beyond…eeeeeehh, turn around, kid, or you’re gonna die!

Oohhh, how could I almost forget this one? There’s a scene in which Ben visits a morgue, on the off-chance that a new body may rise up as a vampire…and surely enough, it does…he watches that covered-up body until it starts to twitch and move!!

This sh*t still creeps me out!

If you haven’t guessed already, “Salem’s Lot” is one of my favorite scary movies. I haven’t even mentioned the vampire in charge–a blue-skinned beast-man that resembles Count Orlock in Nosferatu. Actually, he’s more of an attack dog for James Mason as a sinister figure who is definitely up to something from the moment he arrives Salem’s Lot the same time Ben does. Both monsters are equally creepy in their own way.

But it’s that kid…that damned kid…every night, I look at my window and make sure I can’t see outside, just in case that little monster isn’t floating around outside and staring at me!

There was also a 2004 miniseries based on King’s book. I remember seeing it a long time ago but not since. I do it own on DVD, as part of a collection with the 1996 “Shining” miniseries and the 1990 “It” miniseries. Maybe I’ll check it out later, but…after I watch this one again. I already know this version is superior.

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