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A Return To Salem's Lot Movie Review

Updated on July 23, 2012
New England Farm
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A Return To Salem’s Lot is a 1987 horror-comedy feature film, which is the loose sequel to the 1979 television mini-series Salem’s Lot. Salem’s Lot had been a very successful and scary TV mini-series, based on the Stephen King novel, directed by Tobe Hooper and starring David Soul and James Mason. Salem’s Lot was about a small New England town nestled in rural Maine that comes under a vampire curse with the arrival of a mysterious businessman who has brought death to their town. At the end of Salem’s Lot, Ben Mears (David Soul) and Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin) escape with their lives and head to Guatemala to hide from the town’s remaining vampires who will come looking for them for revenge.

Eight years have passed since then and A Return To Salem’s Lot picks up with Joe Weber (Michael Moriarty), an anthropologist and documentary filmmaker called back to the states from South America by his ex-wife, where he was doing a film on a hidden Amazon Indian tribe. He must return to take care of his trouble making son Jeremy (Ricky Addison Reed), a foul mouthed young teenager whose last hope is his estranged father. Joe takes his son up to Maine to come live with him in Salem’s Lot, a sleepy small town that he hasn’t been to since he was fourteen. Joe’s Aunt Clara has left him her quaint house in her will and so they head up there to give the town and their new life a try.

They find the aunt’s beat up house and proceed to fix it up. They also uncover a small town devoid of most people during the daytime but very lively at night. Joe is reunited with his ex-girlfriend Catherine who hasn’t aged since she was seventeen years old and Jeremy becomes romantically entangled with young Amanda (Tara Reid). Father and son discover that the town is mostly made up of vampires.

Judge Axel (Andrew Duggan), an elderly but powerful man and the town leader, takes a liking to Joe. The judge wants Joe to write a journal about their vampire world, dispelling the myths and beliefs about their nocturnal lifestyle, including garlic and mirrors. In exchange, they will spare Joe’s life as well as his son. Joe wants to make a run for it but he and his son have fallen for Catherine and Amanda. Meanwhile, the town’s two police officers and citizen watchdogs, who patrol during the daytime, are keeping an eye on Joe and Jeremy.

Father and son also struggle with their own self centered needs and love for one another. They have both been apart from each other for the last three years and now must learn to love one another again and change their ways, if they are to get along and see the outside world ever again. Soon, Van Meer (Samuel Fuller) an aging, short but tough Nazi hunter comes to the town looking for a war criminal and finds more than he bargained for. Joe must now decide if he will unite with Van Meer to fight the vampires or write their journal and save the lives of himself and his son.

In A Return To Salem’s Lot, the community, mostly made up of vampires, is seen raising cows and keeping dairy farms. Judge Axel takes Joe on a walk through a farm and explains to him that with all the problems in the world today with drugs, alcohol, Hepatitis and AIDS, the cows are safer to drink blood from. But human blood is still the best and from time to time on holidays and special occasions, they will drink human blood. The vampires make plenty of tongue in cheek comments as well, especially Judge Axel. We also find ourselves laughing at Joe’s dark humor and Jeremy’s character, a rebellious teenager with no shortage of foul language. At one point Joe says to his son, “I just don’t like things that suck your blood and have conversations afterwards.”

Of course you can’t keep a good vampire down too long and before we know it the vampire community is back to their old tricks. The vamps attack rowdy teenagers who drive through Salem’s Lot one night, who are partying and blasting rock music from their pickup truck. The bloodsuckers also feast on the occupants of a bus passing though town and some bums who’ve decided to make a bonfire and drink hard alcohol. The horror special make-up and gore effects are well done and all the elements that one would expect from the genre are included in the movie.

The characters of Joe and Jeremy Weber are purposely similar to Ben Mears and teenager Mark Petrie from Salem’s Lot. Ben Mears was an independent man, no longer married and had no children. Mark Petrie’s parents are killed by Barlow the vampire in Salem’s Lot and Ben becomes a father figure to Mark, when they team up to fight the vampires. The role of Van Meer is inspired by Abraham Van Helsing’s character from Dracula.

The beauty of New England’s countryside with its farms, red barns, lush green grass and rolling hills provides a picture postcard setting for the movie. Vermont, doubles as the filming location for the story set in Salem’s Lot, Maine. There is plenty of sunshine and backlit scenes to display the visuals in full color spectrum.


Lead actor Michael Moriarty does a superb acting job as Joe in A Return To Salem’s Lot. His performance comes across as very natural, believable and the character is tailor made for him. Before Law & Order and A Return To Salem’s Lot, Moriarty appeared in numerous horror films, mostly for director Larry Cohen including The Stuff, Q, It’s Alive III: Island Of The Alive and even the Clint Eastwood western movie Pale Rider. Tara Reid made her feature film debut in A Return To Salem’s Lot as the cute twelve year old Amanda. Tara Reid would go onto star in such comedy films as Van Wilder, American Pie and My Boss’s Daughter.

Samuel Fuller, who plays Van Meer in A Return Salem’s Lot is also a writer/director and has made such films as 1980’s The Big Red One. He also directed the controversial 1982 movie White Dog that starred Kristy McNichol. Fuller delivers a fine performance in A Return To Salem’s Lot as well as actors Andrew Duggan and Ricky Addison Reed.


Writer/Director Larry Cohen came to fame as the director of the 1974 horror film shocker It’s Alive about a vampire-like mutant baby with a taste for killing, born to a normal couple. Cohen has had a prolific career as a filmmaker over the years. He is well known for his work in cult horror movies along with political thrillers.

Cinematographer Daniel Pearl does a great job lensing A Return To Salem’s Lot. He uses Panavision camera and lenses, warm orange colors to emulate lamps, candles and firelight against the characters, as well as pools of blue light for the moonlight. His lighting is just the right mixture of horror and high key lighting for comedy as appropriate for the scenes and gives the film a nice late 80’s look, complete with fog machines to smoke up the sets. Pearl has shot plenty of horror movies over the years including 1980’s The Return. His big break came early on in 1974, lensing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for director Tobe Hooper. Pearl has also filmed several music videos for such recording artists as The Police, Van Halen and he even shot Duran Duran’s 1984 music video “The Reflex”.


A Return To Salem’s Lot is a well written and directed film with witty dialogue. Fans of Michael Moriarty, Director Larry Cohen and people interested in seeing Tara Reid in her first movie should check it out. The music is very gothic and fitting with the New England Puritan and Victorian feel as it meets 1987. It is amusing to listen to the vampires dispelling their own beliefs and myths. For fans of Salem’s Lot, vampire movies and 80’s horror comedies, A Return To Salem’s Lot will make a fine and enjoyable film to watch.



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    • MikeR1 profile image

      MikeR1 5 years ago from Denver, CO

      Bat115, thanks for your thoughts. I agree Salem's Lot was a great TV movie that came out in 1979 and later released as a movie! The sequel is meant to be a horror comedy and is fun to watch but not to be taken as serious as the original mini-series had been. Still, A Return To Salem's Lot has a lot going for it and is directed by Larry Cohen who brought us It's Alive. I too love the 80's horror movies.

    • bat115 profile image

      Tim 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      I only saw this once late at night (Probably around the same time of hour it is now where I am) on Cinemax many years ago. This review makes me want to see it again! The first one is one of the best movies of the 70s. This was not as great to me but You really can't go wrong with 80s Horror, No matter how bad they were.

    • MikeR1 profile image

      MikeR1 5 years ago from Denver, CO

      Thanks Matt P-B, I appreciate the comments.

    • profile image

      Matt P-B 5 years ago

      Another great review my friend. You know your horror movies.