Salem's Lot is a little weak but shouldn't be overlooked in its genre
In 1979, Tobe Hooper (who would later direct Poltergeist) directed a miniseries based on a work by Stephen King. I was one year old when the movie came out, but never fear. Thankfully I had a dad who took great delight in showing his kids scary movies and watching us step out of the room to ... *ahem* .. get thirty or so drinks of water. No, I'm not scared dad. I just need to take a 30 minute pee.
Now to be truthful, this isn't one of the scariest movies I'm reviewing this month. It's not the best. I've saved this one (and pretty much all the ones I'm reviewing from here to Saturday) for the last round of reviews simply because they are movies that have been influential in my developing appreciation for scary movies. Movies I grew up watching.
Though I will admit right now that, objectively, this one has some real problems.
The movie follows a writer named Ben Mears (David Soul) who returns to the town where he grew up: Salem's Lot—short for Jerusalem's Lot. There's a house there that apparently has a history and has recently been occupied by a man named Richard Straker (James Mason). While there, Ben enters into a relationship with Susan Norton (played by Die Hard's Bonnie Bedelia). A child goes missing. People turn oddly ill and unexpectedly die. Things proceed until Ben realizes that there are real-life vampires in town.
It's not as scary as I used to think it was. Maybe I'm jaded now. It's a sad truth that every scary movie has to deal with. But it was also made for 1970's TV and that surely limited what they were allowed to do and how intense they could make it.
Probably the biggest of the problems however is the look that they came up with for the master vampire at the end: Mr. Barlow. In the book, Mr. Barlow is a speaking, Dracula-esque character, rather than the hising and squealing Nosferatu-inspired creature they use in the movie. The film makers felt that the audience wouldn't be affraid of the more "normal" looking character from the book so they went more animalistic.
Maybe they weren't giving audiences enough credit. Maybe they just didn't feel up to the task and went with a monster that they felt would work purely on the shock/disgust factor. Whatever it is, for today's audience—both sophistocated and already familiar with the basic look used here—the appearance of Mr. Barlow can just as easily cause a laugh as a squeal.
That being said, there are scenes that look good and the camerawork is well done. Lots of parts here appear to be referenced in other movies that came along later. And I find the story intriguing. I enjoy it well enough even acknowledging that, as a movie in general, it's weak with scares.
Overall, I like this one, but I have to give it 6 / 10 on quality.
Salem's Lot was made for TV so it wasn't rated, but it has scary imagery, mild depictions of gore, violence and a little language.
- Horrors and Thrillers - Why do we love to be scared?
Why do we like scary movies? Many people have their own answers to this question. Here are three possibilities.