Salem’s Lot (1979) 5 reasons it’s the best Halloween Horror flick Salem’s Lot (1979) 5 reasons it’s the best Halloween Horror flick
This is a revised version of an article I wrote a few years ago that appeared on Talkbacker. This review is of the DVD... Salem’s Lot (1979) 5 reasons it’s the best Halloween Horror flick

This is a revised version of an article I wrote a few years ago that appeared on Talkbacker. This review is of the DVD that has the 3 hour version of the two part mini-series. 

 

I hate Christmas. It’s for children and retards. With its endless commercials filled with perfect families receiving expensive sports cars, Christmas reminds us of what we don’t have. It offers us the most intoxicating poison this side of heroin. Hope. No one needs that shit.  You’re going to go to bed on Christmas night with your head filled with thoughts of how great the upcoming year will be. When you wake up on the cold morning of the 26th, you will have an eviction notice pinned to your door and the vet is going to tell you the dog needs to be euthanized. Hey doc, can you give me one of those shots, too?

That is why Halloween is my favorite. It celebrates the macabre. It is for that bizarre kid who would rather listen to Peter Murphy instead of Taylor Swift, enduring insults and being slammed into a locker every time they talk about Indigo Eyes.  It’s a day for the monster in all of us. Halloween is more than a holiday. It is a season. During the days we can still bask in a sun that warms us like a witch’s cauldron. At night we can feel the chill that the Druid’s felt when they ventured out into the night during the Iron Age, unaware of the unseen terrors that lurked in the shadows.

Halloween also takes place during PDW in the Northeast of the United States. Perfect Drinking Weather. PDW lasts from September 21st to November 21st, give or take a week or two. It all depends on jet streams, cold fronts and whatnot. I’m not a meteorologist, I just jerk off to a few that fill out their dresses nicely. I few pumpkin ales at a Halloween party—hopefully filled with attractive women wearing the Princess Leia Jabba Sex Slave costume or I Dream of Jeannie and I am a happy man. That is, until I wake up with a headache and little memory of the previous night.

I believe the best horror films to watch during this horrific time of revelry should approximate the feelings of supernatural dread that our ancestors felt when a thunderstorm blew through their village, unannounced and unforgiving like your pill popping Aunt at Thanksgiving. Besides Carpenter’s seminal Halloween, most slashers don’t do it for me during October. Truth be told, I’m not a huge slasher film fan. The love people feel for the Friday the 13th series escapes me. I don’t find them scary at all. They also don’t have enough punch to gross me out, for the most part. Well-made is also not a word that can be used to describe them.  I can begrudgingly give you the original, but the nearly endless list of sequels are not something I would ever seek out to watch again.

I would much rather check out one of those old classic black and white flicks or any number of the brilliant chillers from Hammer films. I need that feeling of autumnal doom and gloom, like death is swooping down on you from behind those dark clouds.  Death, he is one unfeeling bastard. And that hood and scythe combo looks badass walking down the runway at the zombie fashion show.

I also like having sex with corpses. They are the only broads that don’t need to be held once I’m done.

Before I drive down to the funeral home and give the undertaker a twenty spot(A local beauty queen just drowned and I want to get to her before she is embalmed)I will tell you why I think the 1979 miniseries ‘Salem’s Lot is the ultimate Halloween horror film. Based on Stephen King’s modern day vampire novel, I think it is a horror masterpiece. Just like The Love Boat, is has an all star cast, headlined by David Soul of Starsky and Hutch fame. Soul is quite fine as Ben Mears and holds his own with some of the best character actors of the time. He even manages to not get steamrolled when he squares off with the great James Mason. The direction by Tobe Hopper is chilling. He will be best remembered for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but this is the one he should be most proud of. I say this because when you compare ‘Salem’s Lot to Hooper’s other family friendly horror flick, Poltergeist, it is the vampire tale that will have you hiding behind your hands more often. Given all the shit that has been said regarding who really directed Poltergeist, perhaps Hooper comes out the winner when comparing who directed the scarier PG movie? Or at least who knows horror better? If there are stories disputing Hooper’s direction on ‘Salem’s Lot, I haven’t read them. I drink a lot, though.

Here are five reasons why I think ‘Salem’s Lot is the best Halloween horror movie

 

IT IS MADE LIKE A HORROR MOVIE FROM THE 1930’s and 1940’s

Given the puritanical attitude towards sex and violence that television censors had during the 1970’s, this may have been necessity over aesthetic. However, it works wonderfully. This has all the accoutrements one good ask for in their Halloween horror movie feast. Mysterious fog appears when victims are about to be attacked by thirsty vampires. Remember those terrifying vampire kids floating and tapping on the window? We have a creepy old cemetery with an intimidating wrought iron fence surrounding it. Tombstones mark the landscape like broken teeth and there are plenty of open graves for people to jump into when they hear the vampires singing through the breeze. Central to the story is an Antique store filled with the type of artifacts that would have looked good in Aleister Crowley’s home. Everyone speaks of a mysterious Mr. Barlow, unseen by most. We even get some creature howling at the full moon. The musical score is very reminiscent of an old time horror film. It isn’t very subtle, but the bombastic orchestrations work perfectly.

IT IS A HAUNTED HOUSE MOVIE

The movie’s villains are vampires that carry a plague like rats running through a village in the Carpathian Mountains. However, the driving force of the plot is writer Ben Mears returning to his childhood home. After being able to ask out a cute girl who is reading his novel in the park(isn’t that why many of us write?), he is planning on writing a book about the Marsten House. The Marsten House is that haunted mansion from another time, crumbling walls, sagging ceilings and dark history adding to its legend. In writing about the Marsten House, Mears hopes to confront his fears about it. The sordid past of the Marsten House is explained in brief, but effective detail. By the time our heroes enter it to take on the Master Vampire and his caretaker, we can feel the dread that is coursing through Mears’ veins. The production design is suitably creepy. It is a filthy place. Dust and mildew cover everything. Walls are smeared with stains of nasty looking matter. Rats pop out of drawers and scurry across the floor, their mischievous squeaking taunts our protagonists. Animal heads and antlers are mounted on the walls, unfriendly spectators in the match of good versus evil.

STUFFY OLD BRITISH DUDE IN A PIVOTAL ROLE

As a proud member of the loud and obnoxious American sect, I say you put a great actor who was born in Great Britain in a horror flick and I say you got instant credibility. Those British accents can make the reading of a porn script sound sophisticated. That upper crust pronunciation can also make an invitation to High Tea sound sinister. What exactly is in an English Garden, anyway? If the audience is lucky enough to have them speak intelligent dialogue—as is the case with ‘Salem’s Lot—then we are in for a treat. James Mason kills it as Richard Straker, the custodian for the Master, Kurt Barlow. In the grand tradition of Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, Mason is a sophisticated serpent and knows he is better than the small town people of ‘Salem’s Lot. He is politely obnoxious and one gets the feeling Mason is having a blast in the role. “You’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he’ll enjoy you.”

OLD TYME MONSTER AS THE VILLAIN

Why are today’s vampires such dripping cunts? Instead of ripping out throats and sucking blood like evil parasites, they sit in the corner and lick their emotional wounds. Today’s vampires are about as frightening as the table of hipsters, sitting at the coffee house, reading Kerouac and listening to ironic music. Have the PC bedwetters forced us to make our monsters less offensive? When we purposely make our horror movies less scary, we are truly doomed as a society.

‘Salem’s Lot nails the vampires like a stake going through the heart of a demon. With a minimum of makeup, they really are the stuff of nightmares. Blessedly made before computers were able to render CGI effects, the vampires are suitably grotesque and repulsive. We can almost smell the stench of death coming off of them.

In one of the biggest derivations from the novel, Kurt Barlow is transformed from an erudite nobleman into a hissing beast with long nails and gnarled fangs. It works perfectly. This iteration of Barlow, Nosferatu’s DNA running through its veins,  should go down as one of the scariest vampires ever. Barlow only makes an appearance three times. It is just enough to give us nightmares. This adds to the fear factor. The audience is not given a chance to get used to Barlow’s appearance. It is startling. Barlow’s first real appearance is a fucking doozy, a simple and inventive jump scare.

 

YOU CAN WATCH WITH THE WHOLE FAMILY (THEORETICALLY)

I say this because the most objectionable sight in it might be a flabby Fred Willard in his underwear,  confronted by a drunken man with a shotgun. The dude, beer glistening off his lips and chubby chin, is upset that Willard’s character is giving it to his strumpet wife. There is no nudity in the scene, but it isn’t exactly kid friendly. There is nary a drop of blood or foul word in the whole movie. Is it scary? I think so. Will it scare the kids? That is definitely a probability. Kids need to be scared. They are a most unholy and sinister demographic anyway.

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Tarmac492

Imprisoned on the overtaxed, overpopulated and overpriced fortress of Long Island, Tarmac492 seeks refuge in the pop junkyard of his brain. He enjoys books, film, television, music and a good drink, or seven every now and again. Beautiful women love being "friends" with him and they find his useless knowledge mildly diverting. Tarmac492 hopes to move to Tierra del Fuego where he can waste away--blissfully drunk and anonymous--at the end of the world.

  • Xiphos

    The Vampire kid at the window is still one of the most creepiest scenes ever filmed. Maybe the creepiest of all time.

  • KilliK

    was that stephen king on the video? the movie looks hilarious. will check it.

  • Wonderful intro! I love this movie a lot, I will pop it in this Halloween. Yeah and Halloween over Christmas any day.

  • There is just one thing I never got about this movie adaptation: the story with the adulterers leads to nowhere, while it had a payoff in the book. Here its just a side plot with no real significance.

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    Great stuff.

    The only thing I wish about Salem’s Lot is that it had actually been made for the cinema as was originally intended, rather than as a TV movie. It’s still very fondly remembered, but I think if it had been a big budget movie, it would’ve been regarded as one of the greatest horror movies of the 70s, up there with the Exorcist, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Jaws. I think every big horror director of the period was considered for the project, and even filmmakers like Peter Weir (who, I think, would’ve done a terrific job).

    Hooper did a good job against the restrictions of 70s TV, but you can still see where things had to be watered down, corners cut, and scenes filmed in a limited, static manner.

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    The writers made the mistake – and a lot of Stephen King miniseries do this – of trying to include everything from the book, as if a long novel is something to be transposed lock-stock-and-barrel from page to screen. A lot of book fans seem to have this misguided idea as well.

    The writers should just have focused on the core concept of the story instead, and reduced it to its essence. That way you can even improve on aspects of it, instead of being precious and trying to cram everything in like a giant soap opera (the Mick Garris approach).

  • Tarmac492.1

    Thanks. True. Spileberg could have nailed this one. Imagine the authentic and lived in quality he would have given the town. And he knows how to scare–when he wants. It may have been a tad of a downer for him. I am down for another miniseries of this. I wouldnt be surprised.

  • Tarmac492.1

    I disagree a bit. While it is still throw away. It gives us time with Mike Ryerson and Ned Tibbets as they pick up Barlow’s casket, They are two tertiary characters who have some importance. The Willard’s fate also was a great way for a commercial break(which I kind of like in this film)

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    I’m surprised – nay, shocked – that a remake/reboot hasn’t been considered. Every other King movie/book seems to be getting one (Stand, IT, Pet Sematary, Firestarter, that silly idea for Cujo I hope never gets made).

    Maybe they think the premise would be improbable in a modern setting: using today’s tech, the vampires’ whereabouts could be easily tracked through GPS, and some blogger would get the word out to the outside world very quickly. Damn technology has taken all the mystery and seclusion out of the world; smartphones, tablets, and social media are the new vampires of the mind!

  • Tarmac492.1

    Agreed about the tech. Why not a period piece set in the dark ages of 1976, lol!!! I wouldnt mind some more of the dirty little secrets of the town, something the Rob Lowe one did pretty well, besides giving Samantha Mathis a role.

  • Well there is that 2004 remake.

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    I’d be up for a remake set in its original time period, but alas. I think the producers would reckon that’d have no appeal to the kids today.

    BTW, I’m wondering what they’re gonna do with those Dark Tower movies when (if) they get to Wolves of the Calla, as that book had a (semi-)sequel to Salem’s Lot within it. Wouldn’t make a lot of sense if you didn’t know anything about this story/movie/book, as I’m sure most mainstream audiences today don’t.

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    Yeah, but I’m hoping for a big screen version. Starring Bruce Willis as Kurt Barlow and Kevin Smith as Mr. Straker.

  • Tarmac492.1

    Man, those Dark Tower movies are going to be interesting, I guess is the only word I can come up with now.

  • Tarmac492.1

    Thanks. Yes, I dont like Christmas. Everyone is so fake nice.

  • They are selling hockey fan paraphernalia instead of antiques then.

  • I have to point out again that Barlow is Austrian.

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    You guys can claim greats like Mozart and Arnold S, but I guess the unfortunate flip-side to that is that you have to claim Hitler and blood-sucking vampire lords as well.

  • I suppose I should maybe watch this someday.

  • Dr. Geiszler, Kaijuologist

    Guess I’m a retard.

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    Who will play Stephen King? Will he play himself? And how will they license all the Star Wars, Harry Potter, Wizard of Oz and Marvel elements? I’m guessing they won’t bother, and just replace them with something else.

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    Don’t be so hard on yourself.

  • Well, it is as it is.

  • Stalkeye

    Why do I keep avoiding this Movie? (Not intentionally of course.)
    I’m skeptical of most made for TV Movies that’s why I never bothered to watch this or the rest of the Stand. I’m an entitled Fugger and expect my Horror, unfiltered and uncensored.

  • CoolHandJuke

    Off topic, but rewatching interview with the vampire, and I remember the chick they strip on the stage having bigger tits…

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    Concur

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    One of my all time favorites from childhood. Scared the crap out of me as a wee lad

  • Full Frontal Throttle

    Would have never guessed you would review that film.

  • Tarmac492.1

    Im just a grinch and scrooge that lashes out 🙂

  • Tarmac492.1

    Me too. However, that doesnt mean they couldnt make a great film with what they had to work with. A great feat.

  • Dr. Geiszler, Kaijuologist

    Really loved the book when I read it a while ago. I didn’t mean to come off as a stuck up dude, just up at five in the morning when I typed that. It’s okay. 🙂

  • Tarmac492.1

    Lol!! I know. I was just joking too!! Though i dont love xmas that much.

  • Stalkeye

    Duly noted, me Boyo.

  • The complete listing is “Hitler, vampire lords and Haneke” though

  • Tarmac492.1

    U hate Haneke

  • Tarmac492.1

    I remember the counteyside being quite pretty when i was there in ’89

  • I hatez Haneke

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    Is Haneke Austrian, as well? Jesus. You can keep him!

    But, to your credit, your country also gave the world Sigmund Freud. Who, I’m sure, would have had a lot to say about the phallic connotations of vampire staking.

  • Yeah Haneke lives somewhere in Vienna. I know a few people in the (small) Austrian film biz and nobody has to say something good about Haneke as a person either.

  • It is, definitely.

  • fangs_television

    Great article. Don’t remember it from Talkbacker. I’ve never seen the movie of this, but the book is one of my favorites by King.

  • Coupon: The Movie

    Agree on every count. The vampire kid at the window fucked me up pretty good when I was a kid. Couldn’t sleep in a room with an open window until after puberty. Scared the shit out of me.

  • ErnestRister

    I used this movie to get to first base with a lovely woman who would become my wife. I owe my marriage to Empire of the Sun and Salem’s Lot.

  • “Salems Lot”-the book seems to come up as everyone’s favorite. At least based on the Stephen King birthday article

  • Cool

  • Tarmac492.1

    In getting her to watch Salems Lot, did u say “you’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. and he’ll enjoy you.”

  • Tarmac492.1

    You should get him on a podcast.