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.