Salem’s Lot is a title that has come up fairly regularly in my life but I had never seen the film or read the book. Scrolling through the new additions to Shudder the other night, I was pleased to see it available. Now, I just needed to carve out enough time to sit through the 3 hour runtime.
Sometimes movies that are that long are a slog to get through. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with Salem’s Lot. The story takes it’s time to develop but the characters and the setting are so interesting that you don’t really notice. This is a world created by Stephen King and I’m sure that has a lot to do with it. The screenplay from Paul Monash is sharply written too though. As I mentioned, I haven’t read the novel but from what I have heard Monash took some liberties in moving this story from page to screen. Whatever he did, it works here. Thinking back on the film, it seems like it was quite awhile before anything horrific really happened but it never felt like that while watching it.
The performances have a fair amount to do with this too. David Soul is great as Ben Mears, the novelist who has returned to his childhood home to discover that something evil is lurking. When we’re first introduced to Mears I was afraid that he was going to be the stereotypical writer in a movie, a loner who doesn’t have time for other people because he’s too busy being haunted by his past. Indeed, that is what he is in the beginning. The beauty of Salem’s Lot is the space it gives the characters to grow and change as the plot progresses. Soul plays this role perfectly as Ben softens and becomes a guy we can root for.
This film is almost 40 years old. Anytime I watch a movie this old I’m concerned that the effects and scares won’t hold up. I wouldn’t call Salem’s Lot scary exactly but it certainly is not short on creepiness. There are a few scenes in this film that will stick with you long after it is over. Looking at a still of the main vampire, Kurt Barlow, I thought the makeup looked almost silly. On-screen it is quite effective though. The way that Reggie Nalder moves and looks around really sells the terrifying nature of the character.
It’s not going out on a limb to say that Tobe Hooper knew how to make a horror film. He came through in typical Hooper fashion with Salem’s Lot. This isn’t exactly The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when it comes to being scary but then again, there are very few movies that come close to that masterpiece. I wish that it was a scarier film but keep in mind that this was a television mini-series. The limits of network television no doubt have an impact on that.
It’s not always easy to find 180 minutes to sit down and dedicate to watching a movie. If you do end up with that kind of time on your hands, I would highly recommend Salem’s Lot. It’s not the scariest film I have ever seen but it may very well be the creepiest.