The Horror Honeys: Salem's Lot: You'll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he'll enjoy you.

Salem's Lot: You'll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he'll enjoy you.

A Supernatural Honey Vampire Month Review by Suzanne

Salem’s Lot (1979)

Somehow, no matter what I do, I can’t go too long without reviewing something Stephen King and I’m okay with that. As we delve deeper into vampire month, I was more than happy to watch a film that combines two of my favorite things, Stephen King and vampires, and packages them in a made-for-TV mini-series. It’s like horror Christmas! 

Novelist Ben Mears (David Soul) returns to the small New England town of Salem’s Lot, where he spent a great deal of his childhood, to write his next book. The book will center on the Marsden House, a place where bad things happened and where Ben believes evil resides. Just before Ben arrives, the town welcomes another stranger, Richard Straker (James Mason), who plans to open an antique shop with his partner, Kurt Barlow. Straker and Barlow have, coincidentally, also purchased the Marsden House. When the locals start dying under mysterious circumstances, Ben makes it his mission, with the help of teenage student Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin), to destroy the evil that inhabits Salem’s Lot.

'Salem’s Lot, was first published in 1975 and was Stephen King’s second published novel. It also happens to be my favorite novel of his, full of complex characters, relationships, and intricately woven storylines. Most of the characters are left behind in the movie adaptation, but in this instance, it works by focusing on the major players and only inviting a few minor characters that help to further the story. While those minor characters work in the book and create some of the most unnerving passages, they wouldn’t fulfill the same purpose here. In fact, some genius actually tried that in 2004 when they remade it with Rob Lowe and Donald Sutherland. Oh, you didn’t see it? That’s ok, no one did. Well, I did, but I don’t like to talk about it.

Another thing 70s TV movies excelled at was getting superb character actors to fill nearly every role, guaranteeing top notch acting that doesn’t feel too over the top, even when it was. Aside from Soul, Mason, and Kerwin, we have Bonnie Bedilia, who also starred in King’s Needful Things, Lew Ayres, Elisha Cook Jr., George Dzundza, Ed Flanders, Geoffrey Lewis and Fred Willard, to name a few.

Special effects are practical, minimal, and incredibly effective. The vampire rules are followed here. The victims of Mr. Barlow take time to turn. They have rotten looking teeth, reflective, animalistic eyes, and sleep in the dirt. Director, Tobe Hooper, used a lot of reverse shots, particularly in the Glick boys’ window appearances. Those window scenes remain some of the creepiest ever committed to film. Barlow himself, who is vastly different from the novel version, looks very similar to Nosferatu or Count Orlak. Blue complected and non-verbal, Barlow hisses through his two serpent-like fangs.
Of course, Salem’s Lot is far from perfect and if you REALLY watch it, those imperfections are all too obvious. Aside from some plot holes and continuity issues, there are a few glaring technical goofs, such as an ever-present boom mike, reflections of crew members, and, perhaps the most irritating of all, Danny Glick sitting in a chair as he’s pulled away from Mark Petrie’s window. 

*heavy sigh*

Despite the blemishes, the nostalgia keeps me coming back year after year. How I’ve never managed to review Salem’s Lot before is beyond my capacity for reason. I did live tweet it last year, which reinforced my lack of affection for the act of live tweeting, mostly due to the film’s nearly four hour duration, but also because I didn’t have enough alcohol.

Salem’s Lot is available on DVD, but this is a movie worthy of a Blu Ray release. I’m looking at you, Scream Factory.

Supernatural Honey verdict: 4 evil antique dealers out of 5