Old foes come to New England in a 1979 take on Stephen King’s vampire tale.
Originally conceived as a movie, Salem’s Lot was expanded to a 3+ hour TV miniseries to fit the novel’s narrative, with a feature-length edit released in cinemas internationally (the subject of this review). Like the other classic King miniseries It (part 2), it sees a writer return to his Maine hometown to confront the horrors of his childhood, again showcasing King’s brilliance at building a town. The restrictions imposed by television mean there is little gore but a Lot of everything else, namely story, atmosphere and sense of place.
Tobe Hooper’s direction is pure Hammer Horror homage without it tipping into pastiche as in Lifeforce, raising the stakes towards the show-stopping vampire house climax, elaborately realised in the American gothic production design. The full-on score and sound give life to the spooky vampire children and countless jump scares, including a great sequence set at the bottom of a grave. David Soul (aptly named), Fred Willard and a fabulous James Mason breathe personality into the town, where the evil plague spreads like wildfire.
Salem’s Lot is ignited by the tension between King’s humanity and Hooper’s inhumanity, traditional vampire fiction and small-town America, and sometimes appearing dated while still being incredibly effective. If anything time has made the film more fun, now resembling a spiritual bridge between Nosferatu and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It pulls no punches (“Sorry Susan”) and burns through its plot, making this significant undertaking worth digging into.