Salem's Lot: 1979 TV Miniseries
August 13, 2022 8:43 AM - All Seasons - Subscribe

Writer Ben Mears (David Soul) returns to his hometown to write a book about the supposedly haunted Marsten House, but finds someone else has bought the long-empty property. When townspeople start dying mysteriously, Mears discovers the owner of the mansion is a vampire turning them into an army of undead slaves. Based on the Stephen King novel and directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre).

Also starring: James Mason, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres, Lance Kerwin, and Fred Willard. Originally aired on CBS.

89% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming in US on Shudder and available for digital rental on multiple outlets.
posted by DirtyOldTown (8 comments total)
 
This was pretty good, at least by my low-threshold-to-be-scared scoring.

The depiction of the main vampire is a huge change from the book, transforming him from a suave Dracula type to a ratfaced (completely?) non-verbal Nosferatu. Still I think it's not horrible at capturing the mood of the novel. The humans are just so fragile and vulnerable once the son goes down.
posted by mark k at 11:55 AM on August 13


Reggie Nalder played Barlow, the vampire, and it was an interesting artistic choice to make him more Nosferatu-like, although I suspect that King had someone more like Christopher Lee in his description of Barlow (who also seemed based in part directly on Vlad the Impaler). Not sure that I should comment much more than that, since I'm much more familiar with the book than the TV movie (which I saw over forty years ago and I'm not even that sure that I caught the whole thing), except that King set the book in a small town rather than a big city, even though he meant it as an updating of Dracula (King also borrowed the epistolary form of Dracula for his earlier book, Carrie), because the town was already dying; it's something that I keep in mind whenever I visit or just go through nearly any small town in America that isn't a bedroom community for a bigger town. Barlow could land in any of them and no one would ever know, except maybe for a change in the tone of social media posts from its residents. ("Come visit our town, it's great! Between dusk and dawn and leave your crucifixes at home, plzkthx.")
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:48 PM on August 13


I love the idea that there was once a time when it made sense to cast James Mason, Fred Willard, and David Soul in the same movie (or miniseries, as the case may be).
posted by Nerd of the North at 10:36 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


This is a mostly successful, mostly faithful adaptation. The repeated window visits are even an improvement.

One area where it's weaker though, and where I hope the upcoming film does better, is that it doesn't do as well as the book did in portraying the way different social spheres exist simultaneously in a small town, often even for the same people. Jason Burke? Respected local teacher. Also a favorite regular at a dive bar. There's an arc in there about how a small town is the perfect environment for a vampire, because everyone has secrets and many people live more than one life.

This gets compared to Midnight Mass a fair bit, but thematically, they are very different.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:26 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


The other place it stumbles is in making Mark a fairly ordinary intrepid kid hero, instead of a slightly cold-blooded little oddball weirdo. I know King's bullying scenes are famous done to death, but that one was a classic and it's not here at all.

It sounds like I don't like this but I do. It suffers from me being a mostly faithful adaptation of something I just read.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:51 AM on August 14


Three scenes have haunted me ever since I first saw this on TV as a 5 year-old some 40+ years ago:
1. The scene where the hero is confronting his friend-turned-vampire in a dimly lit room. The friend sits in a chair calmly conversing, while in the darkness you can just make out his glowing red eyes.
2. A scene in which someone comes across the sleeping form of the Nosferatu vampire who suddenly pops awakes and growls at them with wide, bulging eyes.
3. And, of course, the famous scene with the vampire kid floating in the mist outside his friend’s window, gently tapping on the glass.
*shudders*

For a TV movie to leave such an indelible impression on a young person’s mind, I’d say it was at least somewhat successful.
posted by Atom Eyes at 7:00 PM on August 14 [5 favorites]


One area where it's weaker though, and where I hope the upcoming film does better, is that it doesn't do as well as the book did in portraying the way different social spheres exist simultaneously in a small town, often even for the same people. Jason Burke? Respected local teacher. Also a favorite regular at a dive bar. There's an arc in there about how a small town is the perfect environment for a vampire, because everyone has secrets and many people live more than one life.

There's an early chapter in the book that is about all the characters in this little town waking up and getting around and going to work in the morning, and it's so perfectly constructed as to be one of my favorite pieces of writing. It really sells the idea that this is a real place full of real people and the things that happen to it and them matter.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:57 AM on August 26


I read the book in seventh grade, and it scared me so badly I bought a crucifix to hang in my bedroom window, you know, just in case.

Fast forward to 1989. I’m a senior in high school, and I’m determined to finally watch this movie. By this point I’m a solid horror fan, and this was a made-for-TV movie for fuck’s sake. I choose a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon, family at home doing other stuff. Basically a perfect day safe from vampires.

I made in ten minutes into the movie before I was shivering so badly I could barely manage to eject the cursed thing. I returned the tape to the video store immediately, and I still haven’t watched it.

That’s how good this movie is.
posted by malthusan at 7:39 PM on August 28


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