Title: ‘Salem’s Lot
Book by Stephen King
Movie directed by Tobe Hooper; Screenplay by Paul Monash; Starring David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin and Bonnie Bedelia
Stephen King’s sophomore novel, following his debut Carrie, is ‘Salem’s Lot. Ben Mears is a small town boy who hits the big time as an author (a common theme in a lot of King’s work)–he returns to his home town of Jerusalem’s Lot after his wife dies. Ben is intent on writing a novel about the Marsten House, a decrepit, old mansion in the town, in which he had a terrifying experience as a young boy. Upon his return to The Lot, Ben tries to stay in the home, but he finds that it has been rented out to a mysterious duo–a Mr. Straker and a Mr. Barlow.
In the meantime, Ben strikes up a romance with the young and beautiful–and hero-worshipping–Susan Norton, and meets a local teacher named Matt Burke, and a young boy named Mark Petrie. In true King fashion, the cast of characters of this novel is very large, and well developed. As the evil–that would be vampires–assails the town, we see from the layered crew of townspeople, from the children to their parents, and how one by one they disappear.
Something is wrong in ‘Salem’s Lot, and Ben and his new friends discover that the evil traces back to the Marsten House…and the vampire that resides there. Matt (the teacher) is the Van Helsing of the group, convincing and preparing the others for the vampires that await them. Young Mark Petrie, after losing a friend and seeing him reappear begging for invitation into his room, knows that vampires do exist, and they are devouring The Lot, victim by victim. Joining their motley crew is an alcoholic priest, Father Callahan. His already faltering faith is tested here–and he figures into other King works (The Dark Tower series, baby!) later as well, for fans. When darling Susan meets a terrible fate, things come to a head as Ben and co. are forced to fight back, daring to kill the vampires that have taken over the quiet Maine town.
‘Salem’s Lot is a book that draws heavily on classics, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. And yet, it has the stamp of Stephen King firmly on it–from the eccentricities of a small town (particularly how people are more likely to close their doors and pretend that nothing is wrong as opposed to acting), the large cast of assorted characters, the involvement of youth impervious to the failings of age. I love this book–I don’t think there is much I can find fault with. Even though this book is by no means perfect, neither is any of King’s work–and I mean this in the best way possible. My favorite books in the universe are his Dark Tower series, though I know the series is deeply, deeply flawed. In the case of the DT universe, and with books like ‘Salem’s Lot, it is the flaws that make the book seem more…real.
In 1979, the book was made into a television movie, directed by Tobe Hooper. Starring David Soul (Hutch from Starsky and Hutch–and hey I know his daughter!) as Ben Mears and James Mason as Mr. Straker (the human familiar for Barlow’s vampire), Salem’s Lot (note the missing apostrophe) stays pretty close to the book, in a truly terrifying TV movie. **On a Side Note: Honestly, what has happened with TV movies in the past 10 years or so? Think It, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Haunted–and then compare to recent tv movies. It’s pitiful I say. PITIFUL!**
Casting-wise, I felt the movie did a great job–from the actors to the ’70s style editing, special effects, etc, I couldn’t be more pleased.
From the first moment Mark Petrie is terrorized by ghosts–the tapping at his window, guh!–I knew I was a goner. There isn’t much I can say about the TV adaptation, except that it is exceedingly loyal. The main difference, however, lies with the depiction of Master vampire Barlow. In King’s book, the vampire is ancient and deliciously creepy, and this remains true in the film adaptation. However, the TV movie decided to take a much different approach with the vampire, creating a more Nosferatu-inspired version.
Although King criticized this interpretation, I found it terrifying–and still do. If you haven’t seen it, you really need to get onboard. Seriously. Immediately. DO IT.
Verdict: Both Book and Film are classics, and definitely add to the vampire-horror genre. If you haven’t read the book or seen the film, you should get on top of that. Stat.
Book – 8 Excellent
Movie – 8 Excellent
Reading Next: Demon Night by Meljean Brook