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.

Rating:

Book – 8 Excellent

Movie – 8 Excellent

Reading Next: Demon Night by Meljean Brook

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4 Responses to Halloween Week – Vampires: From the Page to the Screen: ‘Salem’s Lot

  1. Jessica says:

    Salem’s Lot, the movie, still terrifies me. I was maybe in elementary school when it came out, and my brother is older. He put on fangs and fake blood and climbed up on the woodpile outside my 2nd floor bedroom window and scratched on the window saying “Jessica…let me in. I’m your friend”, just like in the movie. I NEVER got over it!

    By the way, just guess which famous author’s house I am going to take a picture of the Windflower in front of??!!

  2. Kate says:

    ‘Salem’s Lot is the only book in my entire life that I have a “daytime only” restriction on, i.e., I can only read it while the sun’s shining since it just scares the crap out of me and I don’t stand a chance of sleeping if I’m reading it at night.

    I don’t think I should ever see the film.

  3. Thea says:

    Jessica–oh man, I would KILL your brother if I were you! Actually, I used to do stuff like this to my little sister all the time *ninja*

    And you suck. Really. (Ok not really :p ) Stephen King’s house?!?!? I cannot wait to see the picture!

    Daphne–Netflix baby! The miniseries is wonderfully creepy. Seventies style hair and makeup galore, but the vampires are really well done. I hope you enjoy it!!

    Kate–have you read “It”? *ninja* ‘Salem’s Lot and It definitely rank high on the ‘try-to-avoid-reading-after-sundown-at-all-costs’ list.

    And the film is really creepy…you should watch it, you know for the holiday season. What if I dared you? *ninja* :p

  4. Kate says:

    Oh, Ninja. I wouldn’t sleep and I would blame you. So would my boyfriend, who I would keep up aince I’d have to “sleep” with the lights on.

    Maybe some random Satruday afternoon. In the summer. When it’s really sunny and hot.

    (And I have read It; I liked it but it didn’t scare the crap out of me like ‘Salem’s Lot.)

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