Movie Name: Salem’s Lot
Release Date(s): November 17, 1979-November 24, 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
There is something wrong in Jerusalem’s Lot. When a strange man named Richard Straker (James Mason) moves into the old Marsten House, things begin happening in the town. People start to disappear, and strange deaths begin to occur. A writer named Ben Mears (David Soul) arrives in town and his fascination with the Marsten House lands him in the middle of the strange occurrences . When he meets a woman named Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia), he teams with her and a teenager named Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin) who also lost friends. Who is Straker and his unseen partner Barlow?
Directed by Tobe Hooper, Salem’s Lot was based on the popular Stephen King novel from 1975. The movie was originally a mini-series and aired from November 17, 1979 to November 24, 1979 on CBS. It was well received and a shorter version was given a European theater release (under the title Salem’s Lot: The Movie).
Salem’s Lot was only the second adaptation of Stephen King’s work (the first being the critically acclaimed Carrie in 1976). This was also the first mini-series adaptation by King which became a trend in his writing (especially in the last twenty years). The style allowed for most of the novel to be adapted and only a few characters storylines were altered much. Barlow was also changed and came to resemble the classic Nosferatu vampire. One interesting change was a slight name change. The city is known as Jerusalem’s Lot or ’Salem’s Lot for short. To prevent any confusion on the title, the movie is simply Salem’s Lot (minus the apostrophe).
What is surprising is how scary Salem’s Lot is. The movie was like many of the made for TV horror films of the ’70s and actually had a bunch of jumps. For some crazy reason, my parents allowed me to see part of Salem’s Lot when I was young and it gave me nightmares. I don’t know if it was on its first run, but it was before I turned five. The window scenes (where the vampire children try to get invited in) alone were really horrific and “creepy dead kids” have scared me ever since.
Salem’s Lot is quite dated in style and look and includes a cast you would expect for the time (a mix of TV and older movie stars). The movie has that ’70s feel but it works for it. The soft focus and sun flares give it an old style creepiness and the impressive Marsten House alone makes the movie look like it had a bigger budget than most of Stephen King’s later mini-series.
’Salem’s Lot is simply a good story. It would be hard for the story to get screwed up, and Hooper doesn’t screw it up. The movie and the novel were both influential because it was a modern vampire story that hadn’t been seen at that time. Movies from The Lost Boys to Near Dark have benefited from ’Salem’s Lot. The mini-series was even considered for a TV series that never developed. The movie was followed by a poor sequel Return to Salem’s Lot in 1987 and another mini-series in 2004.