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Salem’s Lot (1979)

by on 2011/08/26

“Sometimes I wonder why you are so interested in monsters and magic.”

* * *

I heard somewhere that Stephen King is a man with fears of all shapes and sizes. He has fears based on a wide, wide range of subjects.

And really, who doesn’t?

King, however, does what most of us can’t. He turns his fear into best-selling books and short stories that make him vast amounts of money.

From this story, I take it that Stephen King is painfully afraid of quaint small towns, little boys, antiques and plumbers. Again, who isn’t?

Salem’s Lot is the tale of an author Ben Mears (David Soul) returning to his quaint hometown of Salem’s Lot, Maine. Since he was a child, he’s been fascinated with a now-deserted home called the Marsten House – the site of some grisly murders.

Mears means to make the house the subject of his next book.

Mears discovers that the Marsten House is now inhabited by a sinisterly dapper antique dealer Richard Straker (James Mason) and his silent (and seemingly invisible) business partner Mr. Barlow.

Local boys start turning up dead. Then their bodies disappear. Let the creepiness commence.

For the record, I said recently to my esteemed co-reviewer that King’s distinctive calling card is the general taint of ‘too farness’ in everything he does.

It isn’t enough the man is trapped alone on an island starving to death, Mr. King has the man eat his own foot. And then pretty much everything else. Bleh. There’s your ‘too-farness,’ right there.

I had forgotten that the Shawshank Redemption (which is an astounding movie) was based on a Stephen King short story until there was a scene about what might happen to someone’s jaw muscles if you stuck a prison shiv into his eardrum.  Suddenly I caught the whiff of the tell-tale ‘too-farness’ and said dispassionately, “This is a Stephen King story, isn’t it?”

That’s it. That’s all.

I meant it with all due respect. Due respect.

This particular adaption of King’s Salem’s Lot is a made-for-TV mini series that came out in 1979. Pants were tight, hair was feathered, and every commercial break was marked with a freeze frame on a sweaty face contorted in a rictus of terror. Perhaps I exaggerate.

For a made-for-TV movie though, Salem’s Lot (1979) doesn’t pull any punches. There’s some genuinely scary moments, most notably the face of the terrifying undead Mr. Barlow who is at the centre of it all. Think: member of the Blue Man Group but scary beyond all reason.

That face had me checking to see if my door was locked at night.

Bonny Bodelia as Ben Mears’ love interest, Susan Norton, is sexy in a repressed librarian sort of way. Child star Lance Kerwin plays Mark Petrie, the never-irritating boy whose love of horror stories saves his life. Plus Salem’s Lot has the hilarious Fred Willard as the town’s sleazy realtor.

James Mason is always good. Here, Mason is the sort of villain that’s really scary – the kind that calmly picks a piece of lint off of his three-piece suit before he smiles serenely and stabs you.

Salem’s Lot was solid. Made-for-TV solid.

Where was the signature King ‘too-farness’ in this film? Maybe in the scene where the blue-faced terror of Mr. Barlow clunks together the skulls of vampire hunter boy wonder Mark’s parents, killing them instantly.

Overall, I liked Salem’s Lot. I did. I also like The Shawshank Redemption, very much.

Darabont that.

Pffft. Rat in an aqueduct indeed.

I never.

* * *

Rated PG for pretty good but definitely too scary for little kids and sometimes even for judgemental goths

112 minutes

 

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2 Comments
  1. Hacker Renders permalink

    A geek and a goth were once traveling together through a comic convention. Nerds were everywhere.

    Coming around one corner, they met a punk unable to get by the nerds.

    “Come on,” said the geek. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her past the crowd.

    The goth did not speak again until much later when they reached the hotel. She no longer could restrain herself. “You shouldn’t be messing around with punks! Why did you do that?”

    “I left the punk there,” said the geek. “Are you still carrying her?”

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