It’s rare that films which scared me a kid — especially made-for-TV films — can be just as scary when watching as an adult. But I just re-watched 1979’s Salem’s Lot with David Soul and Lance Kerwin. It’s really held up all these years. Not as actually scary because I’d seen it before. But still creepy as hell.
It was the film (miniseries, actually) adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name.
I’d read the book on-the-job as a night watchman at a 20-story bank downtown. Once every two hours over each 8-hour shift I had to walk 20 deserted, darkened floors in the midst of reading this terrifying book. Of course, I thought I was hearing noises, and seeing things move in the shadows, the entire time I was patrolling.
At the time I wasn’t expecting much from the movie because I thought it would be difficult to capture on film the creepy, otherworldly things that spring from the mind of Stephen King. But the director and special effects people managed to do a lot with the relatively few (compared to today) tricks they had in their arsenal.
The casting was masterful, but the film’s makers must have been especially thrilled when Richard Mason, one of Hollywood’s most distinguished actors, loved the script and signed-on to play the refined but malevolent antiques dealer Richard Straker. Straker is human, but Mason manages to make him just as scary as the vampires.
It helped that the film was directed by Tobe Hooper, the master of horror who also directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist, Lifeforce and others. If you’ve seen and remember Poltergeist, it wasn’t all whiz-bang special effects. It was a lot of Hooper taking not-that-complicated concepts — little girl talking to TV, psychic spouting odd gibberish, coffins floating up out of the water — and making them scary through lighting, editing, music and talented actors.
If you’ve never seen the original Salem’s Lot (there was a remake with Rob Lowe in 2004) Halloween is coming up! Watch it in the dark some night when it’s cold outside and the wind is howling.
Interesting bit of trivia: Tobe Hooper had a really weird detour in his horror career when he directed the PBS documentary, Peter Paul and Mary: The Song is Love.
Finally, there’s yet another remake coming out. You can learn more about that here. Note that the original release date was Sept. 9. That was moved to April of next year. However, any mention of it has also been removed from the studio’s release schedule, so who knows whether that April 2023 date will happen.