Salem's Lot (1979)
The ultimate in terror!
Over the last couple of years, I've been working my way through all the Stephen King movies. Why? I don't know, just seemed like the thing to do really. So far, although most aren't something I would necessarily call "scary" or "frightening" or even good movies at times, I can't say with a straight face that I haven't been entertained by most of them. Sure they can be a bit lengthy - even for the older ones - and some of them feel like an acid trip, but the ironic thing is the "worse" the movie (looking at you Maximum Overdrive) the more fun I seem to have with it. So, how will my resolve hold against this 1979 made for TV vampire movie?
We start this movie the way I hate the most - with a moment from the 'present' - or the movie's future - showing us a little bit of something that pretty much means nothing to us now, but reveals that there isn't any point in worrying about at least one character. Go figure. Anyways, movie proper kicks off with a writer returning to his 'old haunt' - which ends up being a rather coincidental statement, since the first place he goes is the town's old haunted house up on the hill. Still, seems a rather creepy suited man is living there now, so the writer heads on down to the real estate office to see if he can get a place to stay - which happens to mean he ends up following the creepy man to his antique store rather unintentionally. The writer finds out the only place that has any space for him would be the boarding house, so he heads on over there.
We get a little romantic side-plot with a lady that he meets, as well as an introduction to a bunch of other characters as well - such as the doctor, the lawman, the writer's old teacher, as well as a kid whose pretty into monsters and writing. There's also a bit of a subplot between a man's rather unfaithful wife and her boss at the real estate place - the same man who end's up getting hired by the creepy antiques man to pick up a box from the docks for him. There isn't a single thing about this box that isn't spooky - from it's intense cold that seems to be radiating from it straight to the fact that it's somehow creeping it's way up the back of the truck towards the two men hired to deliver it. By the time they drop it off, they are so spooked they don't finish their job and just plain take off.
It's at this point odd things start happening in the town, starting with a boy going missing and another one coming home injured, unaware of what happened to his younger brother. It doesn't take long for his brother to come floating up to his window at night, scratching at the window to be let in by his hypnotized brother. The boy ends up dying from "complications" after his monster brother returns while he's at the hospital, and in turn the older brother ends up turning into a monster himself, attacking the grave-digger while he tries to finish burying him. This is when the writer and his teacher start to notice odd things, and the first clue that they may be dealing with vampires! Will the two of them be able to convince any others before it's too late? If no one will believe them, will they be able to triumph against this dark shadow that has befallen the town?
As stated, I have a problem with any move that start's off at any point that isn't either the start of the movie, or some time prior to the start of the movie. The problem with this is that you know, because it's shown you, that a character isn't really in any sort of real danger because you have just seen them alive right there! This can kill tensions that would otherwise be building throughout the film, as that sense of danger is present as you don't know who will survive or not! The plot of this movie - probably more so than any other King movie I've watched to date - is also the most convoluted thing I've seen in a long time. So many little side-stories exist, the cheating wife, the kid and his family, the love interest and her angry jealous ex boyfriend, the writer and his fixation on the haunted house - it gets to the point by the end you wonder why half them were even there! The kid is nice, as he plays a roll in the movie and therefore it gets you to feel for him - but outside of a setup for a body count, the cheating wife plot could have shaved time off of this movie and nothing would have been lost.
The movie is old, and made for television on top of that. Some of the effects aren't terrible, although not to say a bit obvious, and some of the effects are not that good at all. The first reveal of the turned younger brother works at being especially creepy, even if it's really just a kid floating in a slow circle scratching at a window while wearing yellow contacts with a fog machine behind them - it's simple, but it works. On the other hand, the head vampire's Nosferatu mask looks... well... I laughed when it first popped up, let's just put it like that. There isn't much in the lines of extravagant costumes do to it's setting, and I believe due to the fact it's made for television it's actual onscreen violence is quite limited (I believe we see blood once).
Audio was pretty well balanced though, and the lengthy run time does lends itself well to breaks - considering the obvious points at which they inserted commercial breaks are still left in. The score doesn't sound like anything spectacular, very much in line with what you'd expect from a TV show of that time period. Actual video quality is certainly showing it's date, as the DVD version that I watched had numerous little film deterioration splotches visible. I'm also not sure if it's intended or not, but the writer's Jeep has the hardest time with closing it's door, frequently being left open after it refuses to latch each time it's closed.
I'm not really impressed here. It isn't bad considering it's age and made for TV status, but I also feel like there's plenty of better King movies out there - either for camp value or actual fun or creepiness. Still, it's a vampire story that isn't really terrible with character's who mostly don't act like they drank some stupid-juice, so fans of older style shows might enjoy it. It actually reminds me a lot of Kolchak, although I sort of prefer the later most likely do to the affinity of nostalgia I have with it.