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Salem’s Lot

Salem’s Lot

By Jamie Suckley • June 19th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 4/5

Original air-date: November 17th, 1979
Running time: 184 minutes

Director: Tobe Hooper
Writer: Paul Monash

Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Reggie Nalder

Salem’s Lot

Tobe Hooper’s 1979 television mini-series adaptation of Stephen Kings 1975 novel; Salem’s Lot reminds me of my impressionable youth. It was the reason I never had my bedroom window open as a child; keeping my curtains closed until the morning sunlight shined through them.

Salem’s Lot tells the story of Ben Mears (David Soul) a writer who returns to his hometown after years of absence to write a novel about the “Marsten House”, the eerie hilltop mansion that has been the fabric of the local haunted house stories and has fascinated him. As a child, Ben had set foot in the house, and ran away terrified after seeing ghosts and apparitions there.

Upon returning to ‘Salem’s Lot’ (formally known as Jerusalem’s Lot) he discovers the house has been bought by the suave antiques dealer Richard Straker (James Mason). Once Strakers mysterious partner, Kurt Barlow (Reggie Nalder) arrives in town, strange things happen to the community. Children vanish mysteriously and re-appear at night, banging on their friends and loved ones bedroom windows. People are overcome by weakness in their sinister dreams at night, dying of supposed anaemia.

Working with his former high school teacher Jason Burke (Lew Ayres) and Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin), a horror film buff child, they realise that the town is being overrun by vampires and if they can’t stop the epidemic the town will be completely inhabited by the undead. When his girlfriend Susan (Bonnie Bedelia) disappears, Ben has to face his fears; his convictions about the Marsten House prove that evil does exist.

Hooper and screenwriter Paul Monash – who had produced the film adaptation of Carrie (1976) – did a great job of capturing the eeriness of the novel, combining elements of both the haunted house and vampire subgenres into a 3 hour film. Compared to modern day films Salem’s Lot appears initially tame; however, Hooper uses the atmosphere to build an unsettling feel for the community which surpasses the use of gore. By the time the climax approaches your nerves are rattled.

Salem's Lot

One of the main changes was the head vampire Barlow In the novel; he is seemingly portrayed as a Count Dracula- type who begins to get younger once he has fed on the blood of the town. He is also seductive, and speaks. The film’s producer Richard Kobritz mentioned on the decision to change Barlow’s character:

“I just thought it would be suicidal on our part to have a vampire that talks. What kind of voice do you put behind a vampire? You can’t do Bela Lugosi, or you’re going to get a laugh. You can’t do Regan in The Exorcist or you’re going to get something that’s unintelligible, and besides, you’ve been there before. That’s why I think the James Mason role of Straker became more important” [1]

The inhuman appearance of Barlow, which is similar to Count Orlock, Max Screck’s 1922 film Nosferatu, is the reason the film is memorable. He’s mute throughout, only speaking one line at the end and Straker speaks for him. The moment we first get a glimpse of his face – when he attacks a character in prison – is one we don’t forget.

The sub-plots used in the novel had been changed but don’t alter Kings Vision dramatically. The one regarding the cheating wife and her husband who had pretended to be on a business trip and catches her in the act seems to have nothing to do with the events of the film but keeps you entertained and establishes the vulnerability of the town. It never fully explains the outcome and we’re left to come to our own conclusions.


  • [1] Collins, Michael R, (2006) The Films of Stephen King, Wildside Press

One scene which has stayed with me from being a child – and the reason I always kept my curtains closed – was Danny Glick (Brad Savage) floating outside Mark Petrie’s window, the fog surrounding him, floating in the air, begging to be let in because the Master commands him to. As a child it’s scary enough thinking about what’s under the bed or in the cupboard without having to worry about vampires banging on your window.

Accompanied by an atmospheric musical score by Harry Sukman, Salem’s Lot is a good King film adaptation. It’s slow at times, but doesn’t disappoint from creating an eerie setting. Years later after re-watching it, all the memories come flooding back, but the curtains remain closed.

Jamie Suckley

Jamie Suckley

Jamie, editor for Cult Movies at Static Mass, is a 24 year old media studies graduate from Sheffield, who likes nothing better than watching films. If he was to star in a horror film he’d like to be the first one killed (think Drew Barrymore in Scream).

He has a keen interest in horror which started when he was a child. Due to his hyperactive behaviour his cousins made him watch films they thought would calm him down- They were wrong! It was watching Hellraiser and Killer Klowns from Outer Space that his passion for horror began. Over the years this developed into a passion for zombies, madmen, mutated animals and all things gore.

When he’s not working, in his dream world, worrying about zombie epidemics or watching films, he can be found on Twitter sharing his thoughts and bringing his dream world into reality.

You can follow Jamie on Twitter @JamieSuckley.

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