FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 12, 2007

Day 12- "You'll enjoy Mr Barlow..."

The unbelievable awesomeness of the 1979 TV miniseries Salem's Lot gives me the urge to start droning on and on about how made-for-television movies used to be so good and so scary and why don't they make 'em this way anymore and why does everything suck now and these kids with their rock n roll and they don't make that gum Fudgalicious anymore either and I used to love that stuff but it doesn't really matter because even if they did still make it I bet it would cost like a dollar and can you believe the cost of gum nowadays? Seriously, if you've been here for any length of time, this isn't the first incident of my prattling on about made-for-TV movies you've had to endure. And once again, I ask: why don't they make horror movies for television anymore? I'd like to place the blame squarely on Janet Jackson's nipple, but in all honesty, the made-for-TV horror heyday was over long before we were all subjected to Ms Jackson's headlight.

But for reals, y'all...Salem's Lot? That shit rocks.

Author Ben Mears (David Soul) returns to Salem's Lot, Maine to write about the Marsten House, a reputedly haunted house that gave Ben nightmares during his childhood in the sleepy little town. The house now belongs to Mssrs Straker and Barlow, though only Straker (James Mason) is seen about town; the dotty-n-creepy ol' chap is about to open an antique shop.

Not long after Straker's arrival, the residents of Salem's Lot are disappearing, falling ill, and dying. It's as if a disease is consuming the town itself, and the evil seems to be emanating from Marsten House, high on a hill overlooking Salem's Lot. Can I get a "What the--?"

The town, you see, is being taken over by vampires. And guess what? The mysterious Mr Barlow (Reggie Nalder) is the head vampire! Yes, it's true. And guess what else? He's really fucking scary.

Salem's Lot, along with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, serves as a reminder that director Tobe Hooper can actually make a superlative horror film. The film is absolutely full of tension. Sure, we get plenty of scares and vampire action, but by the time Barlow makes an appearance- after the film has passed the two-hour mark- the audience is full of anticipation, not knowing what to expect- and wow, what a pay off. Barlow shows up at the county jail to dispatch poor Ned Tebbets (Barney McFadden), and Hooper frames Barlow's disgusting face in extreme close-up; it's flat out one of the most jarring and effective sequences in any horror film.

As for Ned, he's so frightened he can't even emit a sound...can you blame him?

There's just so much that's right in this movie, and it holds up flawlessly almost 30 years after its initial airing. Everyone who's seen Salem's Lot has a favorite set piece, whether its Ralphie Glick (Ronnie Scribner) floating outside his brother's window, beckoning...

...or Mrs Glick rising from the table at the mortuary- a scene I love because although Ben has figured out what's going on in Salem's Lot (and he's even gone so far as to fashion a makeshift crucifix out of tongue depressors), he's still petrified. Though it's a natural reaction, too many times in horror films characters don't seem deeply frightened by what they're witnessing or encountering- but when an actor just nails it, as David Soul does here, it leaves the audience cowering as well.



Then, of course, there's my favorite scene, in which Barlow comes to the Petrie house and faces off against Father Callahan (James Gallery). The room shakes, the lightbulbs burst, and "The Master" rises from a dark heap on the floor. Hooper shoots the sequence from a low vantage point, and it renders Barlow this massive beast, seeming to fill the entire kitchen.

We don't learn much about Mr Barlow- he travels alone. His first name is Kurt. We don't come to know how he was made a vampire, how old he is...and I say, hallelujah. He's a monster, a parasite who spreads death; aesthetically he's unbelievably repulsive, grotesque and frightening...to learn more about him would take away the mystique, would make him just someone who used to be a man. Where's the fun in that?

18 comments:

Joseph Emmerth said...

I missed this when it was on tv..I was too young. I actually didn't see it until I was about 23. I remember thinking "This movie is really dragging"; until the Master showed up that is, at which point I promptly levitated up off the couch and spit Dr. Pepper all over myself.

Steven Kaye said...

I need to rewatch this now, because I remember my reaction to seeing Barlow was "Wait, you took the guy who seduced [character name deleted] into losing his faith and replaced him with a hissing blue-faced Nosferatu reject?"

On the other hand, you're definitely right about pretty much everything else in the movie.

Joseph Emmerth said...

Well, to be perfectly honest, there was some bourbon in that dr. pepper:)

Perching Path said...

Ned may not be able to make a sound, but he's cleverly angling to his chin to create the maximum number of jugular-shielding jowls. In the list of throat-defense moves, I'd rank that slightly above "make the international gesture for choking".
-Jonathan

Stacie Ponder said...

"I remember thinking "This movie is really dragging"

I understand where you're coming from with that, but the film never feels draggy to me. Salem's Lot was Stephen King's first novel with a large cast of characters, and it lends the film that sort of "disaster flick" set-up: large amounts of time where we're learning about all these people, knowing that something dreadful is coming their way. There was ample "vampire action" to keep my interest, and all the talk of Mr Barlow before his arrival keeps that suspense building. Then there's the reveal, and...I'm not surprised your Dr Pepper went everywhere!

And I, for one, really dig this hissing vampire. I love that he only makes these awful gutteral sounds- he's a monster, first and foremost.

I checked out a bit of the recent remake of this, because I wanted to see what the filmmakers would do with Barlow. Finally, he showed up, and...it was Rutger Hauer. That's all. Just Rutger Hauer. I like the guy, but man...what a letdown!

As to the "losing his faith" thing, it's simply a different approach to that. Instead of using words and logic and seduction, this Barlow just literally scares it outta you, I guess. Seeing him rise up from the floor would make anyone doubt!

Anonymous said...

stand aside haters, SALEMS LOT KICKS MAJOR ASS. many people have told me before that they don't think the vampire is scary. SAY WHAAAAAA??@@!!! (holds hand to ear, tilits head) what the FUCK ARE YOU GUYS TALKING ABOUT? that's the most scary vampire of all time. if you want to see a vampire who's NOT scary, try ALMOST EVERY OTHER VAMPIRE MOVIE. bram stokers dracula... not scary looking. the new vampires they have these days are fucking SUPERMODELS. nosferatu was the only scary vampire, and salem's lot uses that to great effect by updating the look to color (blue, perfect color for dead people) glowing eyes and gnarly fangs!!!!!! LOOK INTO MY EYES TEEEECHER (rocking chair scene) BAM!

Theron said...

James Mason, David Soul and vampires...what else do you need from a movie?

Joseph Emmerth said...

I agree with Anonymous and Stacy regarding the vampire as monster concept; I've long been tired of the vampire as suave and debonair portrayal. I think that's one reason there's so much anticipation for 30 Days of Night. I remember reading somewhere that the director wanted to capture the feeling of terror you experience when you realize these things that look like you consider you cattle.

UNKLE LANCIFER said...

I so agree with what you said about Tobe Hooper's talent. Whenever people debate his level of involvment in POLTERGEIST they claim he never made another scary movie besides TCM as evidence. To which I say...SALEM'S LOT FOOL! It's a great movie! and it's not like he just turned on a camera. There's real virtuoso orchestration present.

ARBOGAST said...

Eh, it's okay.

Anonymous said...

i had the good fortune of watching this when i was 8 years old when it was first shown.

this stuff defo hits you ten times harder when you are an irrational kid !

nosferatu never looked so shit curdling , heh !

scouser73 said...

I saw the full unedited film when I was 11 - 1985, and the film scared the shit out of me, more so the jail scene, as I was sat right in front of the TV and I shot back as soon as I saw the masters face, I'll never forget that film/that scene. Excellent acting, visual effects. Tobe Hooper, I salute you.

Gordon said...

I have to admit that horror films do not normally scare me. I used to work in television so I seem to look at them in the way that a dog doesn't quite comprehend a TV screen. I actually found the Exorcist quite funny and not at all scary, but Salem's Lot scared me rigid. Especially that scene where the dead/zombie child appears at the window. That did it for me.

Christopher said...

Salem's Lot ROCKS .... It's a sign of a great film when it can easily survive the soul-crushing sight of Fred Willard in some sort of silk-pajama get-up. ... You mentioned some of the greatest scenes, of course. Some other favorites: Geoffrey Lewis sitting in the rocking chair, hissing out "Teeeeeeeacher...." ... Lewis (when still human), jumping into the open grave and getting Brad Savaged. ... The quick and gory demise of Ed Flanders (don't EFF with James Mason, y'all -- imagine if it had been THAT James Mason in North by Northwest; Cary Grant would have been toast) ... Barlow opening his eyes and SITTING UP in the coffin at the end; so much more.....

Steve said...

I agree. It is awesome: the Glick kid floating at the window, the newly turned gravedigger waiting in Matt Burke's rocking chair, that creepy old Marsden House. The whole thing is creepy. First saw it when I was a kid and never saw it again until a couple of years ago when I bought the DVDs. Think I'll find them out and watch them again.

Christopher said...

Watched this again. (Never gets old). Something new occurred to me:

1. David Soul is absolutely channeling William Shatner in his performance.

2. If William Shatner himself had actually starred in this as "Ben," it would have been the greatest artistic achievement in Western civilization.

tymelyner said...

Salems Lot was one of my favorite movies back in 79 and still is the best one that has been made but I wished they would have gone a little bit farther in it. I would have loved to see Barlow's bite on Susan Norton's neck. Barlow didn't have to say a word at all his looks did that for him...Once more I would have liked it if Stephen King would do another book on Kurt Barlow
and tell more about him. Was he a priest? that fell out of grace? or was he a bum on the street and was brought over by happenstance and who or what brought him across. There is quite a few stories in that charecter before he come to Salems Lot I would love to read more about him.
Tymelynerdelux

Dan said...

I'm late to the party on this blog - but I have to say that you've hit the nail on the head. In a world of boring CGI fuelled non events - the horror of this version of Salems' Lot serves as a lesson to film makers.

The build up of tension is perfect - and when it delivers, it's so well weighted it's like a precision engineered fear machine. The actors were first class all round. Whether is's the duelling between Soul and Mason throughout - or the excellent Geoffrey Lewis transforming in to a teasing, taunting horror, you're never let down at any stage.

As for Kurt Barlow - a monster visually and a weapon deployed so sparingly and wisely in the story that when he appears, all sense of hope is immediately lost.