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?