Monday, December 12, 2011

Film Review: Salem's Lot (1979)

As a follow up to my Twilight rant the other week, I thought I should review a very different vampire story: Tobe Hooper's adaptation of Stephen King's novel Salem's Lot. I was pretty excited to see this, as we're big fans of both Tobe Hooper and Stephen King here at Hail Horrors, but I have to say, I wasn't blown away by this film.

Since seeing the film, I have begun reading King's fascinating book Danse Macabre about his thoughts on the horror genre. One thing he's made clear so far (I'm about half way through: review to come) is that he has thought A LOT about Bram Stoker's Dracula. He identifies the vampire as one of the three major archetypes that the bulk of horror is built upon, the others being the werewolf and the Thing That Can't be Named (he places Frankenstein's monster in this category). One of the attributes of the vampire which he spends some time discussing is the sexual relationship that they have with their victims, which he likens to a primal rape fantasy. Knowing how conscious King was of this, it was surprising that he intentionally de-sexed vampires in the story. Well, I haven't read the book, but sex and vampires wasn't really a theme in the movie. I don't think the story was hurt by this, it's just an interesting decision.

Instead, the film focuses on vampires as a predator - a silent stalker, hunting from the shadow and surrounding itself with minions. Stephen King understands the myth of the vampire and which of our fears it plays to. King's vampires possess little apparent consciousness, lacking the aptitude for social interaction that vampires are traditionally written with. But as I mentioned before, these vampires are the killing kind, not the flirting kind. There is no reason to be able to make small talk when you can just hypnotise victims with your gaze.

In terms of film-making, it was fairly well directed, with the exception of some freeze frame stings when the vampire claims it's first few victims. They have not aged well and are less than I'd expect from the director of the timeless film the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. However, the master vampire's make-up by Jack Young and Ben Lane still looks terrific. Looking back on it, it is probably a good thing Stephen King didn't go for sexy vampires. I don't know how well the Nosferatu-esque bat-guy would have been at pulling chicks, even with supernatural powers of suggestion. This version of Salem's Lot was intended to be two TV-movies, but the DVD we own rolled them into one 3 hour epic, which did get a little tough to sit through towards the end.

The climax follows the classic descent into the hunters into the vampire's lair. The surviving characters and their sub-plots dove tail satisfyingly into the finale - and in true King style, he kills off a few of them for good measure. This was probably my favourite part of the film, followed by the 'window scratching' - an inspired moment of horror genius.

I had high hopes for this movie which weren't met, but it wasn't terrible by any stretch of the imagination. King successfully brought Dracula to small-town USA, but the vampires felt a little sterile compared to those in Bram Stoker's story (again, I'm talking about the movie. I have not read the book). Well worth checking out for King/Hooper fans and hardcore horror aficionados.

3.5 out of 5 (hours to watch this thing)

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