Salem’s Lot (1979) TV Mini Series Review

From his first story and straight into the second, welcome to the beginning of the Salem’s Lot deep dive, in this series of articles I will be discussing every major adaptation of Stephen Kings second book Salem’s Lot before finally discussing the original story to see which version is the most accurate to Kings vision.

We will be starting this deep dive with a television mini series which was funded for development and broadcasting on Warner Bros Television. In Europe the tv series was cut down from its original 3 hour length to only 2 hours and was released as a movie. Today we are discussing the full 3 hour version

In this film we start in Guatamala where Ben Mears and a young boy Mark Petrie are on the run from the remaining Vampires of Salem’s Lot

We are then taken to a flash back of Ben Mears revisiting his home town of Salem’s Lot in order to garner inspiration for his next book, specifically a book which is to be based on the old Marsten house, a home which gave him childhood trauma after he discovered the hanging body of Hubie Marsten.

Unfortunately Ben’s plans to move into the house are put to a stop after he discovers the home has been purchased and converted into an Antique store ran by Richard Straker the partner of the Austrian Immigrant and rarely seen Kurt Barlow.

Throughout the nights victims both adult and children are disappearing only to turn up much later, pale and sickly before dropping dead and re-waking with a taste for blood.

Its a grizzly and sad mystery with no one knowing where to turn or just what the heck is going on, the victims have the signs of Vampirism but only Ben and Mark truly believe in this possibility, can they save Salem’s Lot from these blood sucking parasites or will they also join the legion of the undead?

This re-telling of Stephen Kings novel garnered a lot of hype from Horror Fans thanks to its director Tobe Hooper who directed the popular 1973 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

At this point I have read the book and its clear to see that a lot of the gore and sexual themes of the novel have been altered for Television which was expected, thankfully Director Tobe Hooper handled this extremely well managing to keep key moments from the book in this version and while they are heavily altered they are still scary and manage to deliver on plot progression.

A great example of a scary scene is when Ralphie Glick pays a nightly visit to his older brother Danny, Ralphie had previously gone missing and was presumed dead. This eerie performance from actor Ronnie Scribner alongside the ghostly effects is the perfect balance to leave watchers with chills.

To be honest compared to some other films of this era the effects in this are really impressive, the film didn’t use any CGI imagery and had a high dependence on physical effects and makeup, CGI was still in the very early stages at this point with its first ever appearance being the 1973 film Westworld. Physical effects always work better in the horror genre and this is no exception.

The camera angles were specifically inspired by the works of Alfred Hitchcock such as his 1960 masterpiece Phycho, these inspirations are particularly prevalent during shots of the Marston House and certain closeups when characters meet their end.

The cast and crew for this special was in all ways fine, not one performance is particularly uninspired and you can tell a lot of care went into certain portrayals, the biggest barrier to actor performances is actually the way this story is cut together, this is a long book and while the most important parts of the story are included even some of those had to be significantly shortened to fit into the 3 hour length of the special, this left earlier scenes of the special feeling a little rushed and choppy which I personally feel had a big impact on allowing actor performances to thrive and help make viewers become attached to these characters and it is a shame because apart from this the 1979 TV mini series is excellent.

For a low budget mini-series this is seriously well directed and its dark and gothic inspired imagery make for some really creepy and scary moments, you can tell a lot of care went into this entire production and while it does have its problems specifically with pacing which in turn affected actor performances over all what we did get was an almost perfect adaptation of that original book, yes it was heavily cut down but with good reasons and something I will explain in more detail when we discuss the book and also why a page for page adaptation just wouldn’t work too well on the screen.

up next in this journey through Salem’s Lot is the 1987 “Sequel” A Return to Salem’s Lot

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