Book Review: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

Salem’s Lot is the 2nd novel by horror author Stephen King, it was released in 1975 as a successor to his first story Carrie which released the year prior. Salem’s Lot is often considered one of Kings best works, it sold very well and proved that King was a horror legend in the making and had the talent to be more than a one hit wonder.

Before we continue, this review is a part of our Stephen King Deep Dive series, I will be comparing the novel to the adaptations we have already discussed so there will be spoilers!.

A writer Ben Mears is returning to his home town of Jerusalem’s Lot to base his next story on a house of horrors from his childhood. When he was a child Ben was dared to break into the Marsten house where he soon saw the hanging body of Hubie Marsten. The image of the swaying corpse stuck with Ben his entire life and ever since the Marsten House had stayed abandoned and casting an eerie presence over the town.

The Marsten house has recently been purchased and converted into an antique store ran by Richard Straker, his business partner Kurt Barlow is never seen which leaves Ben feeling uneasy and we soon learn this is for good reasons.

While Mr Mears is definitely a more focused on character I wouldn’t necessarily call him the main character because in reality the entire town is put to paper giving almost every resident there own story and importance.

King is able to write in a way to give the town an established presence which can resonate with readers so that we have a full understanding of its layout, character relationships and the feeling that everyone knows each others business, it had a small town feel something that helped me feel connected to the book after once living in a small town myself.

So with all of the writing to ease us into Salem’s Lot it takes a long time for the vampires to actually come into the book, I’m talking more than 100 pages which is unfortunate because the novel is a bit of a slow burner, the first half of the book does take a little bit of patience but its definitely worth it for all of the horror we get in the second half.

I don’t think the legacy of Salem’s Lot has really done it many favors, when the book first came out no one knew it was vampires which helped with the patience of the Kurt Barlow’s reveal and also made certain scenes more creepy such as the disappearance of Ralphie Glick but because the book is so famous now we already know its vampires so we don’t have much of the initial mystery element to draw us in.

The book is really creepy and King has a natural talent of writing eerie and disturbing scenes which are genuinely scary, for me nothing is more upsetting than horror that involves children and this is no exception, there is a few scenes in this book that really freaked me out and both were to do with the children, the first was the initial vampire reveal with Danny Glick’s eyes open in the coffin and the window visiting scenes come to mind when discussing some of the scarier moments in the story.

Here is one of my favourite lines from the book which really shows how King can make his story telling scary without the use of visuals.

And in the awful heavy silence of the house, as he sat impotently on his
bed with his face in his hands, he heard the high, sweet, evil laugh of a child
-and then the sucking sounds.

There is a romance in the book between Susan Nolan and Ben Mears I never really got into this part of the story but by the end you do feel a little sorry for Ben after his reaction to her becoming a vampire.

Mark Petrie is easily the best character in this book, he is so cool in this and I feel like neither adaptation really did his character much justice, in the book he has nerves of steel and is from the beginning a bit of bad ass. This Mike takes down a massive school bully and is able to sleep straight after seeing his dead friend outside of his window, he is a natural escape artist and expert on all things monsters making him a perfect candidate for a vampire hunter.

One thing he does in the book I thought was really clever was tightening his muscles when being tied up by Richard Straker, he does this so that when his muscles relax it is easier for him to slip his binds.

Another really interesting character was definitely Father Callahan the local priest with a drinking problem who in this book becomes some what of leader to the vampire hunts nearing the conclusion, making an ultimate sacrifice to save Mark Petrie, Callahan is forced to drink the blood of Kurt Barlow but is not turned into a vampire, this gives Callahan ties to Satan preventing him from re-entering his church and heading down a dark path, he gets on a bus and flees Salem’s Lot a sad ending for such a prominent figure but he will return in a future entry of the Stephen King Mulitverse.

So there are some moments in the book that may upset some readers this includes child abuse, sexual assault, sexual themes and the deaths of children. I don’t want to go into any detail with these but these are really bad and are highly detailed so they could very easily cause some discomfort for some readers so please keep that in mind if you want to read this.

The most accurate adaptation is the 2004 mini series which not only made characters much more similar to how they were originally written but also took a lot of scenes directly from the original story, certain parts were definitely changed for example Father Callahan does not fight Ben Mears in the book and does not murder Matt Burke.

Unlike the 1979 version the 2004 adaptation includes some of the side characters stories, it has a big focus on Ben Mears past with the Marsten house and even Kurt Barlow is more closely mirrored in the 2004 version as in the book he does not have the blue skin and does talk, he is manipulative and charming convincing his victims to allow him to bite them and to become his followers.

The original mini series is really good and to be honest I actually prefer it to the remake but you cannot deny that for accuracy the 2004 version does take much more inspiration from Kings writing.

In our next deep dive we will be taking a look at Kings third novel The Shining so look forward to that!.

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A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987) Review

A Return to Salem’s Lot is the “Sequel” to the 1979 mini series, director Larry Cohen had originally wanted to direct the 1979 adaptation but lost the role to Tobe Hooper. Warner Bros later approached him to direct a low budget film for them and he suggested a sequel to the Salem’s Lot mini Series.

In all honesty the film is as far from a sequel as you can get, apart from the town name none of the previous characters return here and there is little reference to the mini series. The poster shows the Master behind the film title but to my surprise the he is also absent in the film, a great example of false advertising to sell a product.

This film follows two protagonists Joe an anthropologist studying human nature in African Tribes who returns to the USA to take care of his Son Jeremy a teenage trouble maker who is threatened to be thrown into a mental health institution.

The pair travel to Salem’s Lot the childhood home of Joe who has inherited an old farm from a deceased relative, during the daytime the town is run by Human Drones as a ruse to hide away the towns dark secrets. At night all of Salem’s Lot vampiric residents roam the streets looking for human or animal blood to drink so that they can survive.

The leader of the vampires is Judge Axel a manipulative and influential old man who reveals to the vampires to Joe and promises not kill him or Jeremy providing that Joe will write a study of Vampire behaviours and life styles to be released in 200 years time.

Joe is desperate to leave the town and even during an escape attempt he is caught so he wants to comply just to see him and Jeremy safe but unfortunately thanks to a manipulative young girl, Jeremy is having a hard time choosing not to turn into a vampire and this becomes another major plot in the movie and another issue for Joe to help him with.

I want give some praise to actor performances in this as for a cheesy sequel to a story that never originally had one most of the actors in this put a lot of heart into their performance’s.

Michael Moriarty who played lead protagonist Joe is really good in this and gives a really convincing performance as a concerned father but also a bit of an asshole who at times can be selfish especially around work.

Judge Axel played by the late Andrew Duggan is really great as the villain in this and comes across as fairly innocent but will draw blood if it means he will get what he wants, a strange comparison but the character actually reminds of Lotso from Toy Story 3 as both characters have similar goals and personality traits.

My final praise goes to the late Samuel Fuller an actor and real life WW2 veteran who plays an eccentric Nazi Hunter who has come to Salem’s lot looking for an individual. He eventually teams up with Joe to try and destroy all of the vampires in town.

Everyone else does an ok job here but isn’t exactly memorable and the only annoying performance came from Ricky Addison Reed who plays Jeremy but to be fair its more the character than the performance. Jeremy is so unlikable in this, he is whiny, annoying and overall a stereotypical “bad kid” but the character is so over stereotyped that its a lame and seriously corny performance from an actor that probably could do a better job if given some decent material to work with.

You can tell this was a low budget production but to be fair they did the best with what they had and some of these effects are actually pretty decent and to my knowledge do not rely on any CGI, the film obviously uses a lot of fake blood but the burning effects are pretty good especially when using holy water. Judge Axel’s final form looks a little silly and cheap and was obviously this films take on the Masters make-up but here it kind of sucks and to be honest they would have been better leaving him with his human face and finding a creative way to kill him.

A Return to Salem’s Lot is a pretty good vampire flick all things considered, it isn’t deep or will stick with viewers for a long time but as a B-Movie it is a lot of fun and while it doesn’t hold a candle to the 1979 mini series it has some really great performances, some decent effects and a story that is silly but still compelling and you will to see it through till the end, you can tell a lot of work went into this and while it didn’t have much connection with the mini series or Kings book there is some respect to those versions and its obvious that the name wasn’t only used to sell the film but does actually try to be a proper continuation just with new characters.

Next time we will be taking a look at the 2004 Salem’s Lot mini series a very much forgotten version and I am very eager to see if it holds up.

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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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