Salem’s Lot (2004) Mini Series Review

In 2004 we got another television adaptation of Salem’s Lot it was directed by Mikael Salomon and starred Rob Lowe in the starring role of Ben Mears, this adaptation is based in the early 2000’s and was filmed in Australia.

The plot here is very similar to the 1979 adaptation which we have already looked at so I won’t go into too much detail here, but to sum it up the series follows a writer as he returns to his childhood town discovering it to slowly be overridden by vampires.

This particular mini series is often looked at in a negative light when compared to the far superior 1979 mini series but personally I really appreciated this for what it gave us.

The casting here is absolutely fantastic and in many ways is better than the original mini series, we have some big stars and veterans to the acting scene in this not only including Rob Lowe as Ben Mears but also Donald Pleasence as Richard Straker, Andre Braher as Matt Burke, Samantha Mathis as Susan Norton and James Cromwell as Father Callahan, all of these performances are very memorable and each actor put everything they had into their roles.

Donald Pleasence is one of my favourite actors and is amazing in almost every project he works on, here is no exception he plays Richard Straker and gives the character a new lease of life with his drugged up and more eccentric take on the manipulative and sly figure.

James Cromwell deserve some recognition for his portrayal of father Callahan a bit of a bad ass priest with a drinking problem. Cromwell gives the character a real sense of leadership, control and doing everything he can to send the vampires back to hell. I will discuss Callahan’s character in more detail during our book review.

I finally want to give credit to Dan Byrd who plays the teenager Mark Petrie he gave the character a more heroic arc than we saw in the 1979 version, I like this Mark he’s really cool and for a kid he can seriously handle is own and isn’t afraid to get into a fight if need be. The 1979 Mark was one of the highlights of that version but he was more wimpy and we never really saw him get into much action, Byrd’s portrayal is much more enjoyable and overall someone I feel will more likely have the audience rooting for them.

A modern day setting works really well for this, the series actually begins and ends in a modern hospital where a dying Ben Mears is on life support after falling out of a window while battling with Father Callahan, a really great and gripping start to this series and along with narration throughout the production provided by Rob Lowe really helps to keep the audience understanding exactly what is going on and how the character of Ben Mears is feeling and thinking during specific moments.

To be honest I really like this version and I think it has a lot going for it, providing a much different experience to the classic 1979 series but also in a lot ways a different story because this does have a lot more side stories from the novel as well as some that were made specifically for this series and unfortunately in many that was its downfall.

The two episode run of this is so crammed together that everything happens so quickly and it is difficult to really understand characters motives or to really feel much connection with what’s going on during these side plots making certain dramatic moments not having much of a reaction from me personally.

Now you may consider this criticism a little bit harsh but I will say that both version have this issue and its simply down to the fact that Salem’s Lot really needed a television series with at least one full season to really make sure that all of the really important stuff is covered and to also make sure that they help audiences really connect with the towns folk.

Lets not forget that in the original book the vampire stuff doesn’t happen until around the half way point but that discussion will be coming up next in our wrap of this Salem’s Lot series.

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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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