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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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

If you would like to help support the website please use the donation button at the top of the page, your donations will help to improve the website by allowing me to afford products to review and to be able to execute any costly updates and changes, any amount in donations are welcome.

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Want me to review a specific game/movie/product or do you have a general question you would like me to answer? if so please email me at ragglefragglereviews@gmail.com