(vt 'Salem's Lot: The Movie) US movie (1979 tvm) derived from a tv miniseries. Warner/Serendipity. Pr Richard Kobritz. Exec pr Stirling Silliphant. Dir Tobe Hooper. Spfx Frank Torro. Mufx Jack Young. Screenplay Paul Monash. Starring Lew Ayres (Jason Burke), Bonnie Bedelia (Susan Norton), Lance Kerwin (Mark Petrie), James Mason (Straker), Reggie Nalder (Barlow), David Soul (Ben Mears). 112 mins, cut for theatrical release from a 190 min tvm. Colour.
Novelist Mears returns to his Maine hometown, 'Salem's Lot, obsessed by the gloomy Haunted Dwelling on its outskirts, recently bought by another fresh arrival, suave Englishman Straker, who is opening a posh antique shop in partnership with the never-seen Barlow. Mears rapidly makes new acquaintances – notably pretty schoolmarm Susan Norton – and re-encounters old ones, such as schoolteacher Jason Burke. All is soon not well in 'Salem's Lot: first to disappear is little boy Ralphie Glick. Ralphie returns from the dead to vampirize elder brother Danny, who in turn . . .
The corpse-count and associated Poltergeist activity accelerate, and it becomes clear that Straker and the old Marston house are at the focus of it all. Burke and Mears, with young horror buff Mark, investigate and become convinced that Straker shields and touts for an ancient Vampire, the enigmatic Barlow. Few believe them, but eventually most of the surviving townsfolk are convinced, and wisely flee. At last Mears and Mark manage to kill Straker, stake Barlow and torch both house and town.
Though suffering many of the traditional failings of the tvm and with a few lurches due to cutting, 'SL is surprisingly effective, faithful in mood to King's novel. Where it succeeds brilliantly is in transferring many of the elements of the central Dracula tale into the setting of neither remote Transylvania nor atmospheric 19th-century London but a typical late-20th-century US town: this melding of ancient and modern is what gives vibrancy to what might otherwise have been a humdrum movie. A sequel, A Return to 'Salem's Lot (1987), offers less interest but more gore. [JG]