HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Salem's Lot
HTS Overall Score:73
To finish off the trio of Stephen King films we have one of his best works yet. “Salem’s Lot”. A little miniseries that was played out over 2 nights back in 1979. Unlike “IT”, which was a decent film, “Salem’s Lot” was one of the REALLY good books that King put out and it translated well into TV. It also helps when you have Tobe Hooper as the director (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”, “Lifeforce”, “Poltergeist”) and great actors like James Mason involved. I remember the movie absolutely TERRIFYING me as a 6 year old boy in the 80s, and it still stands up quite well today. Despite a few cheesy 70s vampire motifs that can fall flat to a younger and more modern horror fanatic where blood and gore is the deciding factor for vamp terror. Of course the novel is better than the miniseries, but the show is a fantastic watch, and easily the best out of the three King horror flicks that I’ve reviewed the past couple of days (“Cat’s Eye” and “IT” respectively).
The film opens up with Ben Mears (David Soul) returning to his home town of Salem’s Lot. He’s a horror novelist right now (you’ll find out that many people in King’s films and books tend to show that vocational inclination) and he’s back in town to write a novel about the Marsten house that looks over the whole town. A grisly murder happened there years and years ago, and young Ben had seen something in that terrifying house that couldn’t be explained with pure logic. Soon after he move back into town, strange things start happening. Children start disappearing without a trace and people end up dying after getting strangely sick. The only seeming change is the introduction of Ben. However, there are darker and more malevolent things at work in the small town. While Ben is enamored with Susan Norton (Bonny Bedelia, best known for playing John McLane’s wife in “Diehard” 1 and 2), a young girl of the town, an old curator is opening up an antique store in town. A man who just so happens to have bought and moved into the Marsten house.
With people dying left and right Ben is bound and determined to figure out who or WHAT is causing this horror. Dead certain it has to do with the Marsten house, Ben focuses his attention on Mr. Straker (James Mason), the new owner, and finds out that there is an evil at work within the city. An infestation of vampires that seem to be cropping up all over town and all of them seem to lead back to one source. The Marsten house and the man who lives there.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=80570[/img]“Salem’s Lot” simply WORKS as a horror film (or series, whatever you want to call it), and it has been one that is long overdue in coming out on Blu-ray. Many of us horror fanatics have been writing petitions to Warner Brothers, and wondering when the film would be released for several years, but the wait is finally over. One of King’s best works is out on a solid Blu-ray release that does the film justice. Sadly not great 4K review with a collector’s edition is to be fated, but this release is more than capable and doesn’t suffer from “budgetitis” that so many other catalog titles receive.
What makes the movie so infectiously creepy is the slow and steady buildup to the final battle between humans and vampires. Unlike “IT”, which just is immeasurably slow in the first act, “Salem’s Lot” starts out fairly low key, but slowly and steadily moves upward at a good clip without going through the up and down wave that could have killed it. A 3 hour series is hard to do right, as most miniseries benefit from huge runtimes (6 hours plus) which allow for multiple time jumps and the like, but “Salem” is one continuous time period and the 3 hour time on the film is just enough to get by without needing filler, and not so much that it’s overly slow and bloated. James Mason is wonderful as the creepy curator Mr. Straker, and the rest of the cast does a fantastic job (despite most being TV actors). The buildup with Ben and Susan is pretty clichéd, but that is more due to the fact that the 1970’s melodrama has been lost in modern telling of vampire lore. However, “Salem’s Lot” hearkens back to a time when vampires were monsters and myth, rather than leather bound ninjas or (god forbid) sparkling pretty boys you wanted to date.
Rated PG, Parental Guidance Recommended
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=80578[/img]Down to the nitty gritty. I was really pleasantly surprised by the transfer for “Salem’s Lot”. The show was a 1979 TV miniseries, so naturally it’s going to be in the 4:3 aspect ratio, but the image looks to be from a fairly recent mastering. Grainy as all getout, the film looks very much like how I remembered it as a kid (as good as my memory can be for something like that) and it looks a TON better than the old DVD I had a few years ago. Grain is well defined, but there are some inconsistencies here and there with the amount. Most of the time it’s nicely grainy, but there are a few spikes where it gets excessive here and there (Look for the scene where Fred Willard’s character gets kicked out of the house when he’s caught cheating with Bear’s wife. It spikes REALLY badly there). Colors are brightly lit and well saturated, and there’s that slight red/orange push that seems to be indicative of a lot of 70s film. Black levels are deep and inky and despite a teensy bit of washed out blacks, shows some very impressive shadow detail (especially inside the Marsten house when Ben is going there to finish off the Master).
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=80586[/img]Presented in its stereo 2.0 glory (all in DTS-HD MA) the audio experience for “Salem’s Lot” provides a generally pleasing experience with a few slight flaws. Dialog is strong and fairly clean, but there is a general background hiss that tends to stick around throughout the show. It’s never overly hissy or overshadows the track, but you can hear it if you really listen for it. This is most likely source related as it doesn’t matter what volume level you put the track at and ALL of the effects and music experiences it too. Ambiance is wonderful with Stukman’s score and the front soundstage has a goodly amount activity in it too. As with all 2.0 tracks, it is not as wildly immersive as a 5.1 or 7.1 mix, but as a TV miniseries with a limited budget it does what it can with the tools at hand.
• NEW Feature-Length Audio Commentary by Director Tobe Hooper
• International Theatrical Trailer
A masterful miniseries, “Salem’s Lot” stands as one of my favorite Stephen King film adaptations to date, and one that is still just as fun after 37 years. Tobe Hooper’s direction is artful and tasteful (although sadly it’s a bit less bloody due to being aired on broadcast TV), and the score by Harry Sukman is wonderfully creepy and bone chilling. The video and audio for the release are actually quite good for a $14.97 MSRP film, but like all the other Stephen King films released in this trio, there is only a commentary and a theatrical trailer for extras. Still definitely worth picking up for us classic horror fans.
Starring: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Stephen King (Novel), Paul Monash (Screenplay)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 2.0, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese DD 2.0
Runtime: 183 minutes
Own Salem's Lot on Blu-ray on September 20!
Buy Salem's Lot On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Definitely Recommended
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