Ben Mears -
Susan Norton -
Mark Petrie -
Richard Straker -
Matt Burke -
Dr Cody -
Father Callahan -
Kurt Barlow -
OTHER STEPHEN KING SHOWS
Salem's Lot '79
Nightmares and Dreamscapes
OTHER HORROR SHOWS
Ben Mears, a noted author, returns to the isolated town of Salem's Lot to face a fear that has long lived with him. As a child, he entered the Marston House that dominates the town and discovered three bodies. There is more to that story, but he isn't telling.
There is also something else at work in Salem's Lot. An ancient evil has come to town in the shape of Richard Straker. Outwardly an antiques dealer, he has brought something with him. Two boys go missing and then strange things start happening to those who loved them. By the time that Ben has come to some very strange conclusions, he is sure nobody will believe him.
To say that adaptations of the writings of Stephen King are of variable quality is akin to saying the Titanic had a minor incident with an iceberg. When someone gets the adaptation right it can be very, very good (think THE SHINING, CARRIE or MISERY), but when they're bad they're CUJO. The thing about Stephen King is that he takes old horrors and breathes new life into them by setting them in the real world and peopling them with real characters. They're not just scary, they're scary where you live.
And that's the problem with this adaptation of SALEM'S LOT. The name of the town is the title and that's the point. It isn't just about the major characters, but about the death of the whole town. Unfortunately, we don't get enough time to get to know these characters before the story really kicks in and absolutely no time to get to know the town. The Marston House, for example, is a critical lynchpin to the whole soul of the town, but we get only a vague idea of what went on there the night Ben wandered in and nothing about the history before that.
The major characters are well drawn by the actors. Rob Lowe (back for another taste of King after his role in THE STAND) makes for a believable Ben Mears, conflicted, but drawn back to face his demons. Samantha Mathis makes for an appealing heroine considering that she is given virtually nothing to work with by the script and Daniel Byrde does well as Mark Petrie, friend of the two boys who are the first victims and certainly no victim himself. James Cromwell is given little to do and Donald Sutherland is severely wasted as Richard Straker, the centre of the evil, but barely rating any screen time.
What's really missing here is a sense of dread. Even the overly portentous voiceover that Rob Lowe is saddled with doesn't bring that. Then there is the matter of the vampires. That they move differently to us is to be expected, but sudden bursts of energy and staccato movements seem much more like a cocked up special effect than anything that was planned and doesn't help with the suspension of disbelief. When Mark is threatened in his hospital bed, it ought to be terrifying. Instead, it's mystifying. And who the hell cast Rutger Hauer as the chief vampire for heaven's sake? Did they not see his absolutely appalling performance in the film version of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER? He's not that much better here and he isn't supposed to be hamming it up this time.
On the whole, this first part of the story is disappointingly flat.Top
The vampires are overrunning the town and only a few have stumbled onto the truth. Whilst Ben and the Doctor search for proof that the townsfolk are being turned into vampires, Mark and Susan head up to the Marston house to destroy the unseen master. Of course, things don't go as planned and soon a small band of very frightened survivors are under siege.
The preamble is over and the fight for survival is on and it seems that this is what interested the makers of this mini-series more than the build up because the second part is everything that the first part failed to be. There's danger everywhere and the threat of pointy-toothed death lies behind every twitching curtain. People are dying and none of our heroes is safe. Action and plot takes over and drives the episode forward in a way that the first part could not manage. Any sense of atmosphere is no longer required, just the running and the screaming and the dying.
There are still problems here, though. Characters that were part of the building up of place and time (or should have been anyway) just disappear out of the plot, no longer mattering as the focus drives in on the main heroes. Plot strands are left dangling and never returned to whilst others reappear with no rhyme or reason as to why they survived when others didn't There's a bit too much poking around in yet another dark place where vampires might lie and the vamps still move like a bad time lapse shot rather than any vampire might be expected to. Barlow's first appearance in the scene where he takes on the priest is devastatingly poor technically.
James Cromwell comes into play more in this second half, but Donald Sutherland is, if anything, even more criminally wasted than he was in the first half. Rutger Hauer gets more to do as the chief vamp as well and just doesn't manage to menace like he should. The rest of the main cast do well. Rob Lowe especially shows a maturity that banished memories of his brat pack past.
Some of the big moments are fluffed, but enough gets by to have made the time spent in Salem's Lot worth the effort, but an early revisit doesn't seem likely.Top
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