Salem’s Lot (1979)

Salem’s Lot has a special place in my heart. It was the first scary book I ever read. The film is the two part miniseries I remember from the eighties stitched together. It smartly does away with the vast array of characters in the novel and concentrates on Ben Mears, the returning writer, who is researching a book about the Marsten House, which has recently been bought by the public-facing Mr Straker and reclusive Mr Barlow. Straker and Barlow have also just bought an antique shop in the town, and the local people are fascinated by the mysterious pair. Of course, Mr Barlow is a vampire, and very quickly he begins to turn the townsfolk into his slave vampires. Ben and his companions have to stop him.

I can’t remember the last three-hour film I watched, but there was enough going on in this one to keep my interest. The script is good. There’s a believable (if slightly cringey) romance between Ben and Susan, a new teacher at his old high school. The vampires look properly dead and are very scary, and the little dramas and jealousies of small town life are believable. I’d forgotten the iconic moments, like the younger boy floating outside his older brother’s window, and the grave digger opening the coffin. It all still works.

It was fun to see how Tobe Hooper’s Marsten House had echoes of his Texas Chain Saw Massacre house, with feathers and dust on the floor, the stuffed animals on the walls, and general air of rot and decay. It was a little upsetting to realise how closely The Master in Jakob’s Wife mirrored Barlow. I mean, come on! I guess it shows the power of Barlow’s screen presence, and ultimately even he is a homage to Nosferatu.