MAY 21, 2009
I’m a big Stephen King fan, and despite almost constant disappointment, I’m always game to see what Tobe Hooper’s up to. So why haven’t I watched Salem’s Lot until now? Hell, the main reason I finally rented it is just so I can watch the sequel, which stars my beloved Michael Moriarty. Also, I watch a Horror Movie A Day.
Anyway, it’s not that great of a movie. The production value is above what one would expect from a TV movie (this is back in the 70s, when a TV movie could easily be mistaken for a real movie), and the acting is good. The main problem is that they were perhaps a bit TOO faithful to the book, resulting in a fairly mechanical film. There’s little narrative flow for large sections of the film, we just see things happen because they were in the book. Someone will drive by another character, and that will be the entire scene. In the book, this was probably accompanied by some interior monologue, but on film, it’s just a guy driving by another guy. Then the scene will quickly cut to another one with little narrative consequence.
They also spend far too much time on the subplots before getting to the goddamn vampires. Like, fine, Crockett is sleeping with Cully’s wife. Do we need like 20 minutes’ worth of scenes about it? And that’s actually a deviation from the book! In the book she was just fucking around with some random dude. Now it’s Crockett, which has some benefit to the plot (he sends Cully out to get Straker's package, thus getting him out of town for a few hours so he can nail the wife), but we don’t need so much setup for a globally understood issue.
Now, I have seen the other adaptation, the TNT one from 2004. Strangely, I saw it in a theater (projected on a DVD! It was like all three mediums colliding), and I have to say it was a more successful version. It wasn’t as faithful to the novel, but it gelled better than this film does, and actually delivered some nice scares (it also got into Mears’ obsession with the house, which this version brings up early on and then more or less drops).
One thing they didn’t change which this one DID is the fact that Barlowis supposed to be a human-looking vampire. Here, he looks like the Hari-Krishna zombie from Dawn of the Dead dressed up as Nosferatu. It’s an odd choice, because a. the makeup sucks and therefore he just looks goofy instead of scary, and b. it makes Straker seem like he’s in charge, when in reality he’s more like the Renfield of the story. Luckily, James Mason (as Straker) delivers a wonderful performance (“Chow.”), which helps even things out a bit.
I can’t remember, but is the novel bookended by scenes in Guatemala? Seemed new to me. Either way, on film it doesn’t work, and the time should have been spent on a better resolution to the Susan Norton subplot, rather than have Mears randomly kill her in some other country two years later, without any buildup.
One thing I did like is the cast. David Soul was great as Mears (better than Rob Lowe, that’s for sure), as was Lance Kerwin as Mark (who has a Dracula model much like the one I just built!). And the supporting roles are filled with familiar faces, such as Fred Willard as Crockett and George Dzundza as Cully. Father Callahan kind of gets short-changed though; I think he has like three scenes. That’s no way to treat a character who will eventually travel into another series and cause everyone to hate Stephen King!
Oh, the film casts both Geoffrey Lewis and Elisha Cook Jr, which is good because it finally proves to me that they are not the same guy. Though... now that I think about it, they never share a scene....
So I dunno, it’s got some good stuff, but it’s just overlong and weightless. King has said that the edited version (which chops over an hour out!) is actually better, as it improves the pace and such. I don’t doubt it, but I also doubt I’ll take the time to watch it anytime soon (is that cut even available anymore?). Oh well, can’t win em all. And in Hooper’s case, it seems you can’t win any unless Leatherface or Steven Spielberg are involved.
What say you?