Wednesday, October 28, 2009

TV Party Tonight! - Salem's Lot

Karen: You know a movie or show has achieved some level of success when an image from it stays with you for many years, able to be called up effortlessly from the mind as fresh as the first time you saw it. So it is for me with the dramatic appearance of the vampire Barlow in the 1979 TV mini-series, Salem's Lot.

But other people I've talked to about Salem's Lot often bring up the scene where a recently deceased child appears as a floating apparition at a window.

The main thing is, people who saw it tend to remember Salem's Lot, and quite vividly!

This two part mini-series (hardly seems like a mini-series now, given how long some go on) appeared in 1979. It was based on the novel by Stephen King, which had been published only 4 years earlier. The story involves a young writer, Ben Mears (played by David Soul of Starksy & Hutch), who returns to his childhood home of Salem's Lot, Maine, compelled to write about a foreboding house that overlooks the town and seems innately evil. But not long after he returns, a strange man, Mr. Straker, buys the old house, and then people in the town begin getting ill, and dying. It's eventually revealed that Straker is the human servant of a vampire, Barlow, who has come to feed on the town. Ben and a few of the town folk try to stop Barlow, but as more of the people of Salem's Lot become Barlow's pawns, it becomes a race to keep the town alive -literally. The slow, steady absorption of the town by evil is chilling.

Salem's Lot was quite a sensation when it premiered. I can recall watching it and then talking with most of my friends about it at school in the days after. There were many differences from the novel. One improvement, I thought, was beefing up the role of pre-teen Mark Petrie (played in the show by Lance Kerwin). Mark was a bright kid who was into monsters, magic, all sorts of 'weird' things. I could relate to him and so did a lot of the kids I knew. He seems to have the least difficulty with the supernatural events around him, and despite his age, is a steady and resourceful young man. David Soul does a nice turn as writer Mears, able to convey a sort of wistfulness and fear all at the same time.

The vampire, Barlow, has provoked a lot of comment over the years. His look is a direct swipe of Count Orlok from the film Nosferatu, only in color. He bears no resemblance to Barlow from the book, who was your more typical suave human-looking vampire. But I like the more monstrous look. I'm sick of all these good-looking teenage vampires running around nowadays. Vampires should be awful, horrific things, not someone you want to take to the prom! Even Bela Lugosi was scarier than these punks today. Barlow may be the most frightening vampire I've ever seen. Interesting side note: Barlow was played by Reggie Nalder, who also played an Andorian ambassador in the Star Trek episode, "Journey to Babel". Must be something about his face.

If you've not seen Salem's Lot, you might have some difficulty finding it on DVD. Also be aware that a shorter version was made and put on video years ago. Luckily the entire thing has been posted on YouTube. If you'd like to see a truly scary vampire movie, check it out.

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