As a general rule, Stephen King's made for T.V. horror films are rarely effective, but, then again, not all of King's T.V. horror films had the luxury of being helmed by Texas Chainsaw Massacre auteur Tobe Hooper. With King's wonderful tale as the blueprint, Hooper's Salem's Lot is a theatrical quality film in mini-series clothing.
The story of Salem's Lot should be familiar to most genre fans, but here it is in a nutshell. Novelist Ben Mears (Soul) returns to his childhood home of Salem's Lot, Maine to work on a book about a creepy mansion called the Marsden House, where he had witnessed something horrific as a young boy. Upon Ben's return the house is rented by an antiques dealer named Straker (Mason) and his mysterious and illusive "companion" Kurt Barlow. Shortly thereafter, a string of murders sends the small town into a panic. It doesn't take Ben long to deduce that there is vampirism afoot, and all signs point to the new neighbors in the Marsden House.
Salem's Lot is presented by Warner Home Video in its full "Mini-Series" cut (more on that later!) of just over 3 hours, and is, in my opinion, the best page to film translation of a Stephen King novel yet. I realize many of you are shaking your heads and thinking me mad for not recognizing the excellence that is Kubrick's The Shining, however I am talking about FAITHFUL adaptations of King's work. Hooper sticks to the novel as much as possible here, and brings King's novel to vivid and complete life. Sure King's recent mini-series with Mick Garris have had the luxury of more time, bigger budgets, and more lenient censors, but none of them stack up to Hooper's adaptation of Salem's Lot. Using little to no gore, minimal special effects, and a working under the watchful eye of the networks, Hooper still managed to create a very frightening film that scared the bejeesus out of folks when it first aired. I still find myself white-knuckling the couch cushions when Mark's (Kerwin) recently deceased friend floats outside of his window, shrouded in mist and tapping and scratching the glass relentlessly. I don't recall any scenes in any other King T.V. adaptations making me so much as wince, let alone cower in fear!
This Warner Home Video Region 1 release is what you'd expect from the studio's first batch of DVD offerings (Salem's Lot was released in 1999), and is presented in the full frame manner in which it was intended to be seen. The transfer presented here is the best I've ever seen the film look, but, then again, I've only seen Salem's Lot on late night television prior to this release, so that's not saying much! The soundtrack is Dolby 1.0 mono, which, again, comes as no surprise given the films origins and age. It's a perfectly crisp mix, though, with only hints of distortion and the occasional pop and hiss audible during "commercial breaks" (the film frequently freeze frames and fades to black.).
Salem's Lot was originally 193 minutes long, but some "excessive" violence was excised and the film was cut down to 150 minutes for its television run in 1979. The film was then cut down to just under two hours, swapping out some expository footage for the network censored violence, and released in Europe theatrically. In 1993 a laserdisc of the full 193 minute version was released by Warner Home Video, and then, in 1999, Warner released the 183 minute cut on the DVD reviewed here. Why we didn't get the FULL version is anyone's guess, but one can assume that this wonderfully creepy and genuinely enthralling film will someday get the release it so richly deserves.