[Stephen King Day] Salem’s Lot (1979)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres

Screenplay: Paul Monash

184 mins. Rated PG.

 

Today, we look at the second official adaptation of Stephen King’s work in Salem’s Lot, from director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist). Salem’s Lot premiered in a 2-part miniseries back in the late 1970s, and I watched the complete cut of the film in order to best collect my thoughts. Let me be clear, this review is for the 184-minute cut of the film as opposed to the shortened European cut released to cinemas after its US release.

Salem’s Lot is the story of Ben Mears (David Soul, Filth, TV’s Starsky and Hutch), successful novelist, who returns to his hometown of Jerusalem’s Lot in Maine to write a book on the Marsten House, a creepy old house on the hilltop at the edge of town. Mears discovers that the house has already been rented out to Richard K. Straker (James Mason, North by Northwest, Lolita), a mysterious new resident who is planning on opening an antiques store in town with his absent partner, Kurt Barlow. After moving into a boarding house, Mears quickly becomes acquainted with the townspeople, especially the attractive Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia, Die Hard, TV’s Parenthood). Mears also strikes up a friendship with a former teacher, Jason Burke (Lew Ayres, All Quiet on the Western Front, Battle for the Planet of the Apes). But all is not well in Salem’s Lot. People start going missing while others come down with a mysterious illness. Mears and company suspect the true cause is something far more horrific when victims appear with two puncture wounds on their necks and the truth behind the small town makes itself known.

Now, I thoroughly enjoyed the original Stephen King novel on which this movie is based, and while I enjoyed the adaptation, you can easily tell the budget is not where it should be. This being fairly early in Tobe Hooper’s career, it is pretty obvious that he doesn’t have the tools in place to make this film what it needs to be. I liked David Soul’s portrayal of Ben Mears, and the chemistry with Bonnie Bedelia’s Susan Norton works well enough. I even enjoyed James Mason’s take on Straker. Fred Willard even appears in a small role as the slimy real estate agent who resides in Salem’s Lot.

The losses in the film comes from the tone and the excitement. Hooper seems to be checking off important scenes that build narrative but the actual fear and horror are so few and far between that the film just doesn’t have that…uh, bite.

There’s also a decision in the design of our main vampire (okay, he’s on the cover, deal with it) as a Nosferatu-type misses the mark of the character and becomes fairly flat and without villainy. He’s creepy to be true, but it seeks to remind viewers that this has been done before, and better.

Salem’s Lot appears to appeal to fans of the source novel in more ways that a general audience, but it is missing that classic Stephen King feeling in favor of exposition overload. It’s just missing that fear and horror, so much so that the PG rating becomes a slap in the face. This is one I would only recommend to fans of the novel. All others need not apply.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.

 

 

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[Stephen King Day] Carrie (1976)

carrie1976a
Director: Brian DePalma
Cast: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, John Travolta
Screenplay: Lawrence D. Cohen
98 mins. Rated R.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress in a Leading Role [Sissy Spacek]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress in a Supporting Role [Piper Laurie]

 

Because today is Stephen King’s Birthday today, I thought we would pick at King’s film adaptations today in an attempt to find the ones worthy of his stamp.

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Upon finishing the unpublished manuscript that would become Carrie, Stephen King promptly threw it away. It was his wife who pulled it from the wastebasket, read it, and pushed him to finish it, and its a good thing she did. Stephen King may not have had the type of following he has today without the breakout novel Carrie, and director Brian DePalma (Scarface, Passion), who put the book to film along with screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen (It, The Tommyknockers), can also thank the book for pushing his career even further. So how does it stack up 40 years later?

Carrie White (Sissy Spacek, TV’s Bloodline, The Straight Story) is just about the most unpopular girl in high school, due in no small part to her awkwardness and her mother’s religious fanatascism. When Carrie gets her first period, the other girls mock and torture her, reducing her to a shaken puddle of fear. Sue Snell (Amy Irving, Hide and Seek, Tuck Everlasting) wants to make it up to Carrie and give her the prom she never would have gotten. Chris Hargensen, however, has other plans in mind for Carrie White, but nobody expects what will happen next.

I’m going to reiterate what the Academy believed: Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie (The Hustler, Hesher) deserved recognition for their work here. Firstly, Spacek’s in-depth portrayal of Carrie White, a girl suffering from the tyranny of her mother’s delusions, a girl perhaps not as pretty as the other girls in school, is incredible. Spacek went full method actress in the role, and memorized passages of the Bible while keeping her distance from the other actresses. She took the opportunity to do all her own stunts as often as possible (the few stunts there were). Laurie, too, initally believed the film to be a dark comedy and, upon learning otherwise, kept the same over-the-top approach to Margaret White, dealing an unbelievably complex and troubled woman protecting her daughter from the sins of the world.

Brian DePalma’s tone for the film rides of the line of teen drama and suspense while exuding horrific moments of shock that ratchet the tension up with each passing display of Carrie’s unique power. His decision to play with multiple angles for the film’s climactic sequences was brilliant, displaying an unnerving eruption of death and destruction. The screenplay from Cohen assists in always keeping the audience guessing, though it does spend a lot more time than it needs to in Act 2 building the story.

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It is due to the fact that everyone involved was at the top of their game that make this horror film what it is: an undeniable masterpiece of terror. With King at the source, DePalma behind the camera, and the amazing cast in front that elevates Carrie above the average genre piece.

4.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Brian DePalma’s Mission: Impossible, click here.