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Salem's Lot

Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: David Soul, Bonnie Bedelia, James Mason
Running time: 182 minutes
Rating: Unrated

Story: Ben Mears, a best-selling author, returns to his hometown of Salem's Lot to write a book about the local haunted house. A strange man opens an antique shop and assures people they'll be meeting his partner soon. Mears and the rest of the townspeople will wish they didn't meet him. Why? He's a vampire.

Review: Vampire lore has been around for quite some time, long before any of us were around. From it's beginnings with Bram Stoker's novel 'Dracula' to today with films like 'Blade' and '30 Days of Night,' the mythology has evolved and been twisted around in so many film and written works. So it's no surprise that famed author Stephen King took a crack at it with his 1975 novel 'Salem's Lot.' The book terrified readers, making them face their worst fears. After the success of 'Carrie,' the first film adaptation of King's work, it wouldn't be long until another would make it to the screen. But in this case it would premier on the small screen, at least here in the US.

Many directors, including George A. Romero, were approached to direct the film, but Tobe Hooper of 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' fame got the job. This was met with some skepticism, but Hooper proved he is no "one trick pony." Premiering on television in 1979, the film was a ratings sensation and critics seemed to like it. As for fans of King's work, the reviews were mixed. As with just about all films based on books, some felt it didn't do it justice. Others viewed the film on it's own merits and were happy.

What's strange is that the film was cut down from over three hours to less than two hours for it's European and video release. Fortunately the full miniseries version is available on video and DVD and is occasionally shown on TV. Fans, old and new, can view and review the film in it's entirety. In my futile opinion this is the better of the two versions, but is by no means perfect. I do feel that it may be the scariest vampire film ever made, especially compared to ones seen lately.

The cast, which is large, does an excellent job. It also helps that leads David Soul and Bonnie Bedelia have good chemistry. Director Hooper does a super job at creating suspense and atmosphere, especially in the graveyard and Marsten House scenes. The musical score is chilling and is likely to keep you in goosebumps. For a 3+ hour movie the pace moves swiftly, most of the time. Plenty of eerie moments and images that'll stay with you.

There's also many powerful scares that I won't spoil. Speaking of scary, the make-up on the villain is a masterwork. Sure it's almost a steal of the make-up on the original Nosferatu, but that doesn't make it any less effective. The vampires in this movie in general are some of the most frightening in recent memory. There's not too many flaws though, just a few that you can't miss.

For one thing, there are a few bad editing choices. For example, when they put together the whole miniseries for video and DVD they left in all the fades to black before a commercial break. Now a couple of them actual help, but most are annoying. The film does move a good pace, but a few minutes still could have been shaven off the running time. Like, did we really need that portion of the last few minutes before the opening credits?

For a film that's, as of this writing, almost 30 years old 'Salem's Lot' still packs a wallop. Unlike a lot of vampire movies now it's suspenseful, allows us to really get to know the characters and setting, does resort to cheap shocks to scare, and has real heart in it. If you're tired of seeing vampires that are sexy and charming then you've come to the right movie. Try and watch this one with the lights off.

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