TV Movie: “Salem’s Lot (1979)”

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When it comes to the mini-series, I want a good story that’s told in a manner that keeps me engaged throughout all the parts. Most mini-series, that I have seen, manage to be incredibly engaging, well done,and have very good stories.

With the CBS television mini-series “Salem’s Lot (1979)”, I’m given an interesting story, but that’s where things mostly stop. Not everything can be as good as what you’d expect it to be.

This horror mystery stars David Soul (“Filth”, “Inspector Lewis”), James Mason (“The Verdict”, “A Star is Born (1955)”), Lance Kerwin (” Outbreak”, “Challenger”), Bonnie Bedelia (“Parenthood (TV series)”, “Sordid Lives: The Series”), Lew Ayres (“Johnny Belinda”, “Battle for the Planet of the Apes”), and Reggie Nalder (“Blue Ice”, “The Devil and Max Devlin”).

The film is directed by Tobe Hooper (“Djinn”, Mortuary”) and written by Paul Monash (“George Wallace”, “Stalin”). It is based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King.

The film originally aired on CBS on Nov. 17 and 24, 1979. The mini-series would later go on to be nominated for three Emmy Awards.

As this is an adaptation of a book, the final outcome could go either way. King, early on, was known for writing some of the most frightening books out there, but not all adaptations captured that same feeling, for whatever reason. As time has gone on, the adaptations have seemingly gotten worse and worse. I could go either way on the remake mini-series of “Salem’s Lot” from 2004.

Now, as with many things that have existed for some time, they may not be as grand as they once were. In the case here, scary or even frightening. For a TV movie back in the late ’70s, this makes sense, especially when you see the kind of content given for today’s “scary” or “frightening” programs on TV. In the past 14 years, there’s been things like “Rose Red”, “Desperation”, “Carrie (2002)”, “Children of the Corn (2009)”, and Nightmares & Dreamscapes”, all of which, incidentally are based on works by King. I’m sure there are others, like “Fear Itself”, which also couldn’t really hit the right marks.

While some of these were far more exciting than this film, or even the others listed, they’re still not truly scary. This film, I can compare to that of the original “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” from 1973, which was also a TV movie. It wasn’t scary to me when I watched some few years ago. I believe it’s understandable, but it’s just disappointing in some ways.

So, yes, if you haven’t picked it up yet, this film was not all that scary, or even creepy. I’ll admit that a few individual moments, sprinkled throughout the entire film, were scary, but those came and went so fast. What was weird about most of these, is that you’d start getting creeped out a bit, but before the full effect could take hold, the scene stopped with some freeze frame image. Lame. I guess the network thought audiences would have enough to be scared by. After these moments came and went, all that was left was suffering through a bunch of boring dialogue, subplots, with characters you don’t know why they’re there or care about, and overall boring pacing. That pacing really ruined the whole thing. I was bored. Which would also explain why I didn’t care, nor believe, that the central character was supposed to be falling in love or simply have feelings for some woman. Much of the narrative that was meant too get you to like the characters did nothing but annoy me.

The makeup effects for the various people, as they turned into vampires, were pretty fantastic. So fantastic even, that turning young children into really creepy vampire kids, worked like a charm. They definitely brought out the only creepy moments around, even if they were brief. When meeting Mr. Barlow, at long last, I was actually able to be frightened enough that I jumped. While that was the only instance the entire film, I could appreciate what was being attempted by the makeup artist and with the whole film overall.

The score surprisingly was the only thing I truly enjoyed the most. It played more consistently throughout than the supposed tension that was supposed to be building up. Every scratchy, screechy note used elevated the film and kept my interest, if only from an audible perspective. When leading into certain scenes, even if not ultimately scary, you could easily get caught up, and if something succeeded in being scary, landed well. At the very least, you could be unnerved. The various encounters with any of the vampires certainly worked with score and this is probably the only thing that redeems this film.

As a film lover, I don’t think the problem is entirely, or exclusively with the film. It will always be, the timing. Much like with “The Exorcist”, this film couldn’t bring out the same kind of reactions that I’ve heard came with it when it originally debuted. I can only imagine what it was like to view it on TV with commercials and better tension, but that’s it. So while I may not enjoy what was done now, I don’t think that this film was a waste. Just not one I’ll be attempting to enjoy again, any time soon.

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