The Best of the Lot

Cover of

This past weekend, I had opportunity to watch a new(er – 2004) TV version (well, new to me anyway) of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot.  It stars Rob Lowe (who was also in the TV mini-series production of The Stand with Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald), Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer, Samantha Mathis, and Andre Braugher (who was also in the recent theatrical version of The Mist).

I was prepared to be disappointed.  The 1979 version (with David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin [remember James at 15?], Bonnie Bedelia and Fred Willard) and and this one were both made-for-TV movies which spanned two nights, but this one was re-aired in a single four-hour showing.  (Love it.)  I recorded it and sat down to watch it late one night while my beloved sat in bed to read.

Now, it’s probably been about twenty-five years since I’ve read King’s book.  I saw the movie first.  But the book was different.  In 1979, Kurt Barlow is a blue-faced, lanky, tall version of Nosferatu (played by Reggie Nalder) in a black dress.  Scary?  Oh yeah.  True to the story?  Not so much.

In this version, Kurt Barlow is played by Rutger Hauer.  A more perfect choice for the role couldn’t have been made.  He did a magnificent job, and as near I can remember, did a great job of recreating Barlow from King’s tale.

Certain elements of the story have been updated for more current times – for example, cell phones weren’t around in 1975 when King published Lot originally, or in 1979 when the first version was filmed.  Certain aspects of the story were adjusted, probably for the sake of isolating the story to the confines of the time slot allowed.  Such decisions must always be made, but a lot of times they hurt the story.  This time they didn’t, I thought.

The vampires are real vampires.  They don’t sparkle, they’re not quick-witted over-sexed rich people with shoulder-length hair and silk clothing.  They’re not homosexual, or sexual at all unless it will get them fed, as far as I can tell.  They’re just vampires … creepy, scary, treacherous, conniving, hungry … and proliferating.  Rapidly.

The story’s about a town who, through inherent evil built into the very fabric of a house high on an overlooking hill, unwittingly invites into it’s midst a vampire and his human, if somewhat enhanced, attendant.  One by one, starting with children (who present easy prey for a vampire … or any other predator unfortunately), the town is converted to vampires by the sinister and largely invisible Barlow and his growing minions.  In the end, the protagonist must face both his childhood-ingrained fear of the town and its haunted mansion, and the vampire Barlow and his increasing army of undead.

It’s a gripping story, and this version did an amazing job of showing the slow but steady influx of the monsters, with the town dying from beneath its denizens in geometric acceleration.  This version of the movie, I thought, was well-done.  The classic vampire stories play into the creatures.  The heroes are not altruistic, but have their own reasons and agendas for stopping Barlow.  They’re broken people, flawed, and for the most part, well-acted.

The variances from the book may not all have been necessary, but in the end, they worked very well.  The 1979 version was good; I enjoyed it a lot, and it was scary.  Both excelled in their telling of the tale, I thought, and I balk at saying one’s better than the other.  This one was a great successor to a great movie to me, and it showed horror as I truly feel it should be.  Not gore-laden and blood-dripping, so much, but just evocative of deep fears and flesh-crawling … well, horror.

If you haven’t seen it – and it’s five years old already so I’m pretty sure I’m the last person on the planet not to – it’s worth the time.  I give it an “A”.  Not an “A+” because some of the CGI could’ve been better, but overall, not bad at all.  And I was the more impressed because of what I’ve seen in the horror genre lately.

If you get a chance to check it out, I recommend it.  Highly.


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10 thoughts on “The Best of the Lot

  1. Samantha Mathis? THE Samantha Mathis from Pump Up the Volume? The Eat Me Beat Me Lady? Wow. That rocketed Salem’s Lot to the top of my list.

    I can’t tell ya ’bout that stuff. Never heard of her, frankly, but you can IMDB her and see if she’s who you think she is.

    Oh wait, it has vampires and therefore is scary. That’s normally enough to take it off the list, but the Samantha Mathis factor will tip the scales in its favor. Requesting from NetFlix in 3…2…1.

    Speaking of vampires there’s a new (well, new to me) series on HBO called True Blood, which is verrrrrry loosely based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels that KnytStalker – at least I *thought* it was KnytStalker – was trying to get you to read. I’m gonna see if NetFlix has Season 1 as well.

    Yes, I’m familiar with the show AND the books — because of KnytStalker. She’s been trying to get me to read them for years, and claims while it IS a modern take on vampires, many of the standard mythos has been retained. I haven’t gotten to them yet though, and I’ve never seen True Blood.

    Glad to see a remake made you happy instead of bitter, twisted, and supremely pissed off 🙂

    Too late for any movie to do that, sweetie. 😉 It was good; I think you’ll like it. Classic horror done RIGHT.


  2. One more thing! This is something I’ve always wondered about this book.

    Is it “Salem’s Lot” like Salem (Say-lehm), Massachusetts or is it “‘Salem’s Lot” like short for Jerusalem (Sah-lem)?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    Both Salem, MA and THIS Salem (which is in Maine, though it’s imaginary) are pronounced the same way, BUT, my loving wife got me to thinking, and so I researched the name for Salem, MA. What I found is the town’s name means “City of Peace”. Therefore, “Salem” is an anglicized version of “Shalom”, the Hebrew word for “peace”. Interesting, no?

    • I’ll put in my 2 cents here. I believe it is short for Jerusalem’s Lot but still pronounced say-lem. But then again, I’ve never heard Salem pronounced sah-lem. Where did you hear that?

      You’re right on both counts. Never sah-lem, always SAY-lem.

      • Perhaps I screwed up the phonetics.. try suh-lem instead. Like, don’t say the Juh-roo part of Jerusalem. Maybe it only sounds that way in my head? 🙂

        It’s still pronounced “Say-lum”, but IS short for “Jerusalem” In the STORY, not in real life.

        I find it amusing this is the bulk of the discussion on this post.

  3. I was afraid to watch this version, thought I might be disappointed. Now it’s back on my list! I grew up reading Stephen King.

    He’s my all-time favorite and my writing hero in a lot of ways. He’s had more influence on my work than any other writer and is the reason I wanted to become one in the first place. 🙂 I think you’ll like it; I wasn’t disappointed, and I’m a hard sell on these things.

  4. I saw the ’79 version and was quite frightened and I vaguely remember trying to watch the Lowe version and not being able to engage. Perhaps I will try again.

    It was hard for me to get past the Rob Lowe-ness of it. Once I did, though, I really enjoyed it. Your mileage, however, may vary. 🙂

  5. I’m partial to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, not so much to the truly scary vamps. Incidentally, I was once mistaken for Molly Ringwald (since you happened to mention her name). I can sort of see the similarity. I’ve also been told I look like Molly Parker. So, maybe I should change my name to Molly.

    Nah, keep your name. It’s gotta be better’n “Molly”. 🙂

  6. I. Don’t. Watch. Vampires.

    That old Salem’s Lot movie traumatized me as a kid. I’m a wimp. But glad you saw something you liked.

    Aw, that’s a shame. With all the yuckization of vampires over the last 30 years or so, it’s been REALLY nice to see some straight-forward, creepy bloodsuckers. But that’s just me. 🙂

  7. I haven’t seen that version but it sounds pretty good. Love Rutger Hauer in stuff like this, thought he was great in Blade Runner too.

    Blade Runner was, perhaps, Rutger’s finest work. AWESOME movie!

    What did you think of the mini series of “The Stand” and did you read both versions of The Stand in novel form? They had the severely edited down version which was still about 750 pages then they released the Stephen King uncut & unedited version that is 1168 pages. I have both and really preferred his edit. Love Stephen King for the most part. I still have a couple of his books to read, but I usually enjoy them.

    Love King. I honestly don’t remember which version of “The Stand” I read, but I caught most of the mini-series on TV. I didn’t like it though. His movies still weren’t translating to the screen well. I think with modern CGI and longer movies being the norm, they’ve got a better chance of handling them now, though.

    Have you read his books, “Danse Macabre” and “On Writing” both non-fiction. They are both really good and I loved his explanation on how/why he writes and the authors that influenced him.

    Yes, I’ve read both. “Danse Macabre” I read more than 20 years ago, though.

    Now “Pet Cemetery” was a scary-as-shit book to me but I threw it across the room when I finished it because I hated the ending but then, I was younger back then.

    Loved “Pet Sematary” — I think it’s one of his best. And the ending was King, all the way. LOTS of folks threw it across the room. 😉

    He has always been a favorite author of mine and I have kept all of his books that I have gotten.

    I think “The Dark Tower” cycle has become my favorite work of his, but I’ve only had issue with a couple of his pieces (endings, mostly). He’s my favorite too. Always has been, since “Carrie”. 🙂

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