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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