Salem’s Lot 1979

salem's lot artwork

“Throw away your cross. Face the master.”

If you grew up between the late 1970s and early 1980s and loved horror, you saw the Salem’s Lot 1979 TV miniseries. And if you saw Salem’s Lot, you and your friends talked about it constantly and scared the bejeezus out of each other, convincing one another that Mr. Barlow was hiding behind the next tree.

The Salem’s Lot 1979 TV miniseries was based on the classic Stephen King vampire novel of the same name. Unlike The Shining, the movie version of Salem’s Lot stayed true to the novel. Sure, a few scenes were changed, and a few characters were combined or omitted altogether. But the main characters and story line closely followed King’s novel.

salems lot 1979 miniseries

With one exception.

The vampire, Mr. Barlow, is depicted in King’s book as a devious monster, but human-looking. Perhaps even handsome. The television version of Barlow is considerably different…something straight out of a nightmare. The closest comparison I can draw to other famous vampires is Nosferatu, but Barlow is far more hideous. In my opinion, the 1979 television version of Mr. Barlow is the most frightening vampire in movie history. Towering at over seven feet tall, with demon’s eyes and two humongous fangs for central incisors, Mr. Barlow is horrifying. He does not woo, talk, or connive. He kills, and he feasts.

Like in the original novel, the story follows a writer named Ben Mears (David Soul) who has returned to Salem’s Lot after many years. Part ghost story, part monster movie, the Salem’s Lot story keeps coming back to the Marsten house, a haunted-looking house where Mears claimed to have seen the ghost of Hubie Marsten hanging from a noose years after his death.

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Can a house be inherently evil? This question is on the mind of Mears and some of the townsfolk.

The Marsten house is abandoned for decades before a dark man named Richard Straker, elegantly portrayed by James Mason, purchases the home with his business partner, Kurt Barlow. Straker explains away Barlow’s initial absence, claiming his partner is on business overseas. Then Straker has a huge crate delivered to the Marsten house, and the children of Salem’s Lot begin to vanish.

salems lot mr barlow

One of Salem’s Lot’s greatest traits is its believable portrayal of small town New England in the 1970s. Salem’s Lot is small enough that we may learn its history and get to know all of its characters, from the slippery real estate maven, Larry Crocket (Fred Willard), to venerable teacher, Jason Burke (Lew Ayres), and Parkins Gillespie (Kenneth McMillian), a constable clearly in over his head.

Because we know the characters and believe in them, the horror that eventually unfolds is more effective. But even without our sympathetic compassion, the scares generated in Salem’s Lot are top notch and often unique. One very effective scene involves the aforementioned crate, which seems to move on its own in the back of the truck as the movers deliver it to the Marsten house. The temperature drops inside the cab as the crate appears to lurch toward the deliverymen.

salems lot glick vampires

Perhaps the scariest scenes involve the vampire Glick brothers floating in a fog outside bedroom windows, scratching their nails against the glass. These are bona fide classic moments in horror history, scenes which scared a generation of movie watchers and influenced future movies. Like most classic vampire tales, eventually the hero and his friends must venture deep into the vampire’s lair, in this case, the Marsten house. The climactic scenes are tense and frightening.

Differences Between “Salem’s Lot” TV Series (1979) and Stephen King’s Book

Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” remains one of his most gripping tales about a small town in Maine that succumbs to a vampire infestation. When Tobe Hooper’s TV miniseries adaptation aired in 1979, it introduced the chilling tale to a broader audience. While the miniseries retains the essence of the novel, there are several differences between the two. Here, we’ll explore some of the most prominent divergences.

1. Character Portrayals and Development:

  • Ben Mears: In the novel, Ben Mears is a writer returning to ‘Salem’s Lot to face his past and is more introspective. The series portrays him more as a heroic figure, though the essence of his character remains.
  • Father Callahan: While the character undergoes significant development in the novel, his role in the TV series is curtailed. His confrontation with Barlow and subsequent departure from the town lacks the depth seen in King’s work.

2. The Depiction of Barlow:
In the novel, Kurt Barlow speaks eloquently and is a manipulative force. The 1979 series, however, presents him as a monstrous, silent figure, more reminiscent of Nosferatu. This change makes Barlow appear more overtly terrifying but strips away the character’s cunning nature.

3. Order of Events and Pacing:
Television adaptations often necessitate changes in the sequence of events to fit time constraints or build tension. The series alters some events and occasionally merges scenes for fluidity. This results in a condensed version of the story.

vampire bloody fangs

“The most terrifying vampire novel since Salem’s Lot”

4. Omitted or Altered Subplots:
King’s novels are renowned for their subplots and character backstories. Given the limited runtime of the miniseries, several subplots from the book are either truncated or omitted entirely. For instance, the relationship and backstory of certain townspeople, like the adulterous duo of Bonnie Sawyer and Corey Bryant, are simplified.

5. Ending:
While the core conclusion remains the same, the miniseries presents a more definitive ending. King’s novel left some aspects open-ended, allowing readers to wonder about the ultimate fate of ‘Salem’s Lot, while the series provided a more clear-cut resolution.

6. Tone and Atmosphere:
While both the novel and the series excel in creating an atmosphere of creeping dread, the medium’s constraints and the era in which the series was produced meant that certain horror elements were toned down for television. King’s novel delves deeper into the dark underbelly of the town, exposing more of the residents’ secrets and sins.

7. Visual Interpretations:
One of the most significant differences lies in the visualization of horror. Reading about the Marsten House’s eeriness is different from seeing it on screen. Tobe Hooper brought his unique vision to the adaptation, making some scenes visually distinct from readers’ imagination based on the book.

Adapting a dense, atmospheric novel like “Salem’s Lot” for television is no easy task. While the 1979 series made several changes to King’s original story, it remains a commendable effort and a memorable rendition of the tale. Both versions offer distinct experiences and are valuable in their own right for fans of horror.

Salem’s Lot 1979 is a slow-brooding masterpiece that creeps up on you. Once the horror begins, it is relentless. I cannot think of a more effective vampire effort during the 1970s and 1980s, though plenty of great ones came out of this era.

Salem’s Lot has an annoying habit of going out of print for short periods of time. As of this review, you can purchase the DVD version of Salem’s Lot 1979 on Amazon, and I recommend picking it up before it disappears again.

Want more horror? Check out this full list of chilling horror novels available on Amazon and through Kindle Unlimited.

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