The Best Stephen King Adaptations: “Salem’s Lot” (1979) Review

This week in Slasher Studios Horror Film Club we are discussing our favorite Stephen King films. Our first review comes from Alex Dillard as he takes a look at the very underrated miniseries “Salem’s Lot.”

Salem’s Lot (1979, miniseries)

A writer returns to his New England hometown to discover that the local haunted house is now occupied by a mysterious antique dealer and that the locals are falling victim to vampirism!

This fantastically creepy mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s classic vampire novel is simply one of the best made for TV horror movies ever! Salem’s Lot is a film that I owe much to. Not only did this film make me a big fan of author Stephen King, but a fan of horror films period.

Story-wise this adaptation differs from King’s novel in some ways, but it still comes off as an engulfing and down right scary tale. Director Tobe Hooper (who made the great Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974) proves that his talent for creating good horror is not just limited to the big screen. As always Hooper sets up a great atmosphere of darkness and dread that makes this movie captivating. Truly this is one of the few films to ever capture the chilling aura of King’s writing. There’s scenes of terrific suspense and plenty of hair-raising scares to be found here.

High kudos must be given to the makeup department on this film. The vampires in this film are simply frightening thanks to the eerily good makeup work. I have yet to see a vampire film where the blood-suckers are more disturbingly spooky than in this film. It puts CGI effects to laughable shame in comparison. Some sequences are just unforgettable – the ‘night visitors’ tapping at the bedroom windows, an undead Geffory Lewis coaxing his former teacher to look at him, the horrifying attack on the Petrie household, and the taught claustrophobic cellar climax. Special mention should also go to composer Harry Sukman for his powerful music score.

The cast is another strong hold for this film. David Soul does a good performance as the writer returning home to face the demons of his past. The late-great James Mason does an astonishing turn as the sinister stranger in town. Lance Kerwin is strong as a young teen, Bonnie Bedelia is charming as Soul’s love interest, Lew Ayres is solid as an old school teacher, and Reggie Nalder makes for one terrifying vampire!

An excellent and underrated classic through and through, Salem’s Lot is a film not to be missed by true fans of the genre! Beware of edited versions of the film though, the full-length mini-series is the best way to see this one.