Stephen King adaptation #1: ‘Salem’s Lot

I recently saw two adaptations of Stephen King books by two classic horror directors, and had very different reactions to them: Tobe Hooper‘s ‘Salem’s Lot, and John Carpenter‘s Christine. I haven’t read either book in more than a decade. This post ran long, so Christine is the next post.

Tobe Hooper (he directed the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre) adapted ‘Salem’s Lot into a TV mini-series in 1979 (the year I was born!) Consequently, it’s 3 hours long, and it shows conceits of the 70’s in tone, length, style and wardrobe. The plot is engaging, but the acting is spotty; there are scenes where an actor just spits out an awkward or downright ridiculous line at a moment that should be sexy, or dramatic, or terrifying. That said, David Soul (Hutch!) is consistently good.

There are points where I was genuinely terrified, but by an hour and a half in, I was fooling around on the internet while watching (something I almost never do). I think Tobe Hooper can be a great director, and his careful attention to sound is on display here in some very important parts. Generally, though, I wonder if he was unhappy with the script or not given enough time to make the thing right; there are takes that should have been done again. When some real action finally came in hour 2, the show picked up considerably, but until then the plot dragged. Tobe Hooper seems to excel in a shorter format – the original Chainsaw Massacre is only 83 minutes, but lasts much longer in one’s imagination, in a good way. If you watch this version of ‘Salem’s Lot, keep an eye out for the pleasingly-over-the-top vampire makeup and the bizarre freeze frames.

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