February 16, 2016

DVD Review: Salem's Lot (1979)

"36 years after its release, this Made-For-TV mini-series is still one of the best vampire movies ever made."

(aka Best TV Movie Ever.)
Release Date: November 17th, 1979.
Country: USA.
Rating: PG.
Written by: Paul Monash and Stephen King.
Directed by: Tobe Hooper.
Starring: David Soul, James Mason, Bonnie Bedelia, Lance Kerwin, Lew Ayres, Geoffrey Lewis, and George Dzundza.

When we began our little Horror Club back in 2008, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to designing a website. I still don't, but back then it was even worse, trust me. Anyway, when I was trying to figure out how to format things into legible posts that people might actually read, I for some reason got the idea in my head that we needed some sort of mascot or something; for our banner, for our review art, and for whatever else might come up. I eventually decided that The Master from Salem's Lot was exactly what we needed. Not sure why, but it just happened like that.

Maybe it was because Mr. Barlow and his vampires scared the living hell out of us all as kids, or maybe it was just because he looked cool, but that Nosferatu-looking bastard struck a chord with me, and he felt like a perfect fit for what we wanted to do.

As much as we love the movie, and as important as The Master is to our site, I find it odd that I've never taken the time to review Salem's Lot until now.

Well, now it's time.

A handsome, middle-aged man and a young, nervous boy are together in a seedy motel room in Mexico, when a bottle of "holy water" begins to glow. They lock eyes, trembling, and move closer to one another... Sounds pervy when I put it like that, doesn't it? Well that's just how the movie begins, so get your minds out of the gutter, pervs!

Ben Mears grew up in Salem's Lot, and now he's finally come back to write a book about the spooky old Marsten house, which is what chased him away from home to begin with, many years ago. Because it's haunted, and it tried to kill him when he was a kid. The old house is still sitting there on the hill, watching over the town, and as terrified as he is of it, Ben tries to rent it. Unfortunately for him though, a newly arrived antique dealer named Straker has beaten him to the punch. It's probably best that he stay away anyhow.

Shortly after a massive crate is delivered to the Marsten house, a local boy goes missing, and Ben just knows that the disappearance is tied to that creepy old house. When that same kid (who is now undead) appears at his brother's window in a bank of fog, scratches at it, asks to be let in, and then proceeds to eat him, it's apparent that it's not just the Marsten house, but the Master Vampire that crawled out of that crate who is the creepy one. 

As more and more people are turned into vampires, Ben, the kid from the Mexican motel room at the beginning, and an old man whose heart can't take all of this vampire hullabaloo, set out to save the town and destroy The Master before he can turn everyone into his bloodsucking minions. Which they can't, because he does. Which is why they end up fleeing to Mexico.

Genuine terror ensues.

I hesitated giving this movie a grade of A+, because to many people, that might imply some sort of perfection, and this mini-series is certainly not perfect; it's a bit long, a bit 70's-cheesy in some places, and it even feels sanitized at times. The plot could have advanced a bit quicker too, as a lot of the movie is spent with people "figuring out" what is going on, and that grew old after a while.

Then again, it's got one of the most iconic vampires ever, in Mr. Barlow; the vampires in general are terrifying; it's got a great cast; and although they changed some things from the book, it's probably the best Stephen King mini-series ever made, and there were a lot of them.

Above all else is the fact that 36 years later, it's still creepy as hell.

Salem's Lot is just about as good as it gets when it comes to vampire movies. We live in a time when so many movies, especially when it comes to Horror, are quick-cut, kinetic, and are far more concerned with style than they are substance. So yeah, maybe Salem's Lot feels dated, and maybe it could use a trim here and here, but it takes its time to establish its characters, it creates one hell of a sense of impending doom, and most importantly, it delivers some genuinely terrifying scares without resorting to any cheap and flashy gimmicks.

As good as this movie was, how in the world was it followed up with the shitty sequel, A Return to Salem's Lot? All they had to do was copy the vampire look from the first movie, and figure out how to inject them into a few scary and intense scenes, and all would be well. Right? Nope.

The sequel was Tara Reid's first movie, and it's even worse than her acting in Sharknado 3 (or 95% of anything she's been in.) Think about that.

Why in the hell has Warner Bros. never given this movie the Blu-ray treatment? I know that it's an older movie, and that it would most likely never look or sound pristine, even with a new 1080p transfer, but can't they even try?

Clean up the video, do the same for the audio, frame it in a widescreen-friendly aspect ratio, give us some special features, maybe some interviews... Sure it would take some effort, but if it can be done for The Wire, it can be done for this movie. Tell me that disc wouldn't sell like crazy.

Warner Bros. sucks when it comes to releasing their catalogue titles, but they need to get on it!

This was a Made-For-TV movie with a PG rating, so there's very little gore to be found here.

This was a Made-For-TV movie with a PG rating, so there's no nudity whatsoever in this one.

Ralphie Glick scratching at the window has to be one of the best scenes in all of Horror, but any scenes involving the vampires, and especially The Master, were extremely creepy and fantastic.

You can do an excellent Horror movie with no blood, no nudity, and a PG rating. Also, the movie version of Mr. Barlow is way better than the book version. Yeah, I said it.

One of our favorite Horror movies of all-time, and a remarkable achievement for something that was rated PG, let alone Made-For-TV in the 1970's, Salem's Lot remains today as effective a vampire movie as there is. It will probably feel dated for a lot of viewers, and it is, but good lord is it effective as hell; there are simply few movie vampires as terrifying as Mr. Barlow and his brood, and they are used to maximum effect here.

If you have yet to experience this Stephen King mini-series, then get yourself a copy, turn off the lights, and enjoy the nightmares.


Salem's Lot is available now on DVD.


Good lord was Bonnie Bedelia a QT back in the day. Julie Cobb wasn't so bad either.


  1. One of the best TV mini-series ever. It's been years since I've seen it (so long in fact that I had forgotten Bonnie Bedelia was in it!) and I'd love to see it get the BR treatment. The Nosferatu-inspired look for the Master was perfect, and everything gelled together so well that it does deserve an A+. I'd be hard-pressed to decide between this and TCM as Tobe Hooper's best work.

  2. Even though it was framed in 4:3, many times they would just put blocks on the view lens on an anamorphic camera. If the original 35mm print is laying around somewhere, I'll guarantee that it's in 16:9. Even many parts of movies like The Shining were filmed with a full focal lens and then cropped later.

    Anyway, about the show, I to remember it on VHS as a kid.
    As far as this being better than the book, well you have to
    realize that the book was basically written as a series of
    letters and news clippings. It started as a short story
    even, IIRC. So to translate that to the screen def took some

    1. Yeah, that's basically how they were able to put out a Blu-ray version of The Wire. A lot of purists argue that "un-cropping" something liek that messes with its integrity, or the director's intent, etc... but I kinda like it.

      It's cool that your knowledge of film goes deep like that.

      Agreed about the book to movie thing too. I personally love the changes, but yeaf it definitely took some finesse.

  3. One of the reasons I gave this blog a look over initially is because you rated films by way of the master from Salem's Lot. This film was one of my first introductions to horror. My father wanted me to man up while it was playing on tv when it aired. He told me to quit hiding behind the couch and watch. Of course the scene at that time was the one with the little shit scratching at the window. I did not man up. I pissed my pants and did not sleep through the night till after Regan left the White House. Brilliant film, and a damned TV movie to boot! Thanks for the review. Love this blog.

  4. Thanks, Griffin.

    I also had a similar reaction to the movie when I was a kid, especially at the part in the jail cell where The Master popped up out on nowhere and growled. Pants were shat lol

    I'm glad to know I wasn't the only kid who didn't man up :)

  5. Blu-Ray will be released September 20, 2016, New Widescreen HD masters.