Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Return to Salem’s Lot – review

video cover

Director: Larry Cohen

Release Date: 1987

Contains spoilers

Cashing in is rarely a good thing and this really was a case of cashing in on the earlier ‘Salem’s Lot. The film had very little to do with the original, except that it was set in a town of the same name and had vampires – oh and the cover had Barlow on it from the earlier film, even though he has nothing to do with this. Bad effects didn’t help, nor did logic holes and it is a shame as there were a couple of interesting ideas lurking around. Re-watching this reminded me just how crummy VHS is, it is a film unavailable on DVD, so apologies for the poor screenshots muddled together.

Joe Webber (Michael Moriarty) is an anthropologist who is filming a human sacrifice when the ritual is disturbed by uniformed men, looking for him as there is an emergency in the States concerning his son Jeremy (Ricky Addison Reed). When he gets back it is clear that his ex-wife has overstated the problem and wants to dump the tear-away on her husband, giving Joe the choice, take him or we’ll institutionalise him. Stuck with his son there are two options, go to Peru on a job or go to the cottage left to him by his Aunt Clara (June Havoc) in a town called Salem’s Lot.

It seems Joe spent a couple of days there as a kid, the happiest of his childhood, with Clara (surname for the eagle eyed being Hooper, a reference to Tobe Hooper who directed the original perhaps). Clara was not his real Aunt but a friend of the family but he was sent away when he got too friendly with an older girl named Cathy (Katja Crosby). This didn’t feel real, he spent a couple of days there and left under a cloud, how were they so happy. Also, didn’t he notice that the townsfolk, in the main, only came out at night? Surely that would have stuck in his head – even as a child?

blue masked vampireAnyway they arrive and the town seems deserted bar a couple of folks but at night it comes alive. Unseen by our ‘heroes’, it is the night of a celebration and so the police have flagged down kids in a car to allow the townsfolk to feed on and a couple of hobos are got by vampire kids. You see these vampires generally drink cows’ blood but when they celebrate (the celebration is a wedding, one of the nicer ideas as it is two children vampires marrying) they drink human blood. It is here that the first flaws are seen – the blue rubber masked vampire was just too much.

feeding on a cowThere is a convoluted letting a girl go and getting her to escape to Joe, to bring back to head honcho Judge Axel (Andrew Duggan). This is meant to reveal what they are to him, but as she only talks about murder (oh and he sees Clara but he hasn’t seen her for years, only met her for two days and really couldn’t be sure) one wonders how he was meant to guess vampire – bizarrely he did. The vampires want the renowned anthropologist to write their chronicle (which later in the film gets renamed bible). He is unconvinced and so is taken to Cathy, still looking seventeen, and within seconds they are doing the horizontal tango.

Samuel Fuller as Van MeerMotivationally things go awry, he wants to run, especially as they want to turn Jeremy and yet he also seems not too bothered as well. Eventually Jeremy, though still human, has gone dark side and Joe has got Cathy pregnant (we’ll get to that when I look at the lore). The appearance of a Nazi hunter named Van Meer (Samuel Fuller), who happens to be half Jewish Dutch and half Romanian, gives the opportunity – in one night – to turn Jeremy around and start a vampire hunting rampage.

a dead vampireLore wise things are a little confused to say the least. The vampires state they are another race and yet it is clear they are undead and can turn others. They can get pregnant, likely if another race but unlikely if dead, and the children are hybrids. The only difference between the hybrids and a human is that a hybrid is subservient to the vampires – they are bred to serve.

staking a vampireCathy indicates that they can maintain their physical appearance at an age they wish – she has remained 17 for Joe. Garlic doesn’t effect them and they cast reflections. However holy objects do effect them and so they have a church in town! Whilst I understand that they wanted it for appearance sake you’d have thought they’d have had it de-sanctified. Oh hum.

the effect of holy waterKilling wise we have stakes through the heart, holy water and fire. Some of them turn into rubber masks when staked, others crumble to dust and set on fire. They did need to sleep in coffins. I did like the idea, however, of a group of vampires trying to pass off as human and subsisting mainly on cattle. The idea that they needed a chronicler was also interesting, a bridge to prevent the hatred that humans felt for their kind. Confusing was the fact that Joe stated the vampire school lesson he observed was anti-human propaganda and yet the vampires swear allegiance to the American flag at the beginning of class – surely a human concept.

mental projection of child vampire brideOne confusing thing came in the form of Axel who turns into the blue rubber mask when angered, and doesn’t like revealing his true face and yet was killing like that at the beginning of the film during the celebration, and there was no indication of anger. It is suggested, though not clear, that Axel has eye mojo and we are shown that they have telepathy and thought projection capabilities.

can you see the boom mike?There are visual problems with the film. I spotted at least three boom mikes during the watch for this review – simply sloppy as I am not normally the most observant when it comes to mistakes like that and so if I spotted them they were blooming obvious. The effects were, on the whole, awful.

As for the actors the only one who really stood out was Fuller as Van Meer, a hard nosed Nazi hunter full of one liners. He was also by far the most interesting character. There was scope to liken the vampires to Nazis but it was underplayed – if played at all. The motivations of the main characters often fell very short indeed, however.

The film isn’t overly worth the effort, to be honest, and it is simply an insult to relate it to the earlier classic film. I can’t creep higher than 2 out of 10 and much of that is due to interesting concepts hidden within and even they were unfortunately not examined as fully as they should have been.

The imdb page is here.

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