Sunday, July 23, 2006

‘Salem’s Lot (2004) - review

Director: Mikael Salomon

Release Date: 2004

Contains spoilers

To remake ‘Salem’s Lot was always going to be a brave or foolhardy move for several reasons. The original is a classic, the book itself is a classic and very few filmed versions of Stephen King’s horror stories (since the 1970s at least) have worked. There have been complaints banded around the net about this version; some protest that it is not scary. In truth I think that this is unfair. In memory the 1979 version was scary but on a re-watch a lot of the things that seemed scary as a child are simply not scary now, I love the 1979 version but it does not fill me with the same dread as it did as a child.

Others complain that this deviates from the book, but in fairness so did the 1979 version and this one is, in many respects, closer to the original novel. It does, however, modernise the story. Ben Mears (Rob Lowe) is a writer still, but he is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer of factual literature. He and Susan Norton (Samantha Mathis) do not simply meet and fall immediately in love, they have corresponded before by e-mail and they have some angst built into their relationship making it all the more believable. A major change is in the fact that Ben found, as a boy, the bodies of Hubbie Marsten and his wife. Whilst this is not as esoteric as the version written by King it gives a great ‘in’ to the fears that plague Ben.

There are minor changes also, which make this feel all the more modern and therefore all the more real. Mark Petrie (Dan Byrd) becomes a streetwise poor kid, Matt Burke (Andre Braugher) is still a teacher, and his role is very much closer to that described in the book, but the filmmakers made him African American and also gay. It is clear that Larry Crockett (Robert Grubb) is in an incestuous relationship with his daughter. Straker (Donald Sutherland) explains early on that the shop, which always seemed a little incongruous, was almost an irrelevance as the majority of the antique trading was done on-line.

The film very much concentrates on two things. When it comes to the vampires it concentrates on the need for invitation. Crockett has invited Barlow (Rutger Hauer) into the town, it was the realtor who bought the Marsten House and then, for a piece of real estate in return, gave it to the strangers. After a fight both Ben and the newly vampirised Floyd Tibbits (Todd MacDonald) end up in jail. Floyd tries to get to Ben through a grate, after night falls, but needs inviting into Ben’s cell. Invitation and faith are closely tied together, the vampire Susan confronts Ben on the doorway to the boarding house and states that he is not a religious man and thus does not have the faith to keep her out. Unfortunately this aspect is not well explored but invitation is a key element and ties into the other aspect the film concentrates upon.

The film has been criticised for concentrating on minor characters but I would say this. Firstly the pace of the film is much snappier than the original and secondly it is the characters that make up the town and the thrust of this is concentrating on the darkness that nestles in the heart of a town. Thus the need for invitation, it is a metaphor and shows us, not the darkness entering but actually escaping from the heart of the town.

The opening of the film is very different and yet to me works. We hear the haunting voice of Lisa Gerrard (of Dead Can Dance) as we see a scene of Detroit. We see a down and out Ben Mears looking into a soup kitchen and spotting a priest, Father Callaghan (James Cromwell). Ben goes in and he ends up chasing after Callaghan, who shoots Ben. Ben manages to grab him, they struggle and fall through a window onto the roof of a cop car. They are both rushed to hospital and the doctor with Ben wants to know why, as a Christian, he should not let him die for attacking a priest. Ben says two words, “Jerusalem’s Lot”. We see the Lot as a ghost town, in black and white, and then colour bleeds into the memory and it becomes as it was when Ben arrived. The story of the town becomes Ben’s death-bed confession.

There are some standout scenes. The "child at the window" from the original is homaged and yet changed. It is clear that they could not have got away without having the scene in place and yet were always going to be criticised by folks saying it was not as good as, or simply aped, the original. Instead we have two (rather than the original’s three) versions. The change comes between Danny (André de Vanny) and Ralphie Glick (Zac Richmond) and this is where homage comes into play as the scene takes place around the semi-transparent curtain of a hospital bed. The second time is between Danny and Mark and it is a scene that does work. However the film adds in two scenes of fear, concerning child vampires, that are all its own. The first is a brief scene of Ralphie feeding on Marjorie Glick (Rebecca Gibney) and then launching at his father. The second takes place on a school bus and, in case you’ve not seen this version, let me just say it is two and a half hours into the film and worth the admission fee on its own.

The death effects of the vampires are interesting. The vampires shoot up into the air and dust as they hit the ceiling. More interesting is the fact that they are driven by pure bloodlust. Floyd Tibbits, in jail and unable to feed, chews out his own wrists and drinks his own blood. He had been turned by Dud Rodgers (Brendan Cowell) who informed Floyd that he needed food for Ruthie Crockett (Penny McNamee). At the end of the film we see a group of vampires on the land-fill site scurrying around desperately looking for rats. Indeed, when Barlow force feeds Callaghan his blood he tells the priest that whoever feeds you is your god, underlining the vampires’ obsession with feeding. One thing I did like was Weasel (Martin Vaughan) explaining to Eva (Julia Blake) what it was like to be a vampire, “Its different is all. Its wonderful and strong.”

Unfortunately we see that one of the books Matt Burke uses for research is “Vampires the Occult Truth” by Konstantinos, an awful book that would have led the heroes right down the garden path!

The story of Callaghan is much more rounded; he plays a bigger role that is closer to the book although the filmmakers show his fate, not shown in the novel. This is, I believe, different to the fate King eventually wrote, as I believe the character reappeared in “The Dark Tower”. Cromwell’s performance as the drunken priest is excellent. Indeed I didn’t think there was a bad performance but special mention must go to two of the actors.

Sutherland is wonderful as Straker, with his shock of white hair and white beard he is less Santa Claus and more the devil. He plays the role with absolute gusto and brings a sinister quality to the part that Mason never did.

I must also mention Hauer as Barlow. Though the screen-time is limited, this was a Barlow much closer to the version in the novel and Hauer relishes those few lines he has. The dialogue in the Petrie house, when Barlow accuses Callaghan of being a shaman, is different to the book. I can’t remember Barlow telling Callaghan to “P*ss off.” However the line is delivered with such panache that perhaps King simply omitted it from the original novel! However, the best part of this version’s vision of Barlow is his death. We see the stake, in a very CSI style shot, penetrate his heart. Blood seems to slough off him and fly into the air. He screams as his shape shifts from victim to victim through the ages, as though their souls were finally released. Eventually he is naught but dust, except for a signet ring and that is very reminiscent of the Hammer Dracula movies and, I believe, a deliberate nod in that direction.

I must also mention the fact that, once Barlow is killed, most of the vampire’s seem slow and sluggish. There is no real explanation, but I think the hint was that, as most of the town had been turned, it was lack of blood that slowed them down, hence the vampires hunting rats that I mentioned earlier.

Some might complain that I intend to give this 8.5 out of 10, a whole point more than the ’79 version. However, I feel that it is a better paced, better cast version of the novel that captures more fully, despite the modernisation, the essence of King’s book. It might be that this will not achieve the classic status of its predecessor, and that is a shame, but I feel it to be a better film that has improved with each watch.

The homepage, with sneak peak trailer, is here.

The imdb page is here.


zombiepunk said...

any film featuring both Donald Sutherland and Rutger Hauer has to be watched. Using them as vampire and "servant" (for want of a better expression) can only add to the allure. Also have to say that although I really enjoyed the original Salem's Lot it is about time it was filmed again. Glad to see that after a parade of terrible King films the makers made a decent job of it.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Can't say I disagree zombiepunk

Taliesin_ttlg said...

As i Rewatched this for review I picked up on a joke that Mark Petrie says on the way to the Marsten House. I was going to put it into the review but neglected to do so (plus it didn't fit) so here goes:

Q) Did you hear about the hippy vampire?

A) He's ghoul man... real ghoul


Anonymous said...

Wow. I guess I'll have to watch this. Sounds very interesting.

Ghoul joke, too. Real ghoul.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Mark, all I'd say is leave the preconceptions born of the first film behind when you watch it - though to be honest I would expect that you would do that anyway.

Anonymous said...

Yes! I certainly will. This looks like another type of "beast" altogether.

Anonymous said...

Sorry do not agree with you with each viewing this film makes me wonder why they did this re make in the first place.Donald Sutherland came across as Santa on drugs!!!!.Rutger Haeur ok as Barlow but certainly no Nalder.I thought the other vampires were not scary ,what was the point of the bus crashing into the petrol station? I find the film boring no atmnosphere and above all not scary.Rob Lowe narrates it like an episode of the wonder years.I also think updating it was a mistake, the music crap and i realy cannot see this film been regarded as a classic in 25 years time like the 79 version is.I do like Rutger but he aint no Nalder as i said before.There is only one master and it aint Rutger!!!!!
I also thought the way the vampires were destroyed were just plain silly, rising up than exploding towards the ceiling. Thr Marsten House like every thing in this lame remake lacked the atmosphere of the original.
However the most annoying scene for me however was when Mark goes to see Ben in Eava Millers boarding house and horrors of horrorscue dramatic music and up pops some toast.Did the director know he was directing a horror production? The only bits i liked were the vampire kids on the bus and the staking of Barlow.However not enough to save the movie.Yes it might have been more faithful to the book and Barlow speaks but it does not make a better movie. Id give it 5.9 out of 10

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I take it you are the same poster that posted today on the other version and I say the same thing, I'm glad you posted and,as it is all opinion, we can beg to differ.

I prefered Sutherland, my opinion and no more, and - otherall- prefered this version.

If we all liked the sane thing it would be boring and the point of this blog is to give pointers, your comment gives another pointer and it is as worthwhile as he original post.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you used the word 'coloured' to describe Matt Burke. For someone so concerned with comparing the old with the new, your use that outdated (and offensive) word simply boggles the mind.

Taliesin_ttlg said...


No offence was meant and the word was not used with any form of offensive meaning.

What words can be used to describe a persons racial background changes with regularity and the comment was only meant to illustrate that they modernised the role and recognised that a major character in a mini series could be homosexual and could also be, in this case, African American.

I was praising the character change and am actually befuddled that it has caused offense, but by all means let me know what word would be inoffensive and I will change it to that.

At no time would I wish to cause such offense and I apologise that I have.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Just further to the last post, I repeat I would never wish to cause such offense and am more than glad to change the wording to one that is inoffensive, but in my defence..

when one of the most influencial civil rights orgganisations in America, the naacp, has the word within their title I hope you can understand why I felt it was a non-inflamatory word.

Anonymous said...

Great blog, but I must disagree with this review. King is sleazy, overrated and boring writer with some good moments, and this story - albeit chilling enough as paper - is not translated well to a "visual" format.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Christine, I respect your opinion... if we all felt the same then the world would be a boring place.

btw, thanks for the kind words re the blog

Zahir Blue said...

In general I agree with your review. My problem with the miniseries is that it doesn't quite "gel" for me. Many of the individual elements are excellent, especially the performances. One that intrigued me was playing out the whole "romantic vampire seduction" bit with a pair of senior citizens, not for laughs but with tenderness and disturbing truth.

Still, I liked it very much.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers Zahir.

The romance you mentioned did work really well and could have been made so negatively.

I can undestand the geling issues you have with the series, however, it geled for me but I can see how it might fall a little flat in that way

Anonymous said...

You say:

No offence was meant and the word was not used with any form of offensive meaning.

What words can be used to describe a persons racial background changes with regularity and the comment was only meant to illustrate that they modernised the role and recognised that a major character in a mini series could be homosexual and could also be, in this case, African American.

I was praising the character change and am actually befuddled that it has caused offense, but by all means let me know what word would be inoffensive and I will change it to that.

At no time would I wish to cause such offense and I apologise that I have.

..then call him Matt Burke and stop been racist , every body have race background , but none of them like to be called COLOURED or else since they have been born in the same country as you AND surely since many generation before your family line.
OK vampire sound like it is always WHITE kind of people ..because it feel and look better , but remember that's ..The DNA of the people of Transilvania since the very beguining arent White but mixed kind and surely not white , even the dracula blood line it self. like Jesus Christ thats every body believed he look like a Brad Pitt ,skinny with long blond hair like Kurt Coben Lol... actually small , possibly black skin and with a little bear and curly hair every DNA type of people living in thats country at thats time.

Cool Blog by the way!!

Taliesin_ttlg said...


Again I point out that the comment was not racist, it was meant to indicate that the filmmakers had moved past the racial preconceptions - which was (and to a large degree still is) an issue within the film industry.

You quoted my comment, but not the next one where I said I had changed the post - so as to not be offensive - but was still confused as one of the most influencial civil rights orgganisations in America is the NAACP - National Association Advancement of Coloured People. This indicates that the word coloured is still acceptable in some quarters. However, my goal was not to cause any offence but to highlight a positive move in the film industry.

I appeciate your thoughts and you clearly are coming from an enlightened place but you cannot forget that the world is not there yet and thus advancement towards equality and diversity should be praised and can only be so when highlighted.

The T said...

If you read my comment for your review of the 1979 film, I know you can guess that my comment here will only be even less positive lol.

this movie butchers the book. Kills it. They give Barlow his voice back but he wears cobwoy clothes now. Straker lost the class and elegance and is a crazy dangerous psycho. Mark petrie is an idiot. There's this whole ridiculous thing with the baby and doctor Cody and the bribe. Ugh!! The house is as menacing as a Mcdonald's restaurant. No, no no. I disagree completely.

It's not an atrocity. But it's bad, it's too long, and lacks any atmosphere, any scare. Is not a horror movie at all. And for anyone who has read Salem's Lot, it is first and foremost a horror book. Told masterfully by a writer who creates characters and makes us feel for them.

In your system, I would've given it a 5/10. It's well-produced and acted at least. (Cromwell the best casting choice).

Unknown said...

I kinda hate to beat a dog to death on this one, but I think I am gonna have to add my voice of dissent on your positive review of this movie, although perhaps not as vocally.

It is hard for me to be completely objective on this comment because having seen the original 1979 version first and having read the novel for the first time only a couple days before watching this, I feel that I may have had expectations that fell flat and made it hard for me to judge the film in its own right.

That being said I would still like to make a couple quick comments about it. Stephen King's intent with Salem's Lot which he makes clear in his author's note intro to the book makes it clear that he intended the novel to be in some ways a modernization of Dracula with that vampire coming to a town in America in the current (at that time, the 70s) setting and what that would be like. He does a very fine job of this and I found myself loving the book because of the way the town of Jerusalem's Lot is sort of slowly being corrupted as the innocence and goodness of the town is disintegrating and we slowly get to see the corruption taking over as it is outwardly being exemplified by the vampire infestation. All of the main characters, the strong characters that stand up against the evil throughout the book are presented as good people and upstanding and in many ways pure of heart. In addition to this, setting it in the 70s, is really setting it in a time of change, when corruption and cynicism and disillusion was really taking more of a hold on the American society, but the remembered optimism of the 60s and idealism of the 50s was still fresh in the psyche and that newborn corrupt and cynical age creeps through in the novel. It is why the setting works so completely for me in the book.

All of these elements were there in the original film. The goodness of the heroes, the slow creeping evil that seeps into the town, and while it might be said that the new film kept more closely to the books plot. It seems like a real mistake setting it in current times, because it took the heart right out of the novel, and that sort of purity and slow progression of corruption of the town. I never liked nor identified with a single character in the new film and I never rooted for a single one of them to succeed because I didn't find any of them worth succeeding.

Again, I may be judging the film too harshly, becuase as I said, I had preconceptions going in, but like Twilight, I really feel this is a film that tried to hit all the right notes with the plot, but just ended up coming up short in the end because the audience just doesn't quite connect with the characters in the same way.

This is just my opinion though. It is very possible that someone who has not seen the 1979 version or read the book will love this film, but I am not coming from that perspective and at least at this point, can't really recommend this version.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Margaret, again respect the view but I am someone who has read the book and seen the original and I still liked it.

As we have said though, we are all different in our views and that is what makes the world interesting.

The point you make about the innocence, however, is well made. Arguably, however, that innocence has never existed and is/was just a facade that the corrupting Barlow picks away.

In a modern day setting the facade has already crumbled and so such a corruption is unlikely to be aparent. Rather Barlow walks into a ready made evil at the heart of the small town and thus the two films offer different experiences.

Unknown said...

Agreed. They offer different experiences and you have a fair argument.

Perhaps I may come to appreciate the movie more with more time and distance between the source material, but I think it better to judge it as its own entity than how accurate of an adaptation it is.

I will admit that I thought it was well acted at least the very least (outside of the distracting V.O., anyhow).

Zahir Blue said...

Must say that I did enjoy this film version, even though to my mind it was a mixed bag. But then, I could (and would) say precisely the same thing about the first one. I do feel the second one in many ways caught the "feel" of the novel better. More, I liked how so many things were updated--hints of incest, the war in Afghanistan, etc. But I also feel a lot of folks are reacting to nostalgia for the first version rather than judging this film on its own merits.

LoBo said...

I saw the original earlier this year. Not the best thing i have seen. I bought this version because of your review. Hopefully i will enjoy it.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I think the original has merit, and I remember it from being a kid and it scaring the bejezus out of me but to me it hasn't stood the test of time and, as you can see, I prefer this version.

I hope you enjoy... let me know.

LoBo said...

Just saw it. I think it was good, but not great. More things happens in this series, so that's good.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hey Lobo, good to hear back from you and glad you enjoyed it

Paul Jacobson Smith said...

I never even considered watching it. I guess I will have to now.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Let us know what you think Paul

Unknown said...

Loved this Salem's Lot. I too am also a "Taliesin Pencerdd, by the way. I thought the fright was in the corruption. I loved the truly excellent acting of the teacher and the vampire boy who is lost in his way to hell. The heart attack was great. The terrifying call of "Meers" as the vampire crawls through the grate. Meers facial reaction was really good. I never liked Rob Lowe's acting at all but he was stupendous just like I cannot stand Bruce Willis but his panache was just right for 'Sixth Sense' (That kid got cheated and deserved a posthumous Academy Award! Shakespeare in Love!!?? C'mon.) The policeman throwing the Donald Trump Real Estate agent against the wall was quite satisfying. Sutherland confronting the boy and Meer's love interest was some of the best work he ever did. I truly loved this movie because it had a real Lord of the Rings call to war against the darker forces that exist that we refuse to see, but demand we stand together. Sure parts were T.V. ish but it made you think for a moment maybe they ARE real. That is a good film

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers Sam :)