Salem’'s Lot (2004)

Not Rated Our content rating: V-5; L-1; S/N-3.

Stand fast in your enchantments
and your many sorceries,
with which you have labored from your youth;
perhaps you may be able to succeed,
perhaps you may inspire terror.
Isaiah 47:12

Salem s Lot (On Cable)

It has been 25 years since the first version of Stephen King’s novel was released, so with all the advances in special effects it must have seemed appropriate to produce a new version of this tale of the invasion of evil into a quiet New England village. This time Rob Lowe replaces David Soul as writer Ben Mears, returning to the town of his childhood where he had experienced a terrible trauma in the creepy house that looks down upon the village. James Cromwell plays Father Donald Callahan; Samantha Mathis is Susan Norton, the woman Ben falls in love with; Robert Mammone is Dr. James Cody; Donald Sutherland is the menacing antique dealer Richard Straker; and Rutger Hauer the fearsome Kurt Barlow, Straker’s senior partner in the purchase of the old house with its haunting memories.

Most perturbing to fans of the book will be both some major plot changes and the choice of actors Andre Braugher and Dan Byrd to play Matt Burke and Mark Petrie. Mr. Braugher is an African American actor far too young to capture the essence of the wonderfully curmudgeonly veteran school teacher of the novel, a man invaluable in the struggle against evil because he knows virtually everyone in town, having taught either the citizens or their children in his classes. In the novel Mark Petrie is far younger than the teenager played by Dan Byrd, so again, we lose much of the charm and innocence of the boy forced to grow up over night when faced with such horror as the death of his parents by vampires. We expect changes when a novel is transferred to the different medium of film—making Ben into a writer of non-fiction is acceptable—but folding another character into that of Dr. Cody so that he becomes easily seduced by the wife of a slobbish villager weakens the character and the storyline. In the novel, as the various characters struggle with their rationality and move toward accepting the terrible fact that an ancient vampire couple has indeed invaded their village, they become a fellowship, each finding strength and reassurance in their combining their efforts. There seems to be little of this in the film.

Thus, if you have not read Stephen King’s novel, I would recommend that you hold off until after you have seen the film. To be fair, there are some scary moments, and a goodly part of King’s observations are retained by making Ben the teller of the story (though we lose the wonderful, mysterious prologue and epilogue about the man and the boy that bookends the novel). Ben Mears’ flashbacks to his childhood discovery in the old house, beginning with images lasting just split seconds, are well done, the house itself, overlooking the village from its hilltop, becoming a character in the intricate web of evil spun by the two newest residents of Salem’s Lot. Vampire films are always creepy, and this one scores well in the scare department. It is just that I wish screenwriter Peter Filadi had stayed closer to the novel. For real horror, with its excursion into the depths of the human soul where we too readily invite evil in, go to the source and see why Stephen King is justly regarded as a master of the horror genre. The words of Deutero-Isaiah were directed at the pagan nation that had defeated and carried Judah into captivity, but they might also apply to the agents of horror that are destroying the unsuspecting citizens of Salem’s Lot. Novels like those of King bring us up against evil, but they also suggest that we are not just pawns in the struggle, that weak though our wills are, they do play a part when allied with faith and knowledge—and courage.