31 Days of Terror - 'Salem's Lot' (1979)
31 Days of Terror will cover a wide array of horror films leading up to Halloween. We'll be posting our thoughts and feelings on some of our favorites every day for the next 31 days. If your favorite doesn't make it, it doesn't mean we don't like it, so speak up in the comments below!
Tobe Hooper's Salem's Lot was technically made for television and boasts a run-time of a little over three hours, but it's still technically a feature-length movie so it gets a spot on this list. Based off of Stephen King's novel of the same name, Salem's Lot is one of my personal favorite vampire films of all time.
I actually think that the longer run-time benefits this film. The movie is a slow-burn, but it's all the better for it as it really helps establish all of the characters and makes the town of Salem's Lot feel a lot more lived-in. The longer run-time also gives the threat of a vampire invasion a lot more weight as Hooper has more time to build up to each sequence. There are good chunks of this film where characters are doing normal activities and forming relationships, which I felt made me care more about them when they were in danger because I was more invested in their lives.
I love that the vampires here aren't interested in being in some kind of exclusive club like they seem to be in most other films. Here, they're converting everyone they come into contact with in hopes of taking over the entire town, which to me, is a lot more threatening and makes every scene more suspenseful. Sure, there are other vampire films that do this such as 30 Days of Night and Daybreakers, but none that do it as effectively as it's done here.
Salem's Lot has some truly creepy moments that are burned into my skull to this day. For one, the Master Vampire, Kurt Barlow, is terrifying and I love the Nosferatu-inspired look they gave him. Then we have have the absolutely haunting middle-of-the-night window-scratching vampire visits which are so effectively done and still make the hairs on my arms stand on-end. The almost nails-on-a-chalkboard sound of the newly converted vampire boy, Ralphie Glick, scratching his fingers on the window is very unnerving.
Another aspect of this film I admire is the tone. Being made for television, Tobe Hooper had to limit the amount of violence he showed on screen, he compensated for the lack of gore by creating one of the most foreboding and palpable atmospheres I've yet experienced in a horror film. This is assisted by masterful score composed by Harry Sukman, which is very gothic and an obvious throwback to horror movies of 1920's-'40s.
If you miss the times when vampires weren't angsty sparkly teens, you owe it to yourself to give Salem's Lot a watch, as it's one of the best representations of vampires on the big (small?) screen and also one of the better Stephen King adaptations.