Jason Berk: What *do* you remember, Mike?
Mike Ryerson: Singing.
Jason Berk: Singing?
Mike Ryerson: Sweetest singing I ever heard. And a feeling like drowning. And eyes... eyes.
Jason Berk: Whose eyes?
Mike Ryerson: Bright... scary.
Ben Mears: Whose?
Mike Ryerson: Don't remember.
Reminds me a little of Rachel in the Raft, also by Stephen King, staring into the oil slick and musing, "It has colors." In both cases, vampire attack and slick attack, there isn't simply an attack going on: there's seduction as well. And until the recent trend of horde-vampire movies (like 30 Days of Night and I am Legend -- actually I can't think of any others, so maybe it's not much of a trend) the seduction was part of any vampire approach. We see it in movies like the original Dracula and Interview With the Vampire, in which the villains are as handsome as they are diabolical. But that same trend goes on in movies like Tobe Hooper's Salem's Lot and the original Nosferatu (from which the look of the principal vampire in Salem's Lot was copied whole-cloth) -- the vampires in these films are so hideous that there must be something enchanting about them or the victims wouldn't sit still and quiet long enough to be attacked.
More than once, we get to hear vampire victims speak about their experience. None of them ever remember getting attacked -- it's always a softer memory, and the victim speaks of it in a languid sleepy tone, like the enchantment set in and never really broke. Consider the dying Majorie Glick, lying on her kitchen floor, her head cradled in her husband's lap. As her world slowly grows dark, she speaks of being visited by her son Danny, whose funeral she'd attended just that day. Danny came to see her that night, she slurs, "He told me he was my baby."
We empathize with Majorie not just because she's a mother who's lost a son, but because we've spent some time getting to know her and her boys. We spend time getting to know a bunch of the residents of Salem's Lot -- large chunks of the three hour running time are devoted to side-bar stories about secondary characters. Most of the time, these fleshings-out aren't propelling the plot in any kind of useful way, and they'd be superfluous if they weren't, of themselves, so well written. My favorite of these maybe-useless sidebars involves George Dzundza (!) taunting his wife's lover, played by Fred Willard (!!), with a shotgun.
The actual moving storyline centers around Ben Mears (Starsky & Hutch's David Soul), a one-time resident of Salem's Lot visiting his old town to write a story. His intent is to write about a creepy house on the edge of town, but he grows suspicious of its new tenants, Richard Straker and the mysterious Kurt Barlow. We don't get to meet Barlow until midway through the film, but to more than one person, Straker intones, "You'll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he'll enjoy you."
As difficult as it is, especially this month, to find time for a three-hour long movie, I found Salem's Lot completely satisfying. In fact it's Tobe Hooper's willingness to take his time that makes this such a fine piece of work. Several scenes involve movement and gesture and no talking; we watch characters do what they do, without needless dialogue chewing up the sound. The camera moves slowly and the angles are well chosen.
The best example of this comes at 37:58. George Dzundza's character stands outside of the town cemetary, his revenge plot against his wife already underway. From offscreen, we can hear the graveyard guard dog barking at him. Dzundza grumbles at the dog and then walks away. His exit is interrupted by an unnaturally choked-off screech and then silence. No more barking. Dzundza shudders momentarily and then keeps on walking. Then the camera begins to pan to the right. We pass through the long grass and drift among tombstones, some off a few feet, some right in front of the camera. The pan itself lasts a full 45 seconds. When the camera stops, we see a shape on the ground. It takes a moment for our eyes to adjust, but when they do, we realize that we're looking at the dog, dead in the grass, its face still pulled back in a snarl.
I was planning on watching films about cults for this year's thon, but stimulated by the recent thon post about JPX seeing the commercial for Salem's Lot as a kid, I decided to go for vampires this October. This was a good one to start on. Highly recommended, if you've got the time.