Salem’s Lot Blu-ray Review

Excellent presentation of above average TV miniseries 3.5 Stars

The 1979 television miniseries Salem’s Lot was only the second filmed adaptation of a Stephen King novel (following Brian De Palma’s film of Carrie from 1976).  While its made for TV budget imposed certain limitations on the production, Producer Richard Kobritz wisely offered the project to Director Tobe Hooper who had shown a knack for squeezing maximum suspense and scares from minimal budgets in the independent film world.

Salem's Lot (1979–)
Released: 17 Nov 1979
Rated: PG
Runtime: 184 min
Director: N/A
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia
Writer(s): N/A
Plot: A novelist and a young horror fan attempt to save a small New England town which has been invaded by vampires.
IMDB rating: 6.8
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HDMA (Mono), Spanish 1.0 DD (Mono), French 1.0 DD (Mono), Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 3 Hr. 7 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Standard single disc Blu-ray case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 09/20/2016
MSRP: $14.95

The Production: 3.5/5

Salem’s Lot

Directed by: Tobe Hooper

Starring: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres, Julie Cobb, Elisha Cook Jr., George Dzundza, Ed Flanders, Clarissa Kaye-Mason, Geoffrey Lewis, Barney McFadden, Kenneth McMillan, Fred Willard, Marie Windsor

For Stephen King’s second novel, he brought old fashioned vampires to small town Maine with a dash of vintage haunted house creepiness for good measure.  Like a lot of his best ideas, it was both simple and irresistible to readers.  When it came time to adapt it for film, producers decided to go with a two part television miniseries.  This was reportedly due to two high profile theatrical vampire films that were in active production at the same time (Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre, and John Badham’s Dracula).  Adapting it for television limited the amount of on screen blood and violence, but Director Tobe Hooper took advantage of the over three hours of running time to introduce a large and varied cast of characters (aka “potential victims”), to create an atmosphere of accumulating dread, and to pepper the proceedings with several sequences of sustained suspense.

One of the hallmarks of the golden age of television miniseries in the late 1970s and 80s was the large ensemble casts which would typically blend television stars of the day with a large groups of character actors peppered with cinema stars of the past.  Salem’s Lot certainly delivers in that respect.  David Soul, in the lead role as Ben Mears, had just completed a four year run on the show Starsky & Hutch that had launched him as a heart-throb both as an actor and as a recording artist.  As a lead actor, he can be a bit stiff, which is also the case with teenage actor Lance Kerwin who plays the other main protagonist, magic and horror-obsessed aspiring vampire hunter Mark Petrie.  This slight weakness at the cast’s center is compensated for by a supporting cast which includes Bonnie Bedelia as Ben’s love interest, dependable character actors of the era such as Geoffrey Lewis, Julie Cobb, George Dzundza, and Fred Willard as town residents, and Hollywood legends Lew Ayres, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Marie Windsor.  This was the first time Cook and Windsor had worked together since Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing”, a fact of which director Hooper admits he was keenly aware when casting and shooting the miniseries.

The highlight of the cast by far, though remains James Mason as Richard Straker, the business manager for the mysterious Kurt Barlow.  After a bit of a lull in the early 70s, Mason was in the midst of a late career renaissance, having appeared in seven theatrical films in the two years preceding Salem’s Lot including such high profile productions as Heaven Can WaitThe Boys from Brazil, and Murder by Decree.  He plays Straker  with a layer of officiousness concealing an underlying malevolence which unravels gradually as the series progresses and seems to be having a great time doing so.  Mason’s turn as Straker is so enjoyable that it actually softened my disappointment when the main vampire antagonist is revealed to be a creature hampered by a limited special make-up effects budget.

Special effects are where the limitations of the TV budget really seem to hamper the production, but Hooper manages to otherwise convey strong production values by using creative cinematic lighting set-ups and compositions that are much more visually interesting than the high key lighting and over reliance on close-ups typical of television of the era.  Editorially, Hooper keeps things moving along at a methodical pace through the first part of the miniseries which helps to gradually build suspense and dread.  Conversely, much of the second half feels rushed and some characters (such as Elisha Cook, Jr.’s “Weasel”) seem to unceremoniously fall of the table.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

The 1080p AVC encoded presentation is “pillarboxed” to the TV miniseries’ original 4:3 aspect ratio.  The series was shot on 35mm film and looks excellent in this high definition rendering.  Film grain is natural and well resolved.  The grain gets a bit excessive during optical effects and titles shots, and there are a couple of shots that look like they either were sourced from dupes or were created by optically enlarging the frame.  Other than that, it looks as good or better than most theatrical productions from the era.

Audio: 3/5

The original soundtrack is presented in mono via a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 track.  Dialog, effects, and music are well balanced and clear, with minimal recording artifacts.  The music score is above average for a television production, but sounds a bit dynamically compressed compared to modern productions.

Special Features: 2.5/5

The disc comes with two special features.

Audio Commentary from Director Tobe Hooper is a screen specific track from the gravel voiced director that parses out a lot of interesting and informative behind the scenes anecdotes over the course of the three hour running time.  There are long gaps of silence throughout, but when he is speaking, Hooper manages to avoid repeating himself or lapsing into narration.  Even when he is offering predictable praise for his cast and crew, he manages to interweave it with interesting anecdotes from before, during, and after the production of the series.

Theatrical Trailer (3:23) presents the promo for the European theatrical release of the film.  Tobe Hooper discusses details of the theatrical version on the commentary track while making it clear that the full length miniseries is his preferred version.  While it would have been nice to have a a special feature that included some of the alternate, more violent, shots from the theatrical version, the trailer at least gives viewers a look at how the film looked cropped for a theatrical widescreen ratio.

Overall: 3.5/5

Salem’s Lot has its share of dated elements, and the low budget seams show via less than state-of-the-art make-up and optical effects, but director Tobe Hooper sets up the scares and suspense sequences deftly and gets the most out of a supporting cast filled with strong character actors.  It is presented on disc with audio and video that far exceed the original television exhibition and highlight Hooper’s highly cinematic compositions and lighting set-ups. Extras consists of a trailer for the European theatrical version of the film and a sporadic but informative screen specific audio commentary from Hooper

Published by

Ken_McAlinden

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12 Comments

  1. Either I somehow missed it, or you left out one very important detail (to me at least) about this release: Does it include the program as it was originally broadcast in its separate two-part presentation (each with its own opening/closing segments and the re-cap at the start of Part 2) ???

  2. Nope. Only one set of opening credits. Only one set of closing credits. It is not hard to figure out where part one ends and part two begins, but other than a disc chapter stop, it is not marked in any way.

    Other than one fade out and fade in during the climactic sequence in the Barlow house, most of the commercial breaks are not obvious, either.

  3. This was a novel I read while stationed in Vicenza, Italy in the early 1970s. By the time I was into the story, I learned it was a vampire novel. I would not have bought it had I known. That said, I couldn’t put it down. I woke up one morning looking for bite marks on my neck.

    The creepiest scene in the mini-series, for me, is when Danny Glick scratches on his bedroom window asking his brother to let him in. Did I mention it was a second-floor bedroom window and that Danny was free-floating? Chilled me to the bone.

  4. This truly marked me as a ten year old. Sleepless nights and nightmares. Yet still I would watch it every time it was repeated. It is still the best romantic-less vampire story ever made. The vampirisim is just…nasty and foul. I actually prefer the mini-series take on Mr. Barlow being this monstrous ghoul than the Dracula-like seducer he ultimately turns out to be in the book. Still, I wish Stephen King would write another vampire novel. We do essentially have a Salem’s Lot prequel and sequel in his short story collections, I’m still surprised hes never really returned to the genre.

  5. Either I somehow missed it, or you left out one very important detail (to me at least) about this release: Does it include the program as it was originally broadcast in its separate two-part presentation (each with its own opening/closing segments and the re-cap at the start of Part 2) ???

  6. Either I somehow missed it, or you left out one very important detail (to me at least) about this release: Does it include the program as it was originally broadcast in its separate two-part presentation (each with its own opening/closing segments and the re-cap at the start of Part 2) ???

    I'm sure Ken will chime in in a moment, but other reviews/posters have said that it's done as a continuous episode  — so no credits at the end of 'Part 1" and no recaps at the beginning of Part 2

    Next question — any hint at why almost nobody got store or online stock to fulfill orders.   Only Bullmoose and FYE seem to have some shelf stock and virtually nobody is shipping items after a small % of preorders were fulfilled.

    The other 2 Kings are a bit easier to find (BN B&M) and a couple different online stores, but still the majority of pre-orders have gone unfulfilled to date, Possibly Amoeba and a couple other small retailers, but all 3 are MIA from most major B&M and almost all the usual Online sources.   Amazon doesn't even acknowledge that they've been released (or even have a release date)./

  7. I'm sure Ken will chime in in a moment, but other reviews/posters have said that it's done as a continuous episode  — so no credits at the end of 'Part 1" and no recaps at the beginning of Part 2

    Next question — any hint at why almost nobody got store or online stock to fulfill orders.   Only Bullmoose and FYE seem to have some shelf stock and virtually nobody is shipping items after a small % of preorders were fulfilled.

    The other 2 Kings are a bit easier to find (BN B&M) and a couple different online stores, but still the majority of pre-orders have gone unfulfilled to date, Possibly Amoeba and a couple other small retailers, but all 3 are MIA from most major B&M and almost all the usual Online sources.   Amazon doesn't even acknowledge that they've been released (or even have a release date)./

    I thought I already had in the review thread, but it did not show up here, so I will post it again:

    Nope. Only one set of opening credits. Only one set of closing credits. It is not hard to figure out where part one ends and part two begins, but other than a disc chapter stop, it is not marked in any way.

    Other than one fade out and fade in during the climactic sequence in the Barlow house, most of the commercial breaks are not obvious, either.

  8. I thought I already had in the review thread, but it did not show up here, so I will post it again:

    .

    You did — I can see it if you click the Latest Review under the comments section. but not in this thread.   Matt's question was posted there 2 hrs before it posted in this thread (I'll assume he reposted rather than there being a multi hour delay)  so the forum thread and comments section appear to not be connected,

  9. Wow really disappointing releases. IT is cut and both Salem's Lot and IT do not include the original opening and closing credits for each part. IMO these work better when viewed as part 1 and 2 at two separate viewings just as they originally aired. They are tedious when viewed as one 3 hour plus viewing. Glad I still have the Laserdisc of both that include the original and uncut versions. No Sale on both.

  10. You did — I can see it if you click the Latest Review under the comments section. but not in this thread.   Matt's question was posted there 2 hrs before it posted in this thread (I'll assume he reposted rather than there being a multi hour delay)  so the forum thread and comments section appear to not be connected,

    I reposted my message here only a few minutes after originally posting it in the review thread (after realizing it was actually a different thread), so for some reason there was a looooooong delay before it appeared here.

    EDIT (a few minutes later)…  Now I see that my reply (this one) also appears in the review thread, which only has two other replies, compared to the eight others here. I guess I don't understand how these cross-linked threads are supposed to work, or there is some technical problem occurring.

  11. I'm not disturbed about the opening and closing credits for both parts.  I'm looking forward to this release once it's shipped to me.;)

    If/When/Where — i know some folks got their preorders from Bullmoose and a handful of folks from maybe early BN or Deep Discount orders, but most have been unfulfilled from all online sources and very few B&M got copies.  Salems Lot has basically been bought at some FYE stores though many/most of them got none   and Bullmoose stores for some reason seemed to get their shipments without delay.  Some went the Amazon.ca route despite the cost just to get it in hand quicker.       It and Cat's Eye have seen more daylight, but even most of those pre-orders have been undelivered.   I did get the latter 2 at BN B&M yesterday. 

    Nobody seems to be able to figure out why the roll out has been so poorly done.   By employee reports some Best Buy are supposed to get copies in store during the October Halloween sales, but nobody seems to have an expected date.

  12. Wow really disappointing releases. IT is cut and both Salem's Lot and IT do not include the original opening and closing credits for each part. IMO these work better when viewed as part 1 and 2 at two separate viewings just as they originally aired. They are tedious when viewed as one 3 hour plus viewing. Glad I still have the Laserdisc of both that include the original and uncut versions. No Sale on both.

    I guess I'm just going to hang on to my DVDs and skip the blu-rays, since I only watch them about every five years anyway. Had the blu-rays been restored to their original presentations and uncut, I'd double-dip (triple-dip if you count the laserdiscs, which I now really wish I had kept!).

  13. Nobody seems to be able to figure out why the roll out has been so poorly done.   By employee reports some Best Buy are supposed to get copies in store during the October Halloween sales, but nobody seems to have an expected date.

    Just a guess but I think Wal Mart will have them in their Halloween movie displays too. The combo of Stephen King and a low price make them a no-brainer for stores in October.

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