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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Salem's Lot (1979) (Blu-ray)
Salem's Lot (1979) (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // Unrated // September 20, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $14.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by William Harrison | posted October 4, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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THE FILM:

Director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) was limited by broadcast standards, so this 1979 television adaptation of Stephen King's novel is necessarily tamer than it might otherwise have been. Author Ben Mears (David Soul) hopes his hometown of Salem's Lot, Maine, will provide inspiration for his latest book. He returns, aiming to write about the Marsten House, a spooky estate that sits atop a hill outside of town. Mears tries to rent the property, but finds a secretive antiques dealer, Richard Straker (James Mason), has already spoken for it. Soon, a mysterious crate is delivered to the property, and the townsfolk begin to go missing.

It is no surprise that inside the aforementioned crate is a vampire; Straker's long-absent business partner, Kurt Barlow (Reggie Nalder). This centuries-old vampire master sent Straker to prepare for his arrival, and quickly begins satisfying his bloodlust in Salem's Lot. Straker kidnaps a young boy, Ralphie Glick (Ronnie Scribner), to feed his master, and a strengthening Barlow later kills a realtor (Fred Willard). Ralphie returns one night to his home, levitating outside his brother Danny's (Brad Savage) window. Danny is happy to see Ralphie, but Ralphie bites Danny and turns him into another undead. Thus, the vampire's curse begins spreading like a plague in Salem's Lot.

This 183-minute film aired on CBS over two nights in November 1979. Hooper, whose landmark Texas Chain Saw Massacre was released five years earlier, is an interesting director for this project. He certainly creates moments of dread and suspense, but struggles somewhat with pacing. I suspect Salem's Lot was a challenge for the director, then riding a wave of R-rated horror success. The build-up is fairly lengthy, but does allow for some nice character moments. Mears rents a room from Eva Miller (Marie Windsor) when he discovers Marsten House is full. A local woman, Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia), catches his eye, and Mears actually has something to lose if either of them are turned.

Of note here are the costumes and vampire make-up. These creatures are frightening without digital trickery. Mears realizes something is amiss, of course, and tries to stop it. He travels to the bowels of Marsten House and meets its spooks head-on. Salem's Lot feels like a late-1970s adaptation in its static, talky drama and stage-inspired setups. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but the extended exposition in the first half does get tedious at times. Salem's Lot is not particularly scary either. This is more haunted-house fun than primal-fear thriller. It certainly does not hold up as well as Hooper's raw, visceral Chainsaw, but is a minor achievement.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

Presented in 1.33:1/1080p/AVC-encoded full frame, Salem's Lot is neither flashy nor grandiose in scale, but the transfer offers an accurate presentation of the source. Print damage is very minor, and Warner Brothers again wisely avoids sharpening things up with edge enhancement or noise reduction. Colors are nicely saturated and bold, black levels are steady, and shadow detail is decent. The grain is natural and the image lifelike. Fine-object detail is greatly improved from standard definition, and this is likely the best this film is going to look without a 4K scan.

SOUND:

The DTS-HD Master Audio mono mix is fine. It's not going to blow the roof off, but there are no problems with distortion, feedback or hiss. Dialogue is accurately presented, and is never overwhelmed by the Harry Sukman score or effects. Fidelity and range are good, and there are a couple of decent atmospheric effects. You also get French, Spanish, Portuguese and German mono mixes and a host of subtitle options.

EXTRAS:

The only extra of note is a Commentary by Director Tobe Hooper, which offers decent anecdotes but a lot of dead air. You also get the Theatrical Trailer (3:23/HD).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This 1979 television adaptation of Stephen King's novel has issues with pacing but is not without its charms. Director Tobe Hooper is not altogether comfortable with his broadcast-friendly Salem's Lot, released five years after his Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The make-up and costumes are impressive, and Hooper does provide spooks and dread after a slow first half. Recommended.

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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