Friday, September 30, 2016

SALEM'S LOT (1979) (Blu-ray Review)

SALEM'S LOT (1979) 
Label: Warner Bros.
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: PG
Duration 183 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Fulscreen (1.33:1) 
Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: 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 

Writer Ben Mears (David Soul) returns to his hometown of Salem's Lot, Maine to begin writing a new book, a book based on a creepy old house located on a hill overlooking the town The place is the Marsten House, a dwelling that Mears believes to be a center of evil, a place where bad things have happened and where bad things will again occur. He arrives hoping to rent the place but finds out from local realtor Larry Crockett (Fred Willard) that the old dark house has already been rented by the mysterious Richard Straker (James Mason), an British antiques dealer who is about to open a new curio shop in town, along with his elusive partner Kurt Barlow. 

With the Marsten House not available Mears sets up a room at the local boarding house run by Eva Miller (Marie Windsor). Soon after arriving Ben makes the acquaintance of an attractive young woman named Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia, Die Hard), the daughter of the town doc, Dr. Bill Norton (Ed Flanders), and two begin to fall in love with each other in short order. 

However, things begin to take a turn for the worse when Straker hires a pair of men to deliver a crate to the house, one of them played by 70s TV character actor Geoffrey Lewis, playing grave digger Mike Ryerson. Soon after the creepily cold crate is unloaded into the basement of the house a local kid named Ralphie Glick (Ronnie Scribner) is abducted by Straker and brought to the house as an offering to what turns out to be his vampire master, the elusive Kurt Barlow Has arrived. Now a turned into a vampire Ralphie visits his older brother Danny (Brad Savage) in the middle of the night in a scene directly lifted for by Joel Schumacher for his movie The Lost Boys. Danny succumbs to his bloodsucking brother and now both the Glick boys are vamps, with Danny infecting the gravedigger Mike Ryerson, who also begins to transform into a bloodsucker after a brief flu-like illness. 

And so the story continues the idyllic small town is overcome by vampirism as it spreads like a vampire-virus from one person to the next with only a small group of folks realizing what exactly is happening. Our main protagonists are Mears, Dr. Norton and a schoolteacher named Jason Burke (Lew Ayres), along with Mears' love interest Susan who finds herself in peril. Also brought into the melee is a young boy obsessed with horror movies and monsters, named Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin), whose parents are killed by Barlow in a great scene that reveals the vamp in all his blue-skinned Nosferatu glory, a scene that had be covering my face in terror when I first watched it at six years old on TV with my mom. 

As a Stephen King adaptation the movie stays very true to the source material, the sprawling cast of characters is left intact, however Barlow is not the cloaked count that King had originally envisioned, more of a rat-like Nosferatu we've come to known from the F. W. Murnau classic, but it works, in fact this is one of my favorite on-screen vampires of all time, some of the make-up effects look a bit dated but I love this design. I also love the make-up work on Geoffrey Lewis when he is transitioning into a vamp, the scene of him sitting on a rocker in a darkened room with glowing eyes is still a chilling watch.

Actor David Soul certainly look more like a gym teacher than a writer, but he does good work here, though a bit on the stuff side he does the job, The standout is the creepy and gentlemanly performance of James Mason (Murder by Decree) who balances menace with British charm effortlessly, always slyly hinting at the whereabouts of his silent partner Barlow, his toying with the local Constable (Kenneth McMillan, Dune), and he is straight up terrifying when he reveals himself as an inhuman ghoul during a confrontation with Dr. Norton inside the Marsten House. In that scene Straker impales the doc on a set of antlers mounted to the wall, yet another scene lifted by 80s vamp favorite The Lost Boys. 

As a kid who loved horror it was a bit of nerd fantasy to imagine myself as the character of Mark Petrie, the boy who loved horror and whose knowledge of horror saved his life, warding off a vamp attack from the menacing Danny Glick, repelling him with a crucifix he breaks off from one of his own Aurora Horror Kits, so cool, this also brought to mind the kid from Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse (1981), who also loved horror and who survives. Tobe Hooper did good work bringing this one to the small screen, a slice of smalltown Gothic horror  laced with dread and one of the best looking bloodsuckers ever to grace the screen, big or small. Also, this is not a movie that gets mentioned nearly enough when discussing the better Stephen King adaptations or highlights from Hooper's body of directorial work, I hope this new HD release remedies that, 

Audio/Video: Salem's Lot arrives on Blu-ray for the first-time ever courtesy of Warner Bros. who present the movie in HD from the original 35mm elements and it looks great, they've gone back and presented the TV movie in the original full frame aspect ratio. Grain is nicely layered and with it you get some damn fine detail and depth to the image. I've watched this movie on a semi-regular basis for years and it has never looked that great on home video, that is until now. Audio chores on the disc are capably handled by a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track that is clean and nicely balanced, dialogue is crisp and the score and effects come through sharp. The score comes by way of TV composer Harry Sukman (Someone's Watching Me!) and it is damn creepy when it needs to be, way above average for a made-for-TV movie, I love the use of the oboe throughout, a nice deep and foreboding sound.

Extras on the disc are slim but appreciated, the International Theatrical Trailer and a brand new commentary from director Tobe Hooper. Those familiar with Hooper's other commentary tracks are aware that the gravel-voiced director can me a bit verbally lethargic at times with large gaps of no commentary, but he's had some thirty years to look back at his movie and does offer up some nice anecdotes about making the movie, working with Hollywood legends like Elisha Cook Jr. and James Mason in particular. 

I gladly would have plopped down a few more bucks on this one to have new interviews with the surviving cast and crew from Red Shirt Pictures of Freak-O-Rama who have been doing some great work creating extras for vintage horror movies for a wide range of niche cult and horror labels, I would have loved some more extras here. Another extra that would have been a big bonus for me would have been the inclusion of the International 2-hour cut of the movie that was shown theatrically in other territories with a few scenes not included on the TV mini series, even having those clips included as deleted scenes would have been something wonderful, as would have the option to watch it in the original two-part mini series format with opening and closing credits. Still, I am very pleased with the new A/V presentation and the new commentary, well worth the upgrade. 

Special Features:

- Feature-Length Audio Commentary by Director Tobe Hooper
- International Theatrical Trailer

Tobe Hooper's TV adaptation of Stephen King's Salem's Lot holds up very well after all these years, a top-notch Gothic horror entry that while a bit on the dated side from time to time is suspenseful and full of creeping dread. The TV movie is certainly tame by modern horror standards of gore and bloodshed but still offers up a bunch of Gothic chills for horror fans who love a nice slow build up, this is effective stuff. The new transfer looks and sounds fantastic on Blu-ray, a high recommend that you make this part of your October viewing in the lead-up to Halloween.