"Salem’s Lot" (2004) DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
DVD released by Warner Bros.
Directed by Mikael Salomon
Teleplay written by Peter Filardi, based on the novel by Stephen King
2004, Region 1 (NTSC), 181 Minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on October 12th, 2004
Rob Low as Ben Mears
Andre Braugher as Matt Burke
Donald Sutherland as Richard Straker
Samantha Mathis as Susan Norton
Robert Mammone as Dr. James Cody
Dan Byrd as Mark Petrie
Rutger Hauer as Kurt Barlow
James Cromwell as Father Donald Callahan
"Salem’s Lot" opens with a punch. Ben Mears (Rob Lowe — Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, "The Stand") enters the soup kitchen of a bustling city, where Father Donald Callahan (James Cromwell — The Sum of All Fears, The Green Mile) is feeding the hungry. Their eyes meet and, after a flash of recognition, Callahan rushes away, with Mears giving close chase.
In an upstairs office, a confrontation ensues, a gun is pulled (by the Father, no less), shots are fired and the two men go crashing through the window to the street below.
What. The. Hell.
At the hospital, a male nurse stands over Mears’ broken body and says, “Give me one good reason why, as a good Christian, I shouldn’t let you die right here.” Mears says two words:
And thus, his story begins.
"Salem’s Lot" is a vampire movie. But it’s not the goth chic Interview With A Vampire. It’s not cute and it’s not pretty. It’s dark, it’s vile and Kurt Barlow, the mysterious unseen newcomer, is evil personified. Often called a story about the death of small town America, Lot is a town about to be infested with vampires and there is nothing romantic about it.
"Lot"’s first incarnation as a mini-series was Tobe Hooper’s (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Lifeforce) version in 1979. Still considered a classic by many — and deservedly so, to an extent — this revisiting raised a few eyebrows as far as necessity. And, let’s face it, it’s a revisiting, not a remake. The original source is Stephen King’s classic novel, and there is nothing wrong with a different voice reading the same story.
Also, as good as it is, the ’79 version needed a new voice. It still gives people the willies, no doubt about that — hell, the floating kid, scratching at the window, asking for an invitation to come in still scares the hell out of me. But the “feel” of the movie itself is dated. The fact that David Soul (Starsky of “Starsky & Hutch” fame) played Ben Mears in the original should scream “update me” loud enough. Soul is a fine actor, and he performed admirably in "Lot", but every time I watch it now, I keep expecting him to jump in that bad-ass Torino and get the hell out of Dodge.
Contrary to what one might think, this ’04 version is quite good. It may not possess the feeling of dread the original has, but it stands solidly on its own for a number of reasons.
The first is Rob Lowe. He absolutely nails the troubled writer, Mears, as a man who, like the town of Salem’s Lot, has dark secrets. His performance is terrific because, from the beginning of the movie, you can see his pain and you want to know why it is there. What burden is he carrying that is so bad? As the secret comes out, you then wonder why he would ever return to the Lot.
The other standout is Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner, The Hitcher), as the elusive — and ultimate evil — Kurt Barlow. If left unchecked, Barlow will be the death of the Lot. Literally. While Hauer doesn’t have a lot of screen time, considering his character’s “schedule,” his charisma is such that you are compelled to watch him each time he is on screen. And when he’s not onscreen, you are left wanting more.
Toss in veteran actor Donald Sutherland (Cold Mountain, Citizen X), as Richard Straker, Barlow’s “partner,” James Cromwell as Father Callahan and Andre Braugher (Frequency, Primal Fear) as the teacher, Matt Burke, and you have quite a star-studded cast for a TV mini-series.
"Lot" played over two nights when it originally aired on TNT, and director Mikael Salomon (Hard Rain) wisely split the story. The first half concentrated solely on character development. And not just the character development of the main players, but of the town itself. The words “small town” usually gives the impression of picnics and parades, but in this particular town, Salomon shows it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Salem’s Lot has some pretty troubled citizens. Mayberry, this is not.
The second night is when all hell breaks loose and the true secrets of Barlow and Straker are revealed. It’s as if Salomon said, “Okay, all the character development is out of the way. Now, let’s party.” Both halves are great on their own, but when you put them together, buckle up for the ride.
The 1979 "Salem’s Lot" is a classic. It doesn’t have the punch it once had, but time does that to a lot of movies. Nevertheless, I can sit down and watch it anytime.
The 2004 "Salem’s Lot" is a good movie, too, and it complements the original nicely. There are scenes in the movie — in particular a disturbing school bus scene — which will stick with you long after you watch it.
But will it be the classic the ’79 version was? Only time will tell.
Video and Audio:
Presented in 1:85:1 matted widescreen, "Lot"’s anamorphic transfer looks very good. There are only a few instances when there is some grain, but considering most of the movie takes place at night (or in dark places), the few instances are easily overlooked.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is great. A lot of action from the rear speakers, and at the right times, raising the viewing experience a notch. Considering this was a TV mini-series and not a movie, this is a blessing.
No special features. None.
I find it hard to believe that, as much as TNT advertised this, there was nothing lying around to throw on the disc.
The only unfortunate thing about this movie is many horror fans won’t ever give it a chance because of the original. Considering the garbage that has been made from some of King’s work (see "The Langoliers" or The Mangler as perfect examples), it is quite sad for fans of the genre to just dismiss it simply for its title. That doesn’t do this retelling any justice.
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