I hate reviewing movies that meant a lot to me as a kid, especially when they're not actually as great as they seemed at the time; it's so difficult to be honest! Part of me wants to pull this movie to pieces, yet I absolutely refuse to give it any fewer than four stars. My brother and I were allowed to stay up and watch the original two-part version of "Salem's Lot" some time in the mid-'80s, and it had a profound effect on us both. Terrified but blown away by it, we spent the better part of the next decade taping subsequent, variously truncated TV screenings in the vain hope of seeing that full version again, complete with its meandering subplots and silly Guatemalan epilogue. It took me 20 years to see the full thing again!
Looking at it now, the main problem with the long version is that, though there's more than enough exposition to make us question what the hell most of it has to do with the main thrust of the story (the answer: not much), there's still not quite enough to give us a credible feeling of an entire community being decimated in the second half. I used to think that David Soul was super cool in this but, watching it now, his Ben Mears is pretty surly and unappealing; his first meeting with Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia) is ridiculously corny, and would surely have earned him a liberal Maceing and a kick in the balls in the real world. The brilliant idea of a fantasy-horror nut (Lance Kerwin) using his expertise to battle real-life vampires is disappointingly squandered; though I hate to admit it, "The Lost Boys" makes better use of the same theme. Anyway, I'll wrap this up before I start getting hypercritical. Great cast, great music. Sayonara!
The following are just a few points that have puzzled me over the years, products of the fact that so much of the action happens off-screen. SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ ON IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THIS MOVIE!:-
1. Who kills Mike Ryerson's (Geoffrey Lewis) dog? Since Barlow hasn't yet arrived on the scene, Straker (James Mason) presumably. But why?
2. Who 'kills' Ralphie Glick? Although the health benefits of wrapping someone in plastic and placing them in the boot of a car are open to question, I think we have to assume that Ralphie is still alive when Straker carries him into the cellar of the Marsten house; though still in transit at the time of Ralphie's abduction, only Barlow could turn the lad into a vampire at this stage.
3. Whose is that scrap of black fabric, found by Ben Mears when searching for Ralphie Glick? Straker's or Barlow's? Of course, we only have Straker's word for it that the two black suits he presents to the police constable are his only two. Sloppy police work, if you ask me!
4. Who dumps Larry Crockett's (Fred Willard) body by the lake, and for what reason (other than to tie a largely superfluous subplot to the main storyline)? The supposition is that two vehicles were used for this piece of mischief, one presumably driven by Straker, the other by Barlow, which seems reasonable enough at the time - until we actually meet Barlow, that is. For all we know, he may wear sensible driving shoes and his clutch control may be second to none, but at risk of exposing a lack of imagination on my part, I find it impossible to visualize Reggie Nalder's Nosferatu clone driving that car. Given that his wife's lover has died in suspicious circumstances, I also find it incredible that the police allow Cully Sawyer (George Dzundza) to leave town so swiftly.
5. What happens to Jason Burke (Lew Ayres) after his heart attack? Helpless in a hospital bed as vampirism and fire rage though 'Salem's Lot, the old man's uncertain fate is perhaps the bleakest and most unnecessary loose end in the whole movie. Why couldn't he just die of that heart attack? Similarly, what happens to Susan's mother when her husband and daughter fail to come home?