Film Ramblings: SALEM’S LOT(1979) You’ll Enjoy Mr. Barlow. And He’ll Enjoy You.

I hate Christmas. It is for children and those annoying people that are in love. With its endless onslaught of slick commercials decorated with perfect human specimens receiving cars that are worth more than the average American family hauls in, Christmas reminds us what we don’t have. Look how well that supermodel fills out that expensive sweater. Man, that turkey looks tasty on the flatscreen. The convenience store roast beef sandwich you just took a bite out of expired on December 19th. You take a swig of your beer in your empty, haunted apartment. The coaster is a sticky porno mag that you used when you got up for your Goodwill Towards Man.

Merry Christmas, loser. The celebration of the birth of Christ offers us the most deadly narcotic that is being sold on the streets. Hope. No one needs that shit in their life. You will go to bed on Christmas night, cheap booze and and that vile fucking “h” word filling your head with the notion that the upcoming year will be the one when your life takes off. By the time you are done rubbing your bloodshot eyes on the cold morning of the 26th, you will see that eviction notice pinned to your door and the vet is going to tell you that Rover will be better off euthanized. Hey doc, may I have one of those shots, too?

This is why Halloween is my favorite holiday. It honors the macabre and the hopelessness in life. It is for that bizarre kid who would rather listen to Peter Murphy sing with Bauhaus than hear Katy Perry or Justin Bieber belt out their mechanical, overproduced garbage. If you try to talk about Indigo Eyes, you risk the insults of the townsfolk and the possibility is quite high that you will be folded up and stuffed into your high school locker, crumpled against your Stephen King and Clive Barker paperbacks.

Halloween is a day for the monster in all of us. Like the detestable month of December, Halloween is more than a single day celebration. It is a season. During the day we can still bask in a sun that warms us like the fires under a witch’s cauldron. At night we can experience the chill that the Druids felt when they ventured out into the darkness during the Iron Age, unaware of the unseen terrors that lurked in the shadows.

Halloween also occurs smack dab in the middle of PDW in the Northeast United States. That acronym stands for Perfect Drinking Weather. PDW lasts from September 21st to November 21st, give or take a week. It all depends upon jet streams, cold fronts and whatnot. I am not a meteorologist. I just wash the dishes with a few on television that fill out their dresses nicely. That is my euphemism, but feel free to use it. In short, it is the cool, crisp weather that makes the booze go down nice and smooth.

I believe the best horror films to watch during this devilish time of revelry should approximate the feelings of supernatural dread that our ancestors felt when a thunderstorm blew through their village, unannounced and unforgiving as your pill-popping, alcoholic aunt ruining the latest family get together. Besides John Carpenter’s seminal Halloween, most slasher flicks don’t do anything for me in October. Truth be told, I am not much of a slasher film fan. The love people feel for the Friday the 13th series escapes me. They are about as scary as a trip to the candy store and they don’t have enough of a punch to gross me out. Well made is also not a word I would use to describe them. I will begrudgingly give you the original, but the endless parade of bland sequels are not something I would seek out to watch again.

Halloween is for degenerates, devils and dogs from hell. It is for those times when you think to yourself that maybe you would have sex with a good looking corpse. They might be the only women that don’t need to be held after you have sex with them. Drive down to the local morgue and give the undertaker five twenty dollar bills. I think I just read that the local beauty queen drowned at the YMCA pool. Sad for her loved ones, not for you. She would cost you five times that if she had a pulse and was ambulatory.

Before I get my necrophilia on, I think I should tell you about what I believe the ultimate Halloween horror movie is. My award for that would go to the 1979 miniseries Salem’s Lot. Based on Stephen King’s modern day vampire novel, Salem’s Lot is a horror masterpiece. Like The Love Boat, it has an all star cast including Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres, Geoffrey Lewis and David Soul, of Starksy and Hutch fame. Soul is believable as Ben Mears, a writer of middling success, and he holds his own with some really good performers. Soul even manages to not get steamrolled when he squares off with James Mason, a titan of the acting world.

The direction by the late Tobe Hooper is chilling. With his watershed, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hooper carved up the fat and gristle of old Hollywood monsters and ushered in a new era of lean and mean horror films. With Salem’s Lot, he pays homage to their elegant beginnings. In doing so, Hooper gives us some truly inventive scares. The following are reasons I think this is the perfect horror movie to watch come Halloween Time.

IT’S MADE LIKE A HORROR MOVIE FROM THE 1930’s and 1940’s.

Given the puritanical attitudes towards sex and violence that television censors had in America in the 1970s, this may have been necessity over aesthetic. That doesn’t take away from the artistic flair Hooper and company conjured up to scare the shit out of people in their living rooms. Salem’s Lot has all the creepy window dressing one could ask for in their Halloween horror movie fest. Mysterious fog appears when victims are about to be attacked by hungry vampires. Who could forget those creepy vampire children floating outside and tapping on windows, fog engulfing them like smoke from a demon’s pipe? The movie gives us the creepy old cemetery with an intimidating wrought iron fence protecting its perimeter. Tombstones dot the landscape like chipped teeth on a tattered rug. There are plenty of open graves for people to jump into when they hear that beautiful vampire singing through the breeze. Central to the story is a newly arrived antique store that sets up camp in the small town of Salem’s Lot. The shop is filled with the type of expensive and warped artifacts that would have looked good in the home of Aleister Crowley. Everyone speaks of the mysterious and unseen, Mr. Barlow. The musical score is very reminiscent of an old time horror film. It isn’t very subtle, but the bombastic orchestrations work perfectly. We even get something that howls at the full moon.

IT’S A HAUNTED HOUSE MOVIE

The main villains in Salem’s Lot are vampires that descend upon the town like a plague of spiders scurrying through a village in the Carpathian Mountains. However, the driving force of the plot is writer Ben Mears returning to his home to conquer an old demon. He also gets to put the moves on the beautiful Susan Norton as she is reading his book in the park. This is actually the reason why I decided to write. At the rate I am going, however, we will be in a nursing home and my book will be a computer file on some tablet sitting next to the lucky lady’s dentures.

Mears has returned to the town to write a book about the Marsten House. The Marsten House is that haunted house that every town in America has, so the kids can have something to talk about in the playgrounds. Rites of passage. Rites of death. From the top of a hill, the Marsten House presides over the town of Salem’s Lot like an evil monarch. Its crumbling walls, sagging ceilings and dark history add to its legend. After all, you gotta look the part.

The sordid past of the house is explained in brief, but effective detail. By the time our heroes enter the Marsten House to take on the Master Vampire and its caretaker, we can feel the dread that is coursing through Mears’ veins. Vampires dig the veins, man. The production design of the haunted house is suitably creepy. It is a filthy place. Dust and mildew cover everything. Walls are smeared with ugly, slimy stains. Rats pop out of drawers and scurry across the floor, their mischievous squeaks taunting our protagonists. Animal heads and antlers are mounted on the soiled walls, unfriendly spectators in the battle of good versus evil.

STUFFY OLD BRITISH DUDE IN A PIVOTAL ROLE

As a proud member of the loud and obnoxious American sect, I say that if you put a great actor who was born in Great Britain in a horror flick,  you got instant credibility. Those British accents can make the reciting of a porn script sound regal. That upper crust pronunciation can make a harmless invitation for tea in an English Garden sound sinister. What exactly is an English Garden, anyway? If we are lucky enough to have our British friends speaking intelligent dialogue, then the audience is in for a treat. This is the case in Salem’s Lot. James Mason is wonderful as Richard Straker, the custodian for the Master, Kurt Barlow. Straker is a sophisticated serpent. He knows he is better than the small town rubes he will be preying on. Straker is a politely obnoxious sociopath and we get the feeling Mason is having a blast with the role.

OLD TYME MONSTER AS THE VILLAIN

Why are the vampires of today such dripping cunts?

Instead of ripping out throats and feasting on viscera and blood like parasites carrying the plague, today’s vampires are sensitive flowers who would much rather lick their emotional wounds. They have the same fear quotient as a table of hipsters, wasting away time in an overpriced coffee shop, reading Kerouac and listening to emotionally ironic alternative music. Have the politically correct bedwetters forced us to make our monsters less frightening and offensive? When we purposefully water down our horror movies to conform with our brittle society, we have truly doomed ourselves to failure.

And worse.

Salem’s Lot nails the look and feel of the vampire like a stake through Dracula’s heart. With a minimum of makeup, they really are the stuff of nightmares. Blessedly made before computers could do anything more useful than play PONG, the makeup artists made the vampires of Salem’s Lot suitably grotesque and repulsive. With their ashen complexion and yellowish green fangs, we can almost smell the stench of death coming from their whispering mouths.

In one of the biggest derivations from the novel, Kurt Barlow of the mini-series is transformed from erudite nobleman into a growling beast with long nails and gnarled fangs. When he opens his mouth, we are exposed to a sound as harrowing to one’s ears as the hissing of air brakes on a train. It works perfectly. This iteration of Barlow, Nosferatu’s DNA running through his veins, should go down as one of the scariest vampires ever. He only makes an appearance three times. It is enough to make us use the Bible as a coaster for our soda can. Just in case he’s real and comes crashing through our kitchen window as we are watching the movie. Barlow’s first appearance is a real doozy–an inventive jump scare that will catch you off guard if you are nodding off, or texting your girlfriend about what you want to do to her when she gets off work.

YOU CAN WATCH WITH THE WHOLE FAMILY(THEORETICALLY)

I say this because the most objectionable thing in Salem’s Lot might be a flabby Fred Willard in his underwear, confronted by a corpulent, drunken man with a shotgun. The drunk dude, beer glistening off his lips and chubby chin, is upset that Willard’s character is giving it to his strumpet wife, who is trembling on the bed, wearing gym shorts and a top. There is no nudity, but the situation isn’t exactly kid friendly. I remember my mother sent me out of the room until this scene was over when I was a kid. There is nary a drop of blood or curse word in the entire three hour movie. Is it scary?  I sure think so. Will it scare kids? I’m going to say yes. Kids need to be scared, though. They are a most unholy and sinister demographic anyway.

Happy Halloween Everyone!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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