Yup. Time for another Gone To Bed entry. My last one, which was all about Horror of Dracula, got me thinking about another film that A) I have gone to bed to hundreds of times, and B) is also a film that initially scared the absolute shit outta me. Part I was disturbing, not unwatchable disturbing, but just bad enough to get me massively paranoid that night. If my old, dear friend, Michael reads this post - he will well remember he and I making crosses to protect ourselves that Saturday night in 1979. We went down to his Dad's workshop in the basement and we fashioned ourselves some damn fine crosses to keep away ANY and ALL vampires that night (well, as previously stated, any and all does not include incredibly hot female vampires that might just need a small snack). But, I digress, for you see, that night was the first installment of Stephen King's Salem's Lot; and what an ENORMOUS night it was for yours truly. (sidebar - there were no incredibly hot vampires in Salem's Lot, Bonnie Bedelia made a very, in Barlow's words, "toothsome" and attractive vampire, but alas, she was not seen as such until the epilogue - mere minutes from the end of the film. Now Marie Windsor would have made a great vampire, especially in her heyday 1950s - yeah, she would've been deadly in more ways than one).
Let's take a look at the evidence before I get into that 2nd Saturday night and thoughts on the film in general. GOD, I love Harry Sukman's score. One of the best original scores ever written for a TV miniseries. The Trailer:
That was the trailer that was cut for the theatrical release in foreign markets. It's a damn fine trailer too (even if it "shows" a bit too much towards the end).
Now then, the following Saturday, part II aired. Holy Shit. What a night. Remember, I was just nearly ten years old. I sat there watching the film with my Mother, she was eating it up. I was getting almost "sick" scared, where you can slowly feel knots in your stomach slowly building up. To make matters worse, my Mom was gobbling some artichoke hearts out of a large jar with a tooth-pick. So, I grabbed a tooth pick too and started gobbling up the vinegar soaked hearts, trying to give my stomach something to do, other than grumble and knot up. By the time the sun had gone down and Ben and Mark confront Barlow, I was SCARED SHITLESS. And I really went over the edge when we start to see the other vampires, Mike Ryerson, The Glick Boys, Larry Crockett, etc., slowly crawling down the narrow passage from Barlow's lair. Man, I was PETRIFIED. The 3:14 mark is when the locals start crawling towards Mark - Let's take a look see:
How petrified? Well (and this is a legendary story in my family), I COULD NOT SLEEP and in fact got so sick, that I ran out of my room and down the hall to throw up. Sadly, I didn't make it and puked all over my Mom's brand new suede "Coach" bag (some consider it poetic justice for encouraging me to watch it and providing artichoke hearts). She was not, however, of the opinion that it was justice of any kind. A major turning point for me occurred shortly after watching this film. I had already read "JAWS" and considered myself quite the adult for having done so. But, I was still on a diet of stuff like, Tolkein, Roger Zelazny, Piers Anthony, comics, and a lot of classics. A few weeks after Salem's Lot had aired, I was with my Mom and brother in a book store and asked if she would buy it for me. "The movie that made you throw up all over my new Coach bag??! I don't think so." But, I somehow got her to cave in. The rest is, as they say, history. My brother had copies of The Shining and The Dead Zone (both amazing, especially Dead Zone) in the house. I devoured those just as voraciously. But, Salem's Lot remains my favorite King novel. It's one of the VERY few novels that successfully managed to actually SCARE ME. Truly scare me. The only other novel that ever did this in that same, primal way, was Peter Straub's Ghost Story. I would like to write a great deal of literary criticism about those two books as I feel that they were perhaps (along with Blatty's The Exorcist) the most "important" novels of "horror" in the 1970s. Maybe another post...
Salem's Lot abides in no small part due to its exceptional cast. The film rests on the basically competent shoulders of David Soul. I was an avid viewer of Starsky and Hutch in the 70s, and was fond of Soul. But, for some strange reason really identified with his portrayal of Ben Mears, clearly not as much as I identified with Lance Kerwin's Mark Petrie, as we had major similarities, (close in age and interests) but as intended by King - Mears and Petrie are supposed to be mirror images of one another. So, Ben was the type of adult I wanted to be at that time. However, when I watch Soul's performance now, I find it consistent but strongly underplayed. I feel like he occasionally needs a strong serotonin shot or something - too uptight and morose. I'm not saying I need Chuckles the Clown here, but maybe he could smile while he's trying to pick up Susan Norton or something... Nevertheless, Soul is as good as he needs to be.
Now then, one of the greatest reasons Salem's Lot worked so well then and still packs a powerful right hook today is because of James Mason. One of the cinema's greatest actors, he lends a magisterial aura to the film. A blend of condescending disdain and aristocratic malevolence. And, ladies and gentlemen, he delivers. My adoration for this actor is immeasurable. I've mentioned before that my favorite "musical" of all time is "A Star is Born" (1954), and that Mason's performance is beyond words, but again, really, he is magnificent. His inclusion in the cast of Salem's Lot is a major coup. Just watch any scene with him - ANY scene, and you will see him play this part to perfection. The part of the intellectually superior European who condescends to everyone, hoping that at least one person ("Constable" Parkins Gillespie, it turns out) will be intuitive enough to sense his contempt and general cynicism towards the small-town bumpkins he has to share oxygen with. It's a brilliant performance from a brilliant actor. Mason is, as usual, fabulous and fun, he lends genuine class to a lurid shocker. What more can a fan ask for?
Geoffrey Lewis? Brilliant. And I told him so two years ago in Cleveland.
Lew Ayers? Perfect
Bonnie Bedelia? Perfectly cast - nice mix of wholesome, near mousy, sex appeal.
Lance Kerwin? Super intense! But, also perfect
George Dzundza? Just the right amount of fat, drunk slob - perfectly played.
Fred Willard? Horribly dressed, but super fine in the role.
Marie Windsor and Elisha Cook Jr? Do I really have to tell you what these two magnificently seasoned actors are capable of?
The Cast Destroys that of the remake. PERIOD. There is no equivalent of James Mason today - zip, nada, nil.
Speaking of the remake. I've not heard, but rather, I've read on IMDB a few comments from people who said something to the fact that "gee, this movie sure is dated, the newer version is waaaay better." or some such drivel. I guess "dated" is a signifier of "quality" to some people. Well, people are entitled to their opinions, but that doesn't mean they have the slightest clue as to what "contextual" analysis entails. I was not a fan of the re-make, but at the same time, it was innocuous enough. My friend and fellow blogger in Britain., Taliesin rated the remake higher than the original, and I think he was smokin' some very good shit while writing that review, but I have nothing but respect for my Comrade in the U.K. and I disagree with him on minor points all the time. The simple fact of the remake is that Donald Sutherland chews the scenery up as if it were a giant Ham Hock - providing the protein for his TREMENDOUSLY HAMMY interpretation of Straker. And Rutger Hauer? Sadly, a light scare as Barlow, a dull frisson at best. Potent enough to maybe scare a three year old. I have great respect for both actors but find them miscast. The remake also takes tremendous liberties with the character of Father Callahan. Fair enough to start the film with a scene that King himself had noted would be the proper way to begin a sequel BUT, they then proceed to turn him into a sort of "Pied Piper" of local Vampires and extend his role into that of partial master villain of the story. Horseshit - doesn't work. And for that matter, neither does the remake. The major theme of King's novel, in fact, he claims it as the total raison d'etre for it, is the idea of a town slowly drying up and vanishing. How could someone pull this off convincingly? In a novel, there's room for this negotiation, in a movie - very little. So, while I feel Tobe Hooper's vitae made him the ideal candidate for this made for TV miniseries, Mikael Salomon's matteur en scene background as a cinematographer, and director of Television programming commodifies the final product in a much more concrete fashion. Yet, Hooper's narrative film background injects his visualization with a more cinematic aura - it feels more like a film. After all, this is Tobe Hooper. The remake fumbles with drab, morbid, dingy set pieces as a substitute for real scares. And, chalk one up for the geriatric crowd, the CGI haunted houses and gimmicks do not work as effectively as Hooper's "old-school" opticals, tricks, and make-up. I could go on and on here - but, what's the point. Tastes are tastes. And, this post is not about comparing an original to a remake (though I have a point or two left to make), it's about me going to bed to this Goddamn film 250 times.
Hooper's Barlow (Reggie Nalder, in a more lurid and ghastly Count Orlock disguise) may have been a far cry from the way King originally wrote him, but really, do we need another slick, lithe, urbane European? It can, at least, be said of the original Barlow - that the image resonates in the mind far longer than the Rutger Hauer version, faithful to the as written character or not. As for the 1979 version being dated? Well, uhm, sure, duh. Most documents reflect the period in which they were created. Every now and then we have a timeless "object" - (whatever that means) but how is that determined? By its aesthetic? By its theme? By its content? By all of these things? By an aggregate opinion? By what? If in fact, it is a combination of these criteria, then I would like to state that there is NOTHING DATED about Salem's Lot. Nothing - save for one thing and I'll get to that soon. Funny that the Gen Y generation of whatever you call late teens early twenties folk these days refer to this film as "dated" when I see them emulating trends from the 70s in regard to speech, style of dress and fashion, HAIR STYLES (big time with the hair, 45 minutes to make it look like you just got out of bed), etc etc.
As for what I think is dated about Salem's Lot? Well, Fred Willard's character, Larry Crockett wears progressively more appalling suits as the film wears on. It's like he raided Herb Tarlek's closet - we start off bad and things get worse with every wardrobe change, culminating in his and boom boom Bonnie's matching cherry satin undies (purchased in Boston no less). As a fate for wearing this heinous collection of 70s haute couture (remember, I'm a big fan of contextual analysis, but I was alive and well in 79' and his clothes were offensive by standards even then!) he is (just after donning the cherry satin undies) KILLED! Now honestly, this is the only thing I think that has NOT dated well about this film. All the people who think the original is some sort of campy or kitschy TV movie - You're DEAD FUCKING WRONG. Salems Lot has aged gracefully and kicked major ass when it came out. ASK anybody who watched it when it aired.
My biggest pet peeve with Salem's Lot is famously known in a great many circles as my: NED TEBBITS SYNDROME. You see, in the novel Salem's Lot, there is a character named FLOYD TIBBITS, in fact he and Ben Mears were quasi-friends as kids. Well, in the infinite wisdom of someone, or some people, or some committee, the name Floyd Tibbits was apparantly not suitable. I do not know why, but there you have it. The geniuses in charge of this monumental decision felt that Floyd Tibbits name must be changed to something that apparantly was more suitable. After all, we can't have a Horst Shmalzenbachergildenfenst - too complicated: Horst Shmalzenbachergildenfenst becomes: Harry Smith. That I can deal with.
BUT JUST WHAT THE FUCK WAS ACCOMPLISHED BY HAVING THE NAME:
I just don't get it. I mean, for me, that rates up there with "What's the meaning of life?" or "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Why oh why is there this logic defying name change???
It's almost as if something like this happened:
WEALTHY VENTURE CAPITALIST: I'm willing to pitch in X amount of dollars to finance your film.
TOBE HOOPER: Great! Fantastic!
WEALTHY VENTURE CAPITALIST: There's a condition.
TOBE HOOPER: Okay, what's that?
WEALTHY VENTURE CAPITALIST: This character... (checks teleplay) uhm... yes, here it is. This character - FLOYD TIBBITS?
TOBE HOOPER: Uh huh.
WEALTHY VENTURE CAPITALIST: Yes, that simply won't do. We'll have to change it.
TOBE HOOPER: Sure Man, what'd ya have in mind?
WEALTHY VENTURE CAPITALIST: Floyd Tibbits is a ridiculous name.
TOBE HOOPER: Whatever you say man.
WEALTHY VENTURE CAPITALIST: Yes, a ridiculous name. Hence forth - Floyd Tibbits shall be known as...NED TEBBETS!!
TOBE HOOPER: Uhm, You're serious?
WEALTHY VENTURE CAPITALIST: Deadly
TOBE HOOPER: Uhm Okay, ya know, that's not really that different a name man, in fact they're kind of identical ya know?
WEALTHY VENTURE CAPITALIST: Well, Mr. Hooper we can withdraw our offer, I'm sure that another network will-
TOBE HOOPER: Nope! Ned Tebbets is a damn fine substitution. (grabs check)
At least this is the scenario I envision to somehow rationalize this incredibly imbecilic name substitution which is surely the worst ever committed in recorded history.
Apart from this maddening issue, Salem's Lot, rates for me as PERFECT HORROR, and an important marker in my life. I've written before how ironic it is that films that scared the holy bajeezus outta me as a kid serve as sort of calming anti-depressants before bed. Don't know why really. Or maybe I know exactly why. In fact I think I do. I'll save that for another Gone To Bed entry. Salem's Lot is perfect y'all.
GONE TO BED METER
Approx. 200-250 times
Honourable mention: The Matrix Reloaded
17 hours ago