Color, 1979, 183 mins.

Directed by Tobe Hooper

Starring David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres, Julie Cobb, Elisha Cook, Jr., George Dzundza, Ed Flanders, Clarissa Kaye, Geoffrey Lewis, Fred Willard, Reggie Nalder / Produced by Richard Kobritz / Music by Nicholas Pike and Harry Sukman / Cinematography by Jules Brenner / Written by Paul Monash

Format: DVD - Warner (MSRP $19.95)

Full Frame / Dolby Digital Mono

While The Shining may be Stephen King's finest novel, his second, 'Salem's Lot, could easly be the scariest. Following the theatrical success of Carrie, King's sprawling book was ushered into the two night, four hour miniseries format for television and subsequently issued in a 112-minute cut for European theaters. This shorter variant, which omitted numerous subplots, turned up on pay cable and home video where it found an accepting audience eager to see the full length version again. Warner finally issued the miniseries edition on VHS and laserdisc a few years ago, but now fans can finally savor the entire thing uninterrupted on DVD. It's been a long time coming.

Ben Mears (David Soul), one of King's usual tortured novelists, returns to his home of Salem's Lot (where did the apostrophe go, one wonders). While striking up a romance with the lovely Susan Norton (Die Hard's Bonnie Bedelia), he begins to suspect that something may be amiss in the town. Residents are turning up dead, drained of blood, while others are listless and stay indoors all day. A young monster movie fan, Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin), even spies one of his dead friends floating outside his bedroom window and scratching on the glass (a great image). Ben deduces that this macabre transformation may have something to do with the arrival of Mr. Barlow, a mysterious antique dealer living in the spooky old Marsden house? And what about Straker (James Mason), his suave but menacing right hand man? Ben, Mark, and a handful of the others decide to infiltrate the old house, only to uncover a very nasty surprise.

Director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) may not seem like the ideal choice for a suggestive, epic length saga about small town vampirism, but here he pulled off a rare successful King adaptation for television. Unlike such subsequent missteps as The Tommyknockers and The Langoliers, Salem's Lot keeps a tight grip on the characters and the viewer's emotions by delivering a hefty number of scares and adhering faithfully to the novel. From Soul's restrained heroism to Mason's seething menace, all of the actors are well up to the task of King's tricky narrative. Horror regular Reggie Nalder (Mark of the Devil) turns up intermittently in Nosferatu drag as Mr. Barlow, and while some fans of the novel found this visual choice questionable, there's no denying that Nalder is scary in the role. The climax really packs a wallop thanks to brilliant atmosphere, lighting, and editing; the image of Mark crouching up against the door during the basement climax is not one easily forgotten.

While the running time would suggest a simple presentation of the miniseries, Warner's home video version is actually a third version of Salem's Lot. The shorter European cut contained some mild differences, most notably a gory shot of one character impaled against a wall of antlers near the end. That shot has been reinstated into this version, though completists may want to hang on to their old videotapes anyway. In the TV and DVD versions, the sequence in which George Dzundza catches his wife in bed with Fred Willard climaxes with Dzundza forcing Willard to hold a loading shotgun up to his face. In the rougher European cut, Dzundza (following King's novel) actually forces Willard to slide the rifle barrels down into his throat before pulling the trigger. Otherwise, the DVD is the definitve presentation of Salem's Lot and should make fans quite happy. The transfer is similar to the earlier laserdisc, with surprisingly vibrant colors for a late '70s miniseries. A few scuffs and scratches pop up in the source material, most noticeably prior to the commercial break points, but it doesn't really detract from the film at all. Simply put, if you've only seen Salem's Lot as a TV broadcast, you haven't really seen it at all. The laserdisc included the original teaser and wrap up from the two night screening, which the DVD omits in favor of the international theatrical trailer -- a fair trade off. Incidenally, unlike the theatrical cut, the miniseries leaves the door way open at the end for a prospective television series which ultimately never materialized.

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