From now on, Castle Rock Companion will be most commonly appearing in written form. I explained the reasons for the change over on my personal blog. My apologies to all of you who enjoyed the videos.
Salem's Lot is King's attempt to write Dracula,
but it's not really Bram Stoker's version of Dracula. This is closer
to the Dracula we see in the Hammer films, a brooding older man with a
charming presence despite his ghoulish appearance. He's affected by all
the modern myths that have surrounded vampires since Nosferatu,
like the inability to come out in the daytime. The cast of characters
is also updated to King's standard of the residents of a small town.
The town of Salem's Lot is authentic King, with the feeling that you
could put these characters up against Cujo, Christine or Carrie and
they'd be just the same. It's mostly when he's directly emulating the
Dracula story that it comes off a little less authentic.
adaptation exists in two forms - its original television mini-series
format and an edited down movie format that was released years later.
For the purpose of this review I'm looking at the mini-series version.
This adaptation is once again very close to the novel in a lot of ways.
It was toned down a bit for content and a lot of the minor characters
are merged together to save time. There's really only one large
difference between the two, and I'll get to that in a minute.
I feel that keeping the pacing so close to the novel was a mistake. We saw this in the 1997 version of The Shining and again in Firestarter.
These kind of straight up adaptations can come off really bland, like a
cover song so close to the original that you'd rather just listen to
the original instead. It makes sense for a book to take its time and
build slowly, and between narration and knowing what the characters are
thinking, it can really build a sense of tension. But in a TV series
you need to raise the drama or action in order to keep people's
attention, and this mini-series doesn't do that at all in my opinion.
It does make some really strange choices though.
deliverymen drop off the crate containing Barlow at the Marsten House,
they tell us over and over again that they are cold, and that the crate
seems to be emanating cold from it. Now I know that vampires are cold,
but I think this is the first time I've ever heard of them making
everything around them cold too. Or maybe he's being delivered
packed in ice so you can't smell the stink of death? Regardless it's
just a silly detail and is unneeded. This kind of repetition of lines
happens a few times throughout the mini-series. Another strange choice
that confused me was changing some of the character's names. Floyd is
called Ned and Matt is called Jason. It did remind me of the way that
characters often get flipped around in Dracula adaptations though, so I
guess they succeeded in that.
The most obvious change they make
in this version is making Barlow more like Count Orlok than Count
Dracula in appearance. He speaks only in hisses and wails. This was the
decision of producer Richard Kobritz, who felt like Dracula had been
done to death and would only come off as silly. Ironically, this blue
faced hissing creature is the one that comes off silly to me. He looks
like the bat boy from Weekly World News. Of course most of the vampires
come off silly, with their glowing yellow eyes and their strange
attempts at appearing menacing. Though there is one moment towards the
end that genuinely creeped me out, where the vampires are slowing
creeping up on our heroes, the fact that they are out of focus while
doing so speaks volumes.
Making Barlow silent means that the
film's villainy must be carried by his assistant Straker, so it's
fortunate that they cast James Mason in the role. While it's a little
strange that he just appears out of nowhere all the time when they need
him in a scene, it does tie into the idea that being Barlow's companion
gives him extra-human abilities. His death scene is way too over the
top though. The other thing about Barlow being silent is that it takes
away the angle from the book where he is using his charms to seduce the
people of the town. Here Straker captures Ralphie Glick for Barlow, and
from then on it seems like all the people are turned by their fellow
townspeople. I like this idea, because it seems logical that you might
miss your recently deceased loved one so much that you would allow them
into your home and fall prey to them.
The other main difference
here is the climax being moved around, where Barlow's death happens
within the Marsten house, and Sue's death is saved until the end. Both
of these are excellent story choices that fit the pacing a little
better. It's just a shame they couldn't have also tried to change
things up early on too.
There was a sequel to this mini-series made, and Noel will be covering it in two weeks. Before that, I'll be talking about the 2004 mini-series.