Vampires are typically more of a conniving bunch, compared to their Zombie brethren, favouring seduction and calculated planning, versus the mindless assault of the undead. In the 70s, acclaimed author Stephen King tied the fang-toothed to the general societal mistrust of the era, and a few years later got an acclaimed T.V. adaption. In 2004, that miniseries got a modern remake, as a writer returned to his unknowingly besieged home, in Salem’s Lot.
Prolific author, Ben Mears, returns to his supposedly quiet home community of Salem’s Lot (once called Jerusalem’s Lot, but got shortened over time). Down in the community, he makes some quick friends with Susan Norton, a waitress. Ben soon learns that the town’s residents have some deep dark secrets, and the town itself has some other residents that are a bit long in the tooth, so to speak. Putting in place their plot to covertly usurp Salem’s Lot. As Ben faces the looming vampire threat, he might be forced to face a new nightmare, among others that have haunted Ben since his childhood.
For newcomers to the intriguing tale of embedded vampires in a small community, 2004 offers a best-of-both-worlds of bringing new and old ideas, and the internal drama of the community can be felt. Of course, the overarching beats are still there, but with some differing choices. Salem’s Lot offers some intriguing subtext too, King himself has been open about the political origins of the original novel, much like Tobe Hooper with his inspiration for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Here, the shadow of the Patriot Act feels fresh in the mind of the populace, and it certainly feels like the distrust in the community is channelling that, but with more than a few overt and subvert references present.
Salem’s Lot does not find itself wanting in the stars department. The West Wing’s Rob Lowe takes charge into the role of Mears, fresh off his unsuccessful spin-off The Lyon’s Den. Acting alongside distinctive talents the likes of James Cromwell, and Donald Sutherland to play off against, and face-to-face with Rutger Hauer himself who takes the reins of the head vampire, Barlow. While arguably the 1979 two-parter did terrific work in letting the vampire look otherworldly, Here they retain a lot of their humanity. It would have been nice if the remake could achieve something similar, but considering the budget and the technology available, Salem’s Lot does make do.
The updated two-parter follows in the line of other confident television remakes of King’s captivating narratives. Offering an entertaining supernatural yarn, with some of the novel’s observations updated to modern times, with more of a focus on the community, and the secrets left in the shadows, almost more so than the vampire threat itself. In some areas, it can feel economically effective, as the network couldn’t exactly blow its effects budget in 2004, but a cavalcade of recognisable talent does help the gothic drama feel weighty and highlights King’s compelling work. Times have changed since the paranoia of the 70s inspired King to pen Salem’s Lot, but in the confines of a community, some darkness will always remain.
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