Film Review: A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

Release Date: September 11th, 1987
Directed by: Larry Cohen
Written by: Larry Cohen, James Dixon
Based on: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Music by: Michael Minard
Cast: Michael Moriarty, Andrew Duggan, Samuel Fuller, Evelyn Keyes, June Havoc, Ronee Blakley, Tara Reid

Larco Productions, Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

“I’m not a Nazi hunter. I’m a Nazi killer!” – Van Meer

This is really just Salem’s Lot in name only. Technically it’s not officially listed as being based off of Stephen King’s novel and that’s probably for good reason.

I like some of Larry Cohen’s movies. He’s a guy that makes schlock but some of his schlock has become iconic over the years, such as The Stuff, Black Caesar and It’s Alive. This is not Grade A Cohen schlock, however.

In fact, I’m not sure Cohen even watched the first Salem’s Lot movie or even read the book.

The story features Cohen regular Michael Moriarty, as he and his dimwitted, douchebag son travel to the town of Salem’s Lot to fix up his childhood home. However, the town and its residents are vastly different than the previous film.

Actually, the vampires are different too, as this doesn’t feature the Nosferatu-like Kurt Barlow or any vampire resembling him. These vampires are just senior citizens with plastic Halloween fangs. Also, the whole town is pretty much all vampires, except for the few human familiars that keep a few shops and the gas station running, in order to keep up appearances to outsiders passing through.

We also get an old Nazi hunter that is now a vampire hunter and there are all these strange parallels between the Nazis and vampires and it all ends with the boss vampire getting impaled by an American flag instead of a stake. I don’t know how a pissy twelve year-old could ram an entire flagpole through a vampire’s back but this film is so heavy handed that maybe it gave the kid an off screen shove.

This movie is mind-numbingly bad. It’s incompetent on every level, it isn’t remotely scary and in fact, it set vampires back fifty years in cinema.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: bottom of the barrel ’80s horror.

Film Review: 99 River Street (1953)

Also known as: Crosstown (original title)
Release Date: August 21st, 1953 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: Robert Smith, George Zuckerman
Music by: Arthur Lange, Emil Newman
Cast: John Payne, Evelyn Keyes, Brad Dexter, Frank Faylen, Peggie Castle

Edward Small Productions, United Artists, 83 Minutes

Review:

“There are worse things than murder. You can kill someone an inch at a time.” – Ernie Driscoll

It’s Noirvember, so I’ve been watching a ton of these movies. The experience has been fun and hasn’t waned on me yet. Most noir films, at least the ones that have survived long enough to make it to a digital format, are all pretty decent. There’s only been a few real duds this past month, where I usually encounter a lot of bad films as I work my way through different genres and eras.

99 River Street, originally released as Crosstown, is another better than decent film in the noir style. It isn’t a classic but it was helmed by Phil Karlson, a guy that was a much better than average film-noir director.

The movie stars John Payne, who just feels like a legitimate badass, despite getting walloped a bit too much in the final slugfest of the film. I mean, Payne’s Ernie Driscoll was a famous boxer. I get the storyline about his bad eye costing him his career but an accomplished boxer can beat the crap out of some thug, even if he just has one eye.

Driscoll’s wife is played by Peggie Castle, who played her role well, especially when she became a standard blonde bombshell femme fatale that betrays him. She was absolutely gorgeous in this and I’m not quite sure why she wasn’t more prominent in noir films but this did come out towards the end of noir’s run in popularity. Castle did find a home as a regular guest star on several notable television shows while being heralded as “the other woman” in several B-movies of her day.

The female lead, however, is played by Evelyn Keyes. She comes into the story, as a friend of Driscoll’s and through all the drama and danger, becomes something more. She was energetic, charismatic and entertaining in this role, where she plays a blossoming actress within the film.

To summarize the plot, an ex-boxer has a mean wife. He discovers that she’s fooling around with some two-bit thug. She plans to runaway with the criminal but ultimately, the criminal kills her because he’s evil and the morality code of the day couldn’t let seedy women go unpunished. All the while, the boxer starts paling around with the actress, one thing leads to another and the boxer and the thug have to go head-to-head.

The story was okay but it felt disjointed at times with all the jumping around. The part where Driscoll goes to help his actress friend deal with a man she accidentally kills turns into a big gag and it sort of distracts from the overall narrative and sticks out like an ugly sore thumb in the middle of the movie.

Apart from the lack of narrative fluidity, the film was still fairly entertaining and I enjoyed the characters.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: The Prowler (1951)

Release Date: May 25th, 1951
Directed by: Joseph Losey
Written by: Dalton Trumbo (uncredited), Hugo Butler (a front for Trumbo), Robert Thoeren, Hans Wilhelm
Music by: Lyn Murray
Cast: Van Heflin, Evelyn Keyes

Horizon Pictures, United Artists, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I didn’t do it, Susan. I’ll swear that by the only thing I ever really loved and that’s you.” – Webb Garwood

The Prowler is a film-noir with a strange twist, the femme fatale isn’t femme at all, it’s actually a man and a jerk cop to be exact.

In this picture, a woman calls the police because she notices a peeping tom outside her window. The cops show up and one of them is immediately infatuated with the woman, who just happens to be married to a rich radio personality that is never home at night because he has a show to do. The cop starts showing up every night and seduces the woman into falling in love with him. All the while, the cop is planning to murder the woman’s husband, marry her and get the money from the dead man’s insurance policy.

This is typical noir type stuff but the evil puppet master is not a woman this time. Maybe one could argue that this was the first socially progressive film-noir. It didn’t seem to be playing off of the fear that women having power over men would lead to evil. I’m not sure if the twist was intentional or if the writers didn’t really put that much thought into it. Still, it provides a unique story nonetheless.

Ultimately, the film is incredibly effective. For one, it is really unpredictable and goes in unforeseeable directions. Even if you are thinking the worst, it swerves in ways that are still shocking. It’s a pretty nasty film for what it is. It has a certain grit that just feels dirty, even for a film-noir.

The camerawork is quite stellar and the outdoor expanse in the final act of the film is well captured and presented. The overall production design and interior sets are equally impressive. The house of the woman, where the bulk of this picture takes place in the first half, is both attractive and alluring while also being cold and haunting. It is like an opulently dressed void that reflects luxury and emptiness.

The sexual misconduct of the main characters isn’t anything new in a film-noir but somehow the actors are able to make it feel dirtier than what the audience is used to. You don’t immediately see the cop as a figure of evil but there is still an underlying sinister edge to his words and actions. Van Heflin is just as much a macho seducer as he is a conniving creeper.

There are a lot of interesting layers to the picture, most of them dark. But it really stands out amongst a sea of film-noir. I’m not saying it is one of the best pictures in the genre but it is a different experience than what one would expect and it did catch me by surprise.