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: Salem’s Lot (1979)

Also known as: Salem’s Lot: The Movie (cable TV title), Blood Thirst (video title), Phantasma 2 (Spain), Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (Netherlands), Salem’s Lot: The Miniseries (Germany)
Release Dates: November 17th, 1979, November 24th, 1979
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Paul Monash
Based on: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Music by: Harry Sukman
Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres, Ed Flanders, Fred Willard, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor

Warner Bros. Television, CBS, 184 Minutes (uncut), 183 Minutes (DVD), 200 Minutes (TV), 112 Minutes (theatrical version)

Review:

“You’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he’ll enjoy you.” – Straker

The last time I watched this wonderful film/TV miniseries was just before the 2004 remake came out. So it’s been a really long time and because of that, I guess I forgot how incredibly fantastic this was.

While I’ve never read the book, I know about what changes they made in this adaptation and frankly, I’m fine with all the major tweaks.

For one, the vampire is not some Eastern European dandy of the Bela Lugosi variety. Instead, Tobe Hooper gave us a vampire that is more reminiscent of Count Orlok from the 1922 film Nosferatu. And the late ’70s were a great time for vampire movies, especially lovers of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu between this picture and the Nosferatu remake by Werner Herzog.

Another change that was made is that the final confrontation with the heroes and the vampire took place in the creepy basement of the vampire’s house, as opposed to one of the heroes’ homes. The vampire house was truly a character all its own in this film and it made this movie a mixture of classic vampire fiction and a traditional haunted house story.

What’s really great about the finale, is that the house that was created for the film is absolutely terrifying and enchanting all at the same time. The set designers created an incredibly creepy mansion for the final showdown and it truly brought the dread onscreen to a whole other level. A level that this film couldn’t have reached had they kept the story true to Stephen King’s novel.

The vampire mansion is just one part of this movie’s mesmerizing atmosphere, though.

All the scenes that feature some sort of supernatural element take on a strange life of their own. The scenes where the vampire children come to the windows and float into the rooms at night with fog billowing in are f’n incredible!

Honestly, for its time and maybe all-time, Salem’s Lot takes the cake for creating a perfect ambiance for a horror picture on the small screen. Honestly, I’d love to see this on the big screen, if it is ever showing somewhere near me.

The vampire kids at the window was so well done that it became a bit of a trope following this film. It was used in other movies like The Lost Boys and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Plus, this film has a moment where a character is impaled by deer antlers mounted on the wall. This would go on to be seen in other movies as well.

Additionally, this would inspire vampire movies in other regards. Fright Night borrows from Salem’s Lot in different ways. That film even has a big finale in the vampire’s home and while it isn’t as incredible as the finale of Salem’s Lot, it is still a great sequence that is a nice homage to it. Fright Night is a classic in its own right, which also spawned a sequel, a remake and sequel to the remake. I even heard a rumor that it may be turned into a television show in the future.

But while this film would go on to inspire countless others, Tobe Hooper, the director, also had his own homages to other films in this, primarily the work of Alfred Hitchcock and his masterpiece Psycho. The vampire mansion has a very similar appearance to the house on the hill above Bates Motel. Hooper also employed similar shots.

For a TV movie, this also has some pretty good acting but no one else quite kills it like James Mason. He absolutely owns every frame of celluloid in which he appears. I’ve always loved Mason but seeing him truly get to ham it up while being terrifying was so damn cool. And honestly, Mason looked like he was loving this film, as he was so committed to the role that he breathed life into it that no other actor probably could have.

Salem’s Lot is a bonafide classic and pretty close to perfect. My only complaint about it is the running time. The film does feel a bit slow in parts but it was a two-part miniseries and had a lot of characters and subplots. In fact, those were all greatly trimmed down from the original novel and some characters were combined to simplify the story. But honestly, I’m still okay with the final result and I wouldn’t trim much, as almost every scene featuring the main characters feels necessary.

In the end, I love this movie; more so than I remembered. I’m glad that I revisited it after all these years and I feel like it’s a film that I will go back to fairly often now that I’ve been reminded as to just how damn good it is.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu remake, as well as other vampire films of the ’70s and 2000s Shadow of the Vampire.

TV Review: 11.22.63 (2016)

Original Run: February 15th, 2016 – April 4th, 2016
Created by: Bridget Carpenter
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: 11/22/63 by Stephen King
Music by: J. J. Abrams, Alex Heffes
Cast: James Franco, Sarah Gadon, Cherry Jones, Lucy Fry, George MacKay, Daniel Webber, T. R. Knight, Kevin J. O’Connor, Josh Duhamel, Chris Cooper, Annette O’Toole

Carpenter B., Bad Robot Productions, Warner Bros. Television, Hulu, 8 Episodes, 44-81 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I was actually pretty hyped to watch this when it was coming out, three years ago. However, my work life took a turn for the worse and I spent most of 2016 working about 70 hours per week and not having much time for anything else. I actually started this site later in that year when things started to stabilize again but by that point, this slipped down the memory hole.

However, I’ve been wanting to watch Stephen King’s Castle Rock on Hulu. So before getting into that, I wanted to go back and check this out, as it was King’s first Hulu collaboration.

The premise follows a man (James Franco), as he goes back in time to try and stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It’s an interesting premise but it does also seem that the protagonist does it really haphazardly, as messing with the timeline can have some unforeseen consequences and it does. In fact, it has grave consequences, which I think are supposed to surprise you but for fans of time travel stories, it really doesn’t. I kind of sighed and went, “Well, it’s not like this wasn’t an obvious result of his meddling.”

What’s interesting about this though, is that King explores the idea of time itself fighting back during the hero’s journey. It almost feels like horror at times but at the same time, the effect that time has in fighting back against changes seems inconsistent throughout the story. It is really only used where it is convenient to the plot in some way or just to remind you that time is its own master.

I had a problem with that aspect of the story and I felt like it was a wasted opportunity in a lot of ways. Cool concept, half assed execution.

But still, this was damn compelling television. You get drawn into this world, this character’s mission and you do fall in love with some of the characters.

The acting is superb and this is some of Franco’s best dramatic work. But the rest of the cast is also exceptional, especially the love interest, played by Sarah Gadon, the and the best friend/partner, played by George MacKay. But two real standouts were Daniel Webber as Lee Harvey Oswald and the evil son of a bitch that was brought to life by Josh Duhamel.

Overall, this was a solid political thriller with a time travel twist. While the time travel stuff was handled pretty willy-nilly, you get so caught up in the proceedings that it feels secondary.

Rating: 8.5/10

Film Review: Pet Sematary Two (1992)

Release Date: August 28th, 1992
Directed by: Mary Lambert
Written by: Richard Outten
Based on: Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Music by: Mark Governor
Cast: Edward Furlong, Anthony Edwards, Clancy Brown, Jared Rushton, Jason McGuire, Darlanne Fluegel, Lisa Waltz, Sarah Trigger

Columbus Circle Films, Paramount Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“No Brain, no pain… think about it.” – Gus Gilbert

While this isn’t as good as the first film, which I do see as fairly overrated, I did enjoy watching this one a bit more. I think a lot of that had to do with this movie being batshit crazy, though.

First off, Clancy Brown makes this entire film work for me. He’s absolutely great in this, completely committed to his role and elevates this picture much more than it deserves to be. While this isn’t on any all-time best horror film lists, his performance here should definitely be considered for lists about monsters or horror villains. He’s simply great and even if he knows he’s in a mostly shitty film, he certainly isn’t phoning it in. Brown makes you believe he is an insane, undead, dickhead sheriff with so much enthusiasm, you can’t deny that the guy is a master of his craft.

The film also stars Edward Furlong, coming fresh off of his film debut in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, as well as Anthony Edwards, who will always be Gilbert from Revenge of the Nerds to me, and Jared Rushton, most known as the best friend of Tom Hanks in Big.

This doesn’t feature any returning characters from the first film, even though it takes place in the same town and there are mentions of the characters in subtle ways throughout the movie. What’s weird though, is that this one wasn’t filmed in Maine like its predecessor and was instead filmed in rural Georgia. So the landscape has a different look to it. There are still lots of trees but everything has a different visual feel.

Furlong is the main character and the movie starts with him witnessing his actress mother get electrocuted to death on a horror movie set. He and his veterinarian dad move to this small town. He then draws the ire of the school bully, befriends the fat kid with the mean cop stepdad and then later learns about the “pet sematary” off in the woods.

Of course, one thing leads to another and little Eddie Furlong eventually digs up his dead mommy and re-buries her in the “pet sematary”. She comes back, along with other zombie people like the mean cop, the school bully and a pet dog.

The end is silly, the plot makes very little sense and the motivations of the characters are confusing, especially Edward Furlong turning crazy, realizing his dead mother is murderous and then switching back to normal almost immediately.

There’s some stuff I like in this other than just Clancy Brown, though. The biggest thing that sticks out, is when the school bully is murdered with a fast spinning dirtbike tire grinding into his face. Also, the car chase scene where the zombie cop is trying to murder his family was fun to watch, even if the action played out in a nonsensical way.

Pet Sematary Two is a goofy movie. But it’s that fun sort of goofy that makes a hardcore ’90s horror fan smile. It’s really just one of many Stephen King adaptations or spinoffs from the early ’90s that missed the mark, as far as its source material, but still delivered and entertained in spite of its flaws.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other Stephen King movies of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Documentary Review: Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary (2017)

Release Date: January 13th, 2017
Directed by: John Campopiano, Justin White
Written by: John Campopiano, Justin White
Music by: Douglas Harper, Kurt Oldman
Cast: Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby, Mary Lambert, Miko Hughes, Blaze Berdahl, Brad Greenquist, Stephen King, Heather Langenkamp

Ocean’s Light Productions, 75 Minutes

Review:

Sometimes documentaries about movies are better than the movies themselves. While some people love Pet Sematary, it’s not one of my favorites. But since I just revisited it and reviewed it, I wanted to check out this documentary about its creation.

I love documentaries about filmmaking and storytelling. So this was right up my alley.

What’s really interesting about this is the backstory about the novel and what inspired Stephen King to write it in the first place. Also, the novel’s story is pretty neat too, as it goes into how the publisher wouldn’t put it out due to it featuring the death of a child. But ultimately, the book did see print and eventually led to the film, which also went through some of its own issues in getting green lit.

Unfortunately, Fred Gwynne died a few years after the movie came out but this documentary still rounds up the entire cast apart from the great veteran actor. I loved hearing them share their experiences.

This also delves into the impact the film’s production had on the small Maine community where it was filmed.

One of the highlights for me, was the production footage and photos of the behind the scenes stuff from constructing a spooky house to how they did the make up and special effects, as well as rounding up a lot of the key behind the scenes people to talk about it at great length.

In a way, this actually made me appreciate the finished film more than I did before seeing what went into it being produced. So maybe I’ll watch it again soon.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Pet Sematary and Pet Sematary Two, also any Stephen King movies from the ’70s through ’90s.

Film Review: Pet Sematary (1989)

Also known as: Stephen King’s Pet Sematary (full title)
Release Date: April 21st, 1989
Directed by: Mary Lambert
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne, Denise Crosby, Brad Greenquist, Michael Lombard, Miko Hughes, Blaze Berdahl, Stephen King (cameo)

Paramount Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes, dead is better.” – Jud Crandall

With a Pet Sematary remake just a few months away, I wanted to revisit the original 1989 film, as it has been a really long time since I’ve sat down and watched it.

I wasn’t a big fan of it, back in the day, but I did remember that it was legitimately eerie. I wanted to see how it aged and if maybe I missed something when I was younger.

One thing that this movie does really well is suspense. It has a very slow build and it takes time to get to the good stuff but there really isn’t a wasted moment in the movie and it wasn’t too slow or boring. It just crawled forward, scratching away at the surface as it crept closer and closer.

The payoff isn’t fantastic but it isn’t bad either. I’d say that this hasn’t aged well. Even though Miko Hughes made a great creepy kid, the way that his more vicious attacks are shot and edited is pretty shoddy. The moment where he lunges out of the hole in the attic onto his father is pretty cringe even for 1989 standards. I always liked Miko Hughes though and he would go on to be in a lot of stuff in the early ’90s. He was damn good on Full House and he was a pretty capable child actor in things like Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

The big positive of the film is Fred Gwynne, most famous for playing Herman Munster. It’s hard to really peg him and who he is but the film slowly reveals more and more about his past and what he knows about the strange proceedings. Seeing him die in a horrific way was pretty effective, as you do feel pretty bad for the guy.

I also liked that Denise Crosby was in this just coming off of her short stint as Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I haven’t seen her in much outside of Star Trek related stuff but she did a good job here, as she tried to transition into film from television.

Overall, this isn’t a bad film. I enjoyed coming back to it all these years later and I certainly have more of an appreciation for it now but it isn’t in the top tier of Stephen King adaptations for me.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Stephen King movies of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Christine (1983)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Christine (complete title)
Release Date: December 9th, 1983
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Bill Phillips
Based on: Christine by Stephen King
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton, William Ostrander

Delphi Premier Productions, Polar Film, Columbia Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Whoa, whoa. You better watch what you say about my car. She’s real sensitive.” – Arnie Cunningham

I gew up in a time when John Carpenter was king. I was a big fan but somehow I always forget that this is in his oeuvre because I associate it more with the slew of Stephen King adaptations from the time.

That being said, it is still very Carpenter but it is also very much King. I guess it’s a pretty good marriage between two of the top horror icons of that era. And frankly, I still love this film even though I hadn’t seen it in quite awhile and forgot how much I enjoy it.

This still plays very well and is a great film in regards to how it builds up suspense.

I was also really impressed with the special effects, especially in regards to the scene where the car repairs itself in front of Keith Gordon’s Arnie. Man, that sequence is spectacular and considering that it was all done with practical effects in a time when CGI was still very primitive, makes me respect how perfectly they pulled it off behind the scenes.

Keith Gordon carries the film with his performance and he does a fantastic job transitioning from the weakling nerd that he is in the beginning to a kid driven by his obsession for his car and finally, as a character that is completely possessed by evil.

The performances by the other two leads, John Stockwell and Alexandra Paul, were also good. It’s the famous character actors that give this film a bit more seasoning though, as both Harry Dean Stanton and Robert Prosky deliver some really good scenes in the film.

I really liked John Carpenter’s score but his music always had a certain presence that accented the frights in his films. This score is no different and his use of audible effects seemed more refined than what he did in Halloween. Not to take anything away from his audio trickery in Halloween but I think that he really found his groove with it here. And while it may go unnoticed by most people who watch this film, it’s these little flourishes that sets Carpenter apart from the pack and gives his films more of an edge.

This is a good coming of age story that doesn’t have a happy ending for everyone. It’s creepy but it’s effective. And I’ve always loved that there really isn’t an explanation in regards to the car being possessed by evil. It’s a machine that just has to kill.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Stephen King films of the ’70s and ’80s: Maximum OverdriveSalem’s LotCarrieSilver Bullet, etc.