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Salem’s Lot (2004)

Year: 2004
Director: Mikael Salomon
Writer: Stephen King
Cast: Rob Lowe, Rutger Hauer, Donald Sutherland, Samantha Mathis, James Cromwell, Robert Grubb, Rebecca Gibney
At the time of writing this review, I haven't seen the original 1979 version of Salem's Lot with David Soul, so I have nothing to compare this too.

But this version seems like it had Stephen King's hand in it somewhere. He's not listed as having any sort of production credit, but just like the TV miniseries of The Shining was a much more faithful rendition of King's book than Kubrick's movie was (discussion about which was better aside), this version seemed to embody the spirit King gave to the book.

Filmed on location in Queensland somewhere I believe (and as such had at least two cast members from the old Flying Doctors TV series), it tells the story of the descent of the town of Salem's Lot into hell and beyond as a mysterious antique dealer moves into the imposing mansion overlooking the town.

At the same time, local kid Ben Meares (Lowe), now a successful writer, moves back to write the novel he has to get out to exorcise his demons; as a kid, he went into the house on a dare and found the bodies of the eccentric millionaire and his wife after their murder/suicide pact, a day that haunts Ben still.

But darker happenstance is on the horizon as it turns out the owner of the house; Kurt Barlow (Hauer) is a vampire, and the affliction soon spreads throughout the town, claiming more and more victims and heaping on an ever increasing sense of dread.

Typical King characters breathe refreshing life into the story even without the horror, and considering it was a TV show, it's pretty terrifying. Lowe is excellent as the steady-tempered and intelligent Ben, most of the other characters lively and realistic too.

I loved it about the book that vampires were treated almost like rats; filthy mindless vermin carrying a killer disease instead of the refined Casanova-like figure of the Dracula mythology, and that's where the sense of dread comes from - as the vampires spread, they're almost like zombies. It's a mood that might be inherent in the script and narrative, or director Salomon might have been conscious of it, but it gives proceedings a huge boost above the sharp, quick dialogue and character drama.

And in another surprising twist that's mindful of the book, Barlow isn't set up to be the Big Boss villain. He makes hardly any appearances and by the time he's spread the disease, he's almost incidental, a secondary character. It's the vampirism itself that's the evil, and when Barlow meets his fate it's almost an anticlimax.

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