So, the question is: Did “Salem’s Lot” really need to be remade? No. But unfortunately the past two years have experienced a lot of unnecessary remakes. “Carrie” (awful), “Dawn of the Dead” (decent), “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (Mediocre), “Helter Skelter” (Awful), and much more remakes, all spanning from mediocre to terrible, very few coming out truly good. Once again, the sorely running on empty creatively Hollywood remakes yet another classic, and there’s plenty more on the way.
After the awful self-indulgent weird for the sake of weird mini-series “Kingdom Hospital” bombed, this was the least of what King needed. So, the original television mini-series directed by Tobe Hooper was undoubtedly a classic vampire film. The film adapted from a Stephen King novel was a hit in 1979 and starred David Soul of “Starsky and Hutch” fame, so then we have the remake in 2004. The remake is a lot flashier, it’s more colorful, but that doesn’t always mean it’s better.
Sorely lacking in tension, suspense, and atmosphere we now see talented actor Rob Lowe as lead character Ben Mears, an author who returns to his home town of “Jerusalem’s Lot” with much scrutiny from his old friends who disagree with his writing. He has a horrid past in the town experiencing a horrifying incident in an abandoned house in the center of town which everyone always conveniently seems to see in clear view from their window.
So, there’s another new arrival in town Richard Straker who has opened an antique store and has shipped in a mysterious item which is delivered to the mansion under the care of his unknown partner Kurt Barlowe whom no one ever sees. Soon, mysterious incidents begin to happen when a child is found dead in his hospital room with severe anemia. But as the body count begins rising and people in the town slowly start getting sicker, Mears and a small group of towns folks begin to notice the change and realize that the small sleepy town of “Salem’s Lot” is being overrun by vampires. Now with the help of a local doctor (Robert Mammone: The Matrix Reloaded, Vertical Limit), a priest (James Cromwell: Six Feet Under, Green Mile), a nearly retired teacher (Andre Brauer), and a young boy (Dan Byrd) who experienced vampires firsthand, it’s up to Ben to stop the vampire outbreak before they begin spreading and inhabiting the country.
I was against a remake of the classic “Salem’s Lot”; I was raised on these classic films and as always I’m against any remake of a classic horror film, because, damnit, there’s just no need for a remake. Why are there so many remakes these days? There’s a rash of lack of creativity in Hollywood and on the way there are plenty more remakes of classics, remakes of foreign films, and sequels. As I guessed I didn’t like this as much as the original, as a matter of fact this was in no way on the same level the original set forth. Perhaps if it stuck to the mood of the original this might have been a lot more enjoyable, but all there is here is a lot of flashy special effects and unnecessary gore.
The original, directed by Tobe Hooper was low-key and downplayed. It took a while for anything to actually happen but when it did, it was horrifying; so I’m sure somewhere one of the executives of this film assumed making it faster would increase it’s mood, but they were wrong. Very wrong. For example, the original film starts off with Ben and Mark, the two survivors of the town in a church in Europe filling vials of holy water up. The holy water begins to glow blue and the two begin talking about how the vampires have found them and they must move on, and then we enter into the story.
A perfect set-up for a horror film because it lets the audience know something bad has happened and that these two characters are in a world of trouble, this doesn’t start off as well. We watch Rob Lowe crash out of a window tackling Cromwell onto a car, and then Lowe is taken into a hospital where he begins telling his story to a nurse who is about to finish him off.
I was very disappointed simply because not only is the set-up weak and flashy, but the story in itself has no atmosphere, no texture and comes off more as a long episode of “X-Files”. We’re introduced to a large array of characters, some barely focused on, some heavily focused on, and some just entering the story to die later on or turn into a vampire. That’s the main problem with this is that there are so many sub-plots and very little time in a two part film to set them up and finish them off, that there was nothing here to care about and no one to care about. All the characters were clichés, or stereotypes and it made it more difficult to feel tense whenever one turned or died. Rob Lowe is an excellent actor and he takes on the role of Ben Mears without flaw, but the supporting cast is terrible. Lance Kerwin who played Mark Petrie the young boy who experiences the vampires and nearly dies displayed a vulnerability and average sense about him that made is easier to relate to his situation as where Dan Byrd seems just out of place and pretty mis-cast.
Andre Braugher is a cliché and a stereotype mixed into one as a nearly retired gay school teacher who senses the vampires and now guides the survivors to kill them off. It’s obvious his hair was died white to make him look older and he suddenly seems to know a lot about vampires, then a lot of the supporting cast have menial sub-plots, the doctor character is having an affair with a patient, a disabled man is having an affair with the local Real Estate broker’s daughter whom he is molesting, and on and on the subplots go without any direction to take them, Samantha Mathis as Susan Norton has little to do in the film as Mears’ love interest who is merely reduced a plot device, and Donald Sutherland is very over the top in a laughable performance as the menacing Richard Straker.
The always enjoyable Rutger Hauer plays Kurt Barlow the mysterious partner to Straker who takes a more active role as villain but isn’t nearly as menacing as the original Barlow who resembled Nosferatu. A dire faux pas is that this tries to be flashier than the original by altering an important scene in the story in which Ben Mears experiences the horror taking place in the town firsthand coming in contact with a vampire at a morgue. He waits overnight with much skepticism and gets a rash wake up call. Here, he’s teamed with the doctor character, the two exchange dialogue and a dead woman rises. She’s dressed in a hot white gown despite the fact she’s in a morgue and proceeds to do a cheesy spider walk ala “The Exorcist” and then fights the two. Once again, flashy but hardly terrifying. The original scene was terrifying and much more shiver inducing having Ben Mears alone in a dark dreary morgue awaiting the dead woman’s rise.
He decides to walk off and hears the woman muttering and turns in horror as the woman slowly begins rising from the table covered in the sheet to which is falls off revealing her vampiric form while Mears, frightened, begins chanting bible verses and proceeds to burn her with a homemade crucifix. It’s a much more effective scene that gave me nightmares as a child because it sets up the atmosphere to a hilt and the slow but sure rise of the woman make it seem as a manifestation from the viewer’s nightmare. Summing it up, Hooper knew what he was doing and he did it damn well setting up scenery, mood, depth, and frights. The vampires here are nothing compared to the original. The vampires from the 1979 version were menacing, mindless and bore horrifying piercing red eyes which could hypnotize their victims into their will, while here they’re shown on screen almost non-stop and have ridiculous blue eyes that make them look more weird than scary.
There are many plot developments in this lackluster remake that were never really needed with the various subplots, the end in which the group slaughters many of the vampires, and a lot of the flashback sequences from Mears which bogged down the story to a halt, a lot of the dialogue is utterly ridiculous with many obvious dialogue about creatures of the night and evil and a very bad line from the character Mark, which I won’t bother repeating, as the group enter the mansion. The plot consistencies are rampant with many questionable plot twists like why did Susan burst into glitter when she died? Why was she trying to convince Ben to come to her and suddenly starts giving him information about the town? Why did the character Eva sit in the church at night, and who gets married at night time?
Throw in a few blatant Stephen King references in the film and it all makes for a disastrous remake that wasn’t needed in the first place. I appreciate King helping to increase the horror genre, but he’s become such a self-indulgent writer that his newest works are unbearable. He just can’t seem to get past two themes in his stories. An author with a flawed personality and horrid past and a large haunted house. “Misery”, “Secret Window”, “Rose Red”, “The Shining” and many others present the same recycled themes that King just can’t get past, and it bogs down every story with an author as a hero and a big house with ghosts and secrets. It’s a tired formula that should be killed. A horrible remake to a classic horror film, it’s baffling to the reasoning and logic that thought “Salem’s Lot” actually needed a remake. It’s all style and very little substance. King needs to recover from this lag in creativity fast.