So once again we have survived.

A Return to Salem’s Lot

tn_artslA RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT is Larry Cohen’s weirdo theatrically-released sort-of-sequel to Tobe Hooper’s TV mini-series of the Stephen King book. But really it just takes the location – the tiny town of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine – and the idea of doing a vampire story there. It’s not the same vampire or the same type of vampire. It doesn’t connect, from what I remember. But I like that.

Joe Weber (Cohen’s muse Michael Moriarty) is an anthropologist working on a CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST type documentary when he finds he has to come home to look after his troublemaking teenage son Jeremy (one-time actor Ricky Addison Reed, who IMDb claims was cast to play Robin in Tim Burton’s BATMAN in scenes that were never filmed). Joe brings his son to the old, recently-inherited fixer-upper in his birth-town of Salem’s Lot (as some but not all abbreviate it).

The kid is that ’80s archetype of the smug cool kid who’s supposed to be real smooth and savvy – think Mackenzie Astin on The Facts of Life or Dennis Dugan in TOUGHEST MAN IN THE WORLD. He wears what Joe refers to as “designer clothes” (in other words, tries to dress like Miami Vice), helps outslime a used car salesman, un-self-consciously smokes and curses in front of his dad and drives him around even though he’s too young to do it legally. And now he has to live in this backwards Mike Pence of a town where everybody seems one generation out from the Pilgrims. Trying to act streetwise in a place with dirt roads.

In the first one there was a guy who was a vampire. This time it’s almost the whole town. All but the familiars (they call them “drones,” but some consider that an offensive term) who protect their coffins during daylight. This comes out in a popular ’80s horror movie way: a group of punk rocker types get pulled over driving through town, then attacked. This movie often plays with the image of harmless looking old folks swarming on people and biting them – and the extras seem to be having a great time. Later there’s a scene where we see a grandma re-applying lipstick after sucking blood. But that first scene with them is taken to the next level because there’s also a big blue bat monster watching from the bushes. He’s like the Kareem Abdul Jabbar of vampires ’cause his hands are so big he can palm two human heads at a time.


And it’s not only the elderly swarming on motherfuckers in this town. There’s also a scene with these two itinerant drunks at a campfire who get approached by some little girls. Disturbingly, they are happy to see the kids until some little boys show up. The situation quickly escalates into a killer kid movie, so we have a full cradle-to-the-grave range of vampirism on display here.

mp_artslAnyway, one of the punks, Cathy (Katja Crosby, IT’S ALIVE III), gets away and runs to hide in the church, where Joe finds her and decides to help by bringing her to the Judge Axel (Andrew Duggan, LBJ in Cohen’s THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER, Eisenhower in a different one called J. EDGAR HOOVER). It’s pretty late but it seems like half the town is over at the judge’s house, and they all get lured into the weird Salem’s Lot town activities. Like, there’s a little girl named Amanda (Tara Reid [JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS] in her first role) who Jeremy is immediately smitten with, and he goes with her to a wedding – between two other kids.

Meanwhile, Joe gets a tour. They’re pretty open about their lifestyle, showing him that they have cows that they raise for blood because “now a days it’s not good for you what with drugs, alcohol, hepatitis and this AIDS virus going around.” They know about his work as an anthropologist, and they try to recruit him to write their Bible. After all, he did the movie about cannibals and he didn’t try to interfere with what they were doing. And I mean, it’s a pretty interesting gig, so he doesn’t turn it down outright.

Also, you know, some of them seem like nice enough people. They wear pajamas and everything.

And there’s this other thing. It turns out his teenage crush Sherry (Jill Gatsby, IT LIVES AGAIN, MANIAC COP, VAMPIRE’S KISS, CLASS OF 1999) is still here and also is still 17 because she got bit at that age. So, you know, she, uh, welcomes him. I think there’s a hypnotic seduction type thing going on, but maybe he’s just exhibiting the male weakness. Later he forbids Jeremy from going to the vampire classroom, but then leaves him behind to go have outdoor sex with his teen girlfriend.

It’s weird seeing kids in a classroom at night, and also running around playing. But maybe you get used to it if you live there.

The movie gets real exciting when the great director Sam Fuller drives into town. He’s lost, and Jeremy seems to think he’s a pretty cool old man, and he invites him to stay at his house. He’s actually in town to kill the judge, who he thinks is a Nazi. But when he finds out what’s going on here he’s pretty open to switching from Nazi hunter to vampire hunter. Before long there is a great sequence where the two of them run around in the daylight, going from house to house to pound stakes into the coffins.

When a drone cop catches them in the act and points a gun at them, Fuller suddenly screams and is pulled into coffin. But then it turns out he’s faking it to set up this trick shot:

Most action heroes would have too much pride to do a silly fake out trick like that. Not the director of WHITE DOG. I love it.

There is some escalation. There are some good fire stunts. The judge turns into the bat monster and they have to fight it. Jeremy finds a pretty good weapon to use against him:


The vampire pulls the flag to his face as he shrivels up, catches fire, turns to ash and explodes. (SPOILER.)

In the end, our heroes drive away in a school bus, a swarm of vampires failing to stop them because of the sunrise. It’s one of those nice moments where some characters smile in a way you can only smile if you have bonded by making it through some horrible monster or action related ordeal together. There had been some business I didn’t mention with the son being tempted to become one of the vampires and stay a Don-Johnson-idolizing kid for all eternity. But now that he’s met Samuel Fuller he knows it’s cool to become an old man.

There’s an odd little touch as they drive away – we see the bus pass a field of cows, and it honks. Like, “Hey guys, you don’t have to have your blood sucked anymore.” Or something.

For the most part it’s a fairly standard, unremarkable looking movie, but there are a few really nice shots, like this one:

and especially this one:

…that make alot of sense when you see the credit for director of photography Daniel Pearl, famous for the original TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (and also the remake).

I recommend this goofy, little-known, hard-to-believe-it-happened sequel. Hat tip to the Shock Waves podcast, which convinced me to watch it on the episode where they interview Larry Cohen. He explains how he ended up making the movie and how he got Fuller to be in it, among other great stories. An absolute must listen episode if you enjoy Cohen.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, March 30th, 2017 at 10:48 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

34 Responses to “A Return to Salem’s Lot”

  1. Hot take – this is way better than the original Salem’s Lot TV Miniseries, which was so dull and tedious that a) the only thing I can remember is that Bonnie Bedelia looked superhot in it and b) it further solidifies that Tobe Hooper could not have possibly directed Poltergeist.

    This movie is at least lots of fun, does some cool vampire world-building, and yes, once Fuller shows up the movie goes from entertainingly watchable to legit awesome. The Rob Lowe Salem’s Lot remake is pretty good as well but this is a close second in the franchise.

  2. I don’t know who directed the majority of POLTERGEIST. I’ve heard rumours in Hollywood that Spielberg did, and it certainly looks like a Spielberg film, but I also don’t feel it’s right to discredit Hooper for it entirely when we don’t know what went down. He has made some good movies, and my guess is that Spielberg actually chose him for the film based on THE FUNHOUSE, with which it shares a much closer horror aesthetic than TCSM.

    I haven’t seen A RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT, but you guys wave me wanting to.

  3. wave = have. I’m new at words.

  4. Forget the other details I just want to see it on account of it being directed by Larry Cohen.

  5. There was never the slightest ounce of bullshit in Sam Fuller. I saw an interview where he was asked “What makes a good story?” He replied, cigar in mouth – “A good story.”

  6. Not to nitpick, but doesn’t Salem’s Lot take place originally in Maine, not Massachusetts? Or did the movies change the location? (I read the book a long time ago, but I’ve never seen any of the adaptations). Or maybe all of us New England states are all the same to you folks in the rest of the country.

  7. Is there a scene where a bus of people get pulled over and this old guy’s like “we just need you to step out for a moment and get something sorted out” only for everyone to get ambushed by vampires? Because I saw a movie like that as a kid and it scared me, but I never knew what it was and this sounds like it might be it.

  8. Nah, RBatty, that was just me being stupid. Maybe my brain was thinking of Salem, Massachusetts.

  9. Well, if you go back far enough, Maine and Massachusetts were the same state, so it’s an honest mistake.

  10. Grimgrinningchris

    March 31st, 2017 at 8:32 am

    Was it just the podcast that prompted this or are we leading into another string o’ King (and/or King-related) with all the hype around the new IT teaser?

  11. As a huge King fan it’s really exciting to me that the IT trailer is not only getting so many views but that it looks like it’ll be a good movie.

  12. Hoping for the best with IT but also getting prepared to accept the worse if it ends up that way. King is my favorite novelist outside of James Ellroy but considering how many adaptations of his tale get botchd on the reg I’ll stay as reserved as possible about both IT and THE DARK TOWER.

    Especially considering the denseness and quality of the source literature and how today’s mainstream filmmaking landscape may not allow for adaptations with great fidelity. At least in TDT’s case. Cosmic turtle and macroverse shit aside IT could be a bit more doable when it comes to those 2.

  13. I don’t know if it’s that King adaptations often get botched, meaning “adapted incorrectly.” He’s had some very, very faithful adaptations that weren’t very good either. It’s just that King’s talents lie in description and psychology, the way he puts you right there in the middle of a setting and a mindset with the hypnotic power of his words. It’s usually not WHAT he’s writing about that’s interesting, it’s HOW he writes about it. (In fact, most of his plots are too fuckin’ loopy to even summarize properly, let alone convert to a three-act structure.) You can take the exact same thing that worked like gangbusters on the page and it’ll fall flat on the screen, because you don’t have Uncle Steve giving you the guided tour and letting you see it through his eyes. His best adaptations were made by great filmatists who bring the material to life with their own skill set that is unique to film. So while the SHINING miniseries might be much, much closer to King’s vision than Kubrick’s film, no one will ever confuse Mick Garris for a master filmatist, so it just doesn’t work. The particulars are there but the poetry is missing.

    IT has been one of my favorite books for damn near 30 years now, so I’m a little concerned about the decision to completely separate the timeframes of the story into two movies. Part of what gave the book its power, both in terms of horror and heart, was how the past and the present ran on parallel tracks, each of them informing the other. I think we’ll lose a lot of the connection to the characters by splitting up their child and adult versions like this.

  14. Also, I’m with Broddie: Larry Cohen’s name on this made it a must-see. Larry’s the only guy who would get handed the premise of “Vampires take over a small town in Maine” and say, “I’ll do it, but obviously we’re gonna need to start in the Amazon and then do some location shooting in New York. Oh, and call Sam Fuller, he owes me a favor.”

  15. Grimgrinningchris

    March 31st, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    Honestly I think the Shining miniseries was probably the best thing Garris has done. I know that isn’t saying a lot, but still… If it hadn’t been for that kid being so fucking awful, I think it was otherwise a pretty worthwhile endeavor and that Weber and Demornay both did solid solid work in it.

    As for IT, there’s an uphill battle with the second one… the adult story is just never going to work as well as the kids story. Spider and turtle aside.
    But as far as the first movie- if the kids work, the movie works. Period. It lives or dies on the kids, not the clown. And based on that teaser…these kids might actually really fucking work.

  16. I agree. The kids are what make the story work, so separating the adults from them seems like a great way to distance viewers from their half of the story.

  17. Grimgrinningchris

    March 31st, 2017 at 7:15 pm

    I’m curious exactly what they’re doing. Obviously they’re taking the miniseries route of having one movie focus on the kids and one on the adults…

    But being as they haven’t even announced any of the adult casting, are they TOTALLY separating the two and not jumping around in the timeline at all???

    If that’s the case then I don’t see how the second movie is going to work at ALL without major major changes from the novel.

    Oh yeah… Return To Salems Lot.
    I’ve never seen it. Always assumed it was garbage and didn’t even realize Cohen had made it.
    So yeah, definitely on the list now.

    Think I’ll have to watch and/or rewatch a lot of King (and King related) joints leading up to IT’s release now.
    Including that Lawnmower Man sequel now that I know it’s a bugnuts shit show and not just a boring, even lower budget retread.

  18. Majestyk’s right about his auteur adaptation theory. De Palma’s CARRIE and Kubrick’s THE SHINING are indelibly stamped by their directors. I heard King didn’t much like Kubrick’s version, though…

    But I’m not above enjoying low to mid range directors doing their thing, either. I’ve enjoyed repeat viewings of DREAMCATCHER and THE MIST, and thought Garris’s BAG OF BONES was pretty good too. I think the mid range directors like Kasdan make the craziest versions, because they throw everything they can at it to make sense of Kings ideas. Psychic friends, childhood secrets, ass-busting aliens and military conspiracies are some of my favorite cinematic themes.

  19. Regarding De Palma’s CARRIE, I wonder what Stephen King thought of seeing his name in the opening credits right next to some girl’s 70s bush.

    Mr. Majestyk – You’ve hit the nail on the head to the secret of King’s success and why so many adaptions fail, the guy is simply a damn good writer, he knows how to write a scene that really makes you feel like you are THERE, in a way only the human imagination can that gets lost in translation when it comes to a movie adaption.

    Film is a visual and audio medium, books use the medium of the human mind to paint it’s pictures and King is a master of that.

    So, in other words it takes someone who is a uniquely talented filmmaker to translate King into a movie that works, with Kubrick’s THE SHINING being the best example.

  20. I’d say he’d be grateful it wasn’t next to a cluster of air-borne tampons.

  21. Have any of you cats read Fukanaga’s IT script? If so, verdict?

  22. Grimgrinningchris

    April 1st, 2017 at 4:59 am

    I wouldn’t put a ton of credence into any script uncovered. Even if it’s listed as his- unless it’s labeled as the actual shooting draft. And even then, who knows. I know it’s been rewritten about 20 times- even just over the last two or three years.

  23. Grimgrinningchris

    April 1st, 2017 at 5:06 am

    …and special “appearance” by Morgan Freeman as: The Turtle.

  24. Many thanks, GGChris.

  25. Can we all just agree that the best and most unfiltered King adaptation is MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE?

  26. I don’t know, I think cocaine might have to get a co-director’s credit on that one.

  27. Grimgrinningchris

    April 3rd, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    I watched Maximum Overdrive this morning for the first time in ages.

    Sundance seems to be marathoning most of the lower rent King movies.

    And yeah, I think cocaine should’ve gotten an above the title credit.

  28. “Janus Films and The Criterion Collection is proud to announce our latest Director-Approved Special Edition: MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (suck it Shout!) which features a transfer and audio commentary by un-credited director Cocain. We here at the Collection couldn’t be more excited to finally reveal how cocain made its movie about the ever growing scary world of technology and how we relate to it. Available by itself or in a boxed set also featuring SLEEPWALKERS and GRAVEYARD SHIFT.”

  29. MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE is good fun, an underrated little movie.

    I love just how “redneck” the movie feels (it was shot in North Carolina) despite being written and directed by the ultimate Maine’ah.

  30. Lovecraft In Brooklyn

    April 4th, 2017 at 2:25 am

    PET CEMETERY is the best non-SHINING King movie. Lots of scares, bit of humor, kickass Ramones theme song. What else do you want in a movie?

  31. The only three King adaptations that in my opinion legitimately work as films, rather than as milquetoast cliff notes versions of the books or trashy cash-ins (trash-ins?) aree CARRIE, THE SHINING, and MISERY – everything else is somewhere on the alright-but-who-gives-a-shit to garbage spectrum. With that in mind, I much prefer the low-rent exploitation stuff – MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, the first half of SILVER BULLET that’s all about a werewolf doing gory slasher murders, GRAVEYARD SHIFT, SLEEPWALKERS, THE MANGLER, etc, to any of that Mick Garris/Frank Darabont stuff that approximates tone and the cadence of King’s dialogue but doesn’t bother doing anything else of value for people who like movies to be, uh, good or interesting.

    Hot take: CREEPSHOW is a disappointment. Romero less than half a decade off from MARTIN and DAWN and King at the height of his war on nostril cartilage and the best they can come up with is an unscary, mostly unfunny, bloated EC comics “tribute” that indulges all of their worst instincts as artists – damn. The cockroach story is alright and the John Harrison score is a banger but there’s a reason horror nerds were massively let down by this at the time. Easily the least interesting thing either Romero or King had done up to that point and yeah I’m including THERE’S ALWAYS VANILLA.

    New IT looks like James Wan doing STRANGER THINGS nerdstalgia – fuck off.

  32. I’m okay on CREEPSHOW but apparently it is controversial for me to like CREEPSHOW 2 much more.

    I’m glad someone else noticed how “James Wan” that IT trailer was (I mean I really dig James Wan’s filmatism so if whoever it is making can harness that I’ll be good maybe). The trailer didn’t blow me away like it did everyone else. I love how the marketing is playing up the creepy clown aspect even though in the damned book he’s just supposed to look like a regular damned clown.

  33. This review made revisit the flick. Last time I watched it, I saw it back to back with the first one, and was mostly confused by how little the two have in common (love the “Based on characters created by Stehpen King”-credit…which of these characters came from King?). Having now seen the Cohen again, it certainly plays much better without the Hooper fresh in memory. It’s much more fun than I remember. Thanks for the podcast tip, that was a good one!

    Hope you do some more Larry Cohen reviews in the near future, Vern.

  34. Geoffrey – I’ll back you up on that – I like Creepshow 2 way better than Creepshow 1, and I don’t think it’s just an issue of part 1 aging poorly – it’s just kinda dull and boring – there’s too many stories and they all go on several minutes too long, and seem both underwritten (the zombie father one, the Stephen King/space moss one) and overwritten (the Hal Holbrook one). I have no idea why anyone would prefer 1 over the lean and mean 2, other than 1 has some pretty disgusting gore and 2 is relatively PG-13 with the exception of a few shots.

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