Saturday, November 08, 2008

The vampire is angry now!

For years I was warned off the old TV movie version of "Salem's Lot" by Betsy: "The vampire is made out of, like, blue Play-Doh, and his mask is so stiff that he can't actually talk, so the other characters have to supply his emotions by saying things like 'The vampire is angry now!'" Still, about eight years after I borrowed the book from her and was rendered sleepless for a week, it was time to check the movie out for myself. And she's right, it is pretty goofy (although to my disappointment, "The vampire is angry now" is not an actual line of dialogue) and the monster really is blue. You know he's coming, in fact, every time you see the color blue. This spells trouble for our hero Ben Mears, who likes to wear lots of denim, most troublingly a close-fitting short-sleeved denim blouse. On the whole, though... it's really not that bad.

OK, it's not great. The pace is slow and it crawls and crawls... you could argue that this is building up a sense of dread, but come on, when you immediately introduce a black-suit-clad weirdo living in a haunted house and driving a big black car, there's really no dread to build. I spent a lot of time thinking about horror movie tropes and wondering how anyone would not immediately suspect the black-suit-clad weirdo when bad things start happening. It's like in the Harry Potter books where they're like "The Death Eaters are back! It's probably Harry Potter's fault! It's certainly not Draco Malfoy's!" and you can't figure out if JKR is being sarcastic.

But then the vampire noshes on a little kid, and things just pick up from there. The movie becomes a series of really fantastic vampire set pieces. The wise old professor reading books labeled "Vampire Lore" in his library, and then hearing a noise upstairs.... the vigil over a sheeted figure at the morgue ... the movie fog outside the window parting to reveal a genuinely creepy floating child. And Barlow's first appearance, in extreme closeup (above), gave me the supreme willies.

It doesn't really go anywhere, and it's nowhere near as scary as the book. Scenes in the book that turned my hair white -- the boys walking alone in the woods, not knowing they're being stalked until it's too late; and everything involving the priest -- are pretty much ignored here.

Still, it's a hell of a lot scarier than the more recent TV movie starring poor Rob Lowe as Ben. My favorite scene in that had poor Samantha Mathis, starring as the vampire-turned Susan, appearing in Rob's window and delivering a crucial bit of exposition, talking like Susan even though she's supposed to be a vampire. "I could love you, Ben Mears," she concludes. Rob replies, reasonably: "Susan, you're a vampire."

Anyway, it was interesting to see Tobe Hooper's other good movie, having become besotted with him last year. I don't guess I will be checking out "Eaten Alive" or any of his other opi. This one doesn't have the sort of gorgeous and uniform look of TCSM.... the lighting is this sort of milky wintry light, and isn't really noticeable anyway since most of the scenes are indoors. Ah well.


ACE said...

I LOVE Stephen King. The first time I read The Tommyknockers I didn't sleep for a week or two.

On a completely random note, Rob and I are most likely coming to LA for a week or so next Spring. Any chance we can finally meet face to face??

Betsy said...

How could you watch this movie when I specifically told you not to! You have to obey me! Anyway, I think that probably the reason I had a perhaps exaggeratedly negative opinion of this movie is because Salem's Lot was the first horror-genre book I read, and it was just so very, effectively scary, that I felt that people who saw the movie rather than reading the book would think the story was just lame. At least I remembered the blue vampire correctly! If I didn't get that one line right, was I at least correct in that the vampire seemed to have trouble talking with is mouth full of snaggly teeth?

AE said...

The vampire does not talk at all! Your recollection of his properties is pretty spot-on. It's just that nobody ever says he's angry. Like the scene in the kitchen with the boy's dead parents and the priest... in the book it's all a conversation between the priest and the vampire, but in the movie it's the priest and the vampire's human helper, because the vampire can't talk. It's supposed to make him extra scary, but it is very different from the book.

References to "The Tommyknockers" always remind me of this.