Everybody of a certain age cites the 1979 Salem's Lot mini-series as one of the scariest things they've ever seen—largely due to one creepy ass dead kid scratching at a bedroom window. At the tender age of 10, that particular image was more than enough to haunt my dreams for weeks. Fright fans will be happy to note that TNT's new update of Stephen King's smash novel retains the kid.
The two-night mini series replaces faded '70s hunk David Soul with faded '80s hunk Rob Lowe and surrounds him with a solid cast (including Samantha Mathis, Andre Braugher, Donald Sutherland, James Cromwell and Rutger Hauer). Lowe adopts a rather dull monotone when reciting the film's voice over narration, but he comes across as more or less human in the rest of the film—not overwhelmingly sympathetic, but certainly watchable for a couple nights.
The story is largely unchanged from the original. (A new intro jumps us to the action much quicker, and our main baddie is no longer blue—but both of those seem like improvements.) Lowe plays Ben Mears, a celebrated writer who returns to his grim New England hometown of Jerusalem's Lot to write a book about a celebrated psycho who lived in a creepy old mansion overlooking the town. Ben isn't the only new resident in town. Seems that an elderly antiques dealer (Sutherland) and his mysteriously unseen partner have moved into that crumbling old mansion atop the hill.
Salem's Lot doesn't waste much time getting to the good stuff, and never takes a long enough pause for audiences to get bored. Before the first commercial break, children are being slaughtered, dogs are being mutilated and we've got several possible romances brewing.
Directed with a tweaked-out color palette and some noticeable panache by longtime cinematographer Mikael Salomon (Far and Away, Backdraft, The Abyss), the film quickly introduces us to the assorted denizens of Jerusalem's Lot, then starts dispatching them with ruthless abandon. The telefilm manages to unleash some pretty creepy images during the dinner hour, and viewers are sure to get their fright's worth. Occasionally, one of the scare sequences backfires, eliciting a giggle instead, but that's to be expected from a horror film. With the lights turned low, the jumps certainly outweigh the laughs.
The show's second night is a little more choppy than the first, having to hop among the many established characters and eventually tripping over a plot hole or two. Even so, the zippy, two-night goosebumper is light years ahead of the recent Shining remake. All tolled, this is the best King adaptation in decades. Hardcore King fans may miss an excised character or two, but those looking for an entertaining couple of nights of fright are advised to take a big, bloody bite of this one.