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Salem’s Lot (2004) – DVD Review


Written by: Peter Filardi, based on the novel by Stephen King
Directed by: Mikael Salomon
Starring: Rob Lowe, Donald Sutherland, Andre Braugher, Samantha Mathis, Rutger Hauer

Released by: Warner Brothers
Region: 1
Rating: NR; use discretion before letting little kids sit through it
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Rental.

Ben Mears (Lowe) is a writer in a bit of a slump. Trying to kick start his creativity (and re-kick his career), he returns to his hometown of Jerusalem’s Lot. He figures there might be a story in the freaky old town and its even freakier “haunted house,” the Marsten place. There he runs into his old mentor, Matt Burke (Braugher), a possible love interest, Susan Norton (Mathis), and the mysterious Straker (Sutherland), who’s apparently the vanguard for a vampire invasion.

[ad#longpost]King wrote this novel as a kind of “Dracula Comes to Maine” bit, a concept which has only recently been taken to the next level by Steve Niles in 30 Days of Night. The novel’s one of my personal favorites of King’s, which I tried not to let bug me as I watched this. After all, it couldn’t be much worse than the first miniseries take on this, which featured David Soul and a smurf nosferatu. And Rob Lowe, a King fan himself, has already proven himself capable of bringing in great acting when he blew away all expectations and nailed Nick Andros in the Stand miniseries. So there was a bit of optimism in the air when this thing aired originally.

The acting did not disappoint. While Mears is nowhere near as interesting or impressive a character as Andros was, Lowe delivered. Also able to bring the noise were Braugher (always solid) and especially Rutger Hauer, who was an inspired bit of casting to play the dark lord Barlow. Hauer, looking kind, older and a bit crinkly, brings exactly the right level of convincing “hey I’m your buddy but I’m also scary as hell” that the part needs. Mathis does the best she can with Susan, not the best of female lead roles to begin with. The only real disappointment is with Sutherland, who brings an inappropriate air of glee to the part of Straker. What’s meant to be malevolent comes off as simply…I dunno, drunk. Or high. Or anything but scary. He seems to be erring on the side of whackjobs he’s played in the past. One thing you can say about the previous iteration is that it made us miss James Mason here. Whether this was an actor’s or director’s decision to do that with the character is unknown to us.

For the most part, the story sticks to the book reasonably well for the time that the book’s story is taking place. To explain: for some reason, the scribe found it necessary to add a pointless and just flat out incongruous coda/frame story for the main plot. It just flat out doesn’t work–and possibly could have worked if some more time had been spent on it. I’m also very puzzled because in a time when pretty much any TV movie or miniseries has a dual life as a back door pilot, the book’s ending, which has left fans screaming for a damn sequel since it was first published, would have been the perfect launching point to pull a Dead Zone on the story. How successful it would have been is obviously completely up in the air, but it’s just odd that on a big event such as this they didn’t take advantage of an “out” that was already there.

Donald Sutherland as Straker in Salem's Lot (2004)

No features come along with the miniseries, which is a shame. Even a small featurette would have been a good idea. We know Lowe is a King fiend who was probably chomping at the bit to play Mears, but what are the other actors’ feelings on the subject? Where is the director so we can put a face to the name and hug him when we meet him in the street for actually casting Hauer in a good role? Hell, even King’s thoughts on both versions would have been worthwhile. But alas, nothing.

Rutger Hauer as Barlow from Salem's Lot (2004)

While this version is decent, it just didn’t fire on enough cylinders to warrant a purchase, in my opinion. The lack of bonus stuff doesn’t help its case. Still, fans of the book who still had a bad taste in their mouth after the first version would be advised to give it a rental.

Click here to buy it from Amazon.
Click here to buy the book from Amazon.