Release Date(s)1979 (October 18, 2016)
Studio(s)Warner Home Video
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: D+
For many horror aficionados, Tobe Hooper’s miniseries version of Salem’s Lot, based upon the novel of the same name by Stephen King, is one of the finest and most effective made-for-TV horror movies. The story, of a small town in New England that is slowly being taken over by a vampire named Barlow and a newly-arrived writer named Ben Mears determined to stop him, first hit the air waves in 1979 on CBS. Almost four decades since it originally premiered, the film continues to garner attention from fans, despite the relatively recent second adaptation starring Rob Lowe.
Salem’s Lot relies mostly on atmosphere. Its story is different than the original novel in many ways, jettisoning characters and scenes, but ultimately feeling a little thin in places. Certain characters in the miniseries version ultimately have no bearing on the overall plot and are in there mainly to extend the running time. The character of Mears is set up fairly well, as are some of the people of the town, who ultimately do play a part in the proceedings, but it’s James Mason as Mr. Straker and Reggie Nalder as Barlow that the movie is most-remembered for. Even though it was made for television, the movie is much more effective than many of its contemporaries, leaving an indelible mark upon the genre and those who saw it.
Salem’s Lot was originally aired in two 2-hour parts, then re-ran a year later cut together into a 3-hour version, severing the credits in the middle. It was also released to theaters in Europe in a truncated 2-hour form. This was the version of the movie that was originally released on VHS, which was the only way to see the movie for many years. Warner Bros. eventually released the 3-hour version of the movie on DVD, and this new Blu-ray also contains this same version.
Warner’s Blu-ray of Salem’s Lot sports a brand new high definition transfer. It’s a full frame presentation in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, pillarboxed with blank space on both sides of the frame. It’s an extremely organic-looking presentation, with even film grain levels and excellent fine detail. Keep in mind though that this was a movie that was shot for TV, so the lighting and contrast tends to be much different than a theatrical release. That being said, there are some very deep blacks with good shadow detailing, although some scenes in the Marsden house are downright inky. One might perceive a loss of detail, but that’s not the case. Colors are strong, though not overly robust. Skin tones are quite acceptable, but dip into orange territory at times. Brightness and contrast levels are excellent. There’s no evidence of digital enhancement on display. It’s a very clean and stable presentation throughout. There are also a number of audio tracks in different languages to choose from, but the main presentation is English 2.0 mono in DTS-HD. The mix shows its age a little more than the video, but is still a fine track. Dialogue is clear and both sound effects and score are well-represented. There is some noticeable hiss during quiet moments. Overall, the A/V presentation is a huge improvement over its standard definition counterpart. Since this is a region free release, there are a number of subtitle options including English SDH, French, Spanish, and many others.
There isn’t much to be had in terms of extras, but there is a new scene-specific audio commentary with director Tobe Hooper, as well as the movie’s international theatrical trailer. It would have been nice to have both the shortened European theatrical cut and the 2-part version with credits as options; not to mention some network promos and the extended scene between Cully and Larry Crockett. However, just having anything at all, including a new transfer, is satisfactory enough.
While a sequel to this film popped up a few years later, it didn’t have quite the staying power that Salem’s Lot has enjoyed. The movie takes a while to heat up but, once it does, there’s some good drama and genuine scares to be had. Warner’s Blu-ray release isn’t perfect, but the transfer and the new audio commentary are the whole ballgame here and are worth the upgrade price.
- Tim Salmons