It’s been almost 30 years since Stephen King published “Salem’s Lot,” and nearly as long since Tobe Hooper’s version was shown as a mini on CBS. TNT now takes a crack at the vampires-in-a-small-town tale, with results proving that after decades of exposure to the goth bloodsuckers of Anne Rice and the giggly evil of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” a production must do more than just stick to the dated source material and boost the special effects to be fang-tastic.
Taking the role essayed by David Soul in the 1979 miniseries, Rob Lowe is Ben Mears, a writer who returns home to tiny Jerusalem’s Lot, ostensibly to work on a novel and deal with a traumatic childhood incident in the spooky Marsten house on the hill. His attempt to rent the house is thwarted by the arrival of two new denizens in town who may be vampires, or gay, or both. The difference is negligible to the insular citizens of Jerusalem’s Lot, all of whom seem to have a skeleton of their own in the closet.
Upon its release in 1975 — beating Anne Rice’s “Interview With the Vampire” by a year — King’s book was hailed as reinvigorating the horror genre by resurrecting a classic monster and setting it in Anywhere, U.S.A. In TNT’s mini, the presentation of the story just doesn’t seem fresh. The familiarity may appeal to King fans, but those expecting an innovative take on a classic vampire tale will be disappointed.
Performances are adequate throughout, with Donald Sutherland’s scenery-chewing turn as antiques dealer/host of the undead Richard Straker particularly vicious and fun.
As vamp extraordinaire Kurt Barlow, Rutger Hauer is made up to look rather disturbingly like Siegfried Fischbacher, which tones down his menace quite a bit. In fact, none of the vampires comes across as scary, and the production takes a noticeable turn toward the laughable upon their arrival.
The anticipation of seeing the beasties during the first hour of the mini is much more effective in creating suspense than the washed-out look of the bloodsuckers themselves. (Note: Curly or crimped hair on women is a sign of evil.)
Even the f/x come across as reminiscent of other recent baddies; the fast-moving vampires are dead ringers for the zombies in “28 Days Later.”
Condensing King’s 600-plus-page tome is a hit-and-miss job by scribe Peter Filardi (“Flatliners,” “The Craft”). Die-hards may be disappointed that some subplots are relegated to a tossed-off line of conversation; others may approve of the streamlining of the at-times wordy novel.
Some details from the book are kept, but to little impact: Stuck in a coroner’s examining room, Lowe’s character fends off a vampire with a cross made of taped-together tongue depressors. But the scene, taken out of its context in the book as a last-minute, shotgun-style blessing of the flimsy device as a holy item, comes across as absurd here.
Nods to other King works (a dog named Cujo, a karaoke scroll pausing on the word “stand”) are amusing without being distracting.
Melbourne locations look a bit dry and barren to pass as New England.