Archive for Salem’s Lot

Page Seventeen III: Beyond Thunderdome

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2022 by dcairns

The exit came up on his right, and for a moment he considered driving right past it, continuing on to Chamberlain or Lewiston, stopping for lunch, and then turning around and going back. But back where? Home? That was a laugh. If there was a home, it had been here. Even if it had only been four years, it was his.

It was about eight o’clock, very dark and very cold. Except for the faint creaking of the cooling engine and the rustle of the breeze in some nearby trees, there wasn’t a sound to be heard. Ahead, the road in the headlights curved away to the right. I got out the map and tried to find out where I was.

A penetrating drizzle had been leaking through the low cloud since I had joined the A3 at Kingston Vale about 6.45 a.m. Window display men were junking polystyrene Xmas trees and ordering gambolling lambs. On their way to work people were sneaking a look at shop windows to see how much their relatives had paid for the presents they had received.

Speaking of getting killed, let me clarify that Pinto wagons were not the models that notoriously burst into flames upon impact, even a low-speed impact. Those were the Pinto sedans. It took nearly thirty people dying in Pinto fires and over one hundred lawsuits before Ford acknowledged the car’s poorly designed fuel tank and rear end. On the rare occasion I took a girl out on a date, I hastened to assure her that my Pinto was “not the exploding kind.” Usually, my date had no clue about the rash of fatal rear-end Pinto collisions, and my reassurance had the opposite effect of casting an anxious pall over the evening.

But I must relate what a wonderful country it was into which we were now arrived. Were we not assured that all the world is the Lord’s, we might be tempted to think such a wild region the kingdom of the Evil One.

Dirty Car Art by Scott Wade

We got off the Alley and took the 858 into downtown Naples and out to the beach, turned right, and drove along hotel row until we came to the Eden Beach. I drove the long curve of sleek asphalt past the portico and on over into their parking area. A man tending the plantings stopped and stared slack-jawed at the Rolls pickup. It has that effect. The conversion was done clumsily during the Great Depression. Four fat women in shorts were on the big putting green, grimly improving their game. Through big-leafed tropic growth I could see the blue slosh of the swimming pool,and I heard somebody bodysmack into it off the rumbling board. I saw a slice of Gulf horizon, complete with schooner. We went up three broad white steps and through a revolving door into the cool shadows of the lobby. A very pretty lady behind the reception desk smiled at us, frowned at her watch, picked up a phone, punched out two numbers, then spoke in a low voice.

‘Please, mister, can you tell us what kind of a snake that is in the wagon? Is it something they caught here in Arizona? We’re just out from the East, you know, and don’t know all the animals here yet.’

Seven paragraphs from seven page seventeens from seven books I apparently own — this time, with a motoring/travelling theme.

Salem’s Lot by Stephen King; The Army of the Shadows by Eric Ambler, from Alfred Hitchcock’s Sinister Spies; Horse Under Water by Len Deighton; But What I Really Want to Do is Direct: Lessons from a Life Behind the Camera by Ken Kwapis; The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter by Ambrose Bierce; Free Fall in Crimson by John D. MacDonald; The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney.

The Fearful Vampire Hunters

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2021 by dcairns

I’ve been writing limericks for the run-up to Halloween — you can read them here.

Despite, or maybe in part because of, the outrageous lifts from PSYCHO, part two of Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot TV adaptation satisfied and startled. Fiona screamed several times. It’s fashionable to disparage jump scares, and with the modern soundtrack’s capacity they might seem too easy, somehow, but I think they still have a place in the horror film. I can respect a movie that’s too clever and disquieting to need them, for sure, but for the kind of thing SL is, they absolutely belong.

Stephen King has said that horror comes in three basic shapes — (1) is the subtlest and noblest, the suspense/dread kind, (2) is shock, the jump-scare or startle effect introduced by Tourneur (usually associated with dread and suspense but he liked to mix things up) and (3) is the gross-out. King states that he aims for (1) for preference, but resorts to (2) when necessary, and then to (3) when he has to. The trouble always seemed to me that (2) and (3) can push out (1). But I note that Hitchcock pushed graphic violence in PSYCHO and it HELPED with the dread and suspense, and that the Lewton-Tourneur school purveyed not only subtle psychological tension, but shocks AND had more blood than other ’40s horrors.

The acting in Salem’s Lot helps hugely. Reggie Nalder, as noted by David Ehrenstein, is a formidable living special effect who didn’t even need all the makeup he’s given to be alarming. When you’ve hired Reggie, youdon’t have to paint him blue. As Simon Kane notes, they’ve taken away all his dialogue and that makes him scarier, less human. James Mason’s Mr. Straker is basically playing Renfield, but a Renfield hugely empowered and elevated, suave and cunning and not loony at all, whereas Nalder’s Mr. Barlow is a Dracula degenerated, pure animal will, a semi-sentient walking plague.

Small-parts supporting vampires add to the general mood of abjection: Mason’s real-life wife, Clarissa Kaye-Mason (whom he met while casting for a Miranda to his Prospero in Michael Powell’s never-made THE TEMPEST) gets probably her best onscreen moment; Geoffrey Lewis is fantastically creepy, the screen’s best blue-collar neck-biter; the two kids, Ronnie Scribner and his recruit, Brad Savage are legit terrifying.

Credit also to David Soul, who plays a hero who can actually be terrified. The way you or I would be. I don’t know why this obvious bit of realism isn’t used more often in horror films, other than that you need good actors and you need to spend time showing their reactions. Leading man vanity may also be a factor. But David Soul, rarely discussed as an acting talent, wets himself with real conviction.

Who keeps a drawer full of rats and eyeballs?

The show is peppered with instances where Hooper clearly just didn’t have time for a second take or reshoot, but it succeeds where it counts. It’s impressive that he was able to make the haunted house a memorable, beautifully-designed set that lives up to the two-hour build-up: production designer Mort Rabinowitz does a grand job. The place seems alive with mould. And Barlow’s lair is, magnificently, reached by descending an absent staircase and passing through a tiny, scary door. These bits of architectural surrealism enhance the terror in hard-to-analyse ways. They do make us feel like we’re leaving the domain of the human.

Fiona was much taken with the way Barlow’s recruits are just lying around in the dirt around his coffin. Only he gets a box. Stephen King probably deserves some credit for the way the film makes vampirism seem really grubby and nasty and degraded, a new development in the genre. True, both the Murnau and Herzog NOSFERATUs (from which Nalder’s makeup is derived) associate their head vamp with vermin, and he doesn’t look as sexy as Chris Lee. But at least he has a nice coat. Barlow’s black robe makes him a shapeless mass with a little blue head and hands grafted on, a shred of midnight torn loose and apt to pop into frame from odd angles, and he’s maybe the first screen vampire you gotta assume must smell really bad.

Maine Arteries

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , on October 21, 2021 by dcairns

Why is Ralphie Glick in his pajamas?

He disappears in the woods, walking home from a friend’s house with his brother Danny. The vampires have got him. But then he appears, hovering in the fog at his brother’s window. In his jim-jams. What’s that all about?

I turned to Stephen King’s book for answers, and learned that the window-floating scenes (it happens again, when Danny’s in hospital: kid just can’t catch a break) aren’t in it. So I have to take my hat off to Tobe Hooper and screenwriter Paul Monash (THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE). The scariest thing in the show, possibly; certainly the thing everyone was talking about at school the next day. And it’s pure filmic invention, born out of the inference that the vampires must have gotten at Danny somehow.

I put my hat back on again so I can take it off to Ronnie Scribner, who plays the littlest vampire. Good work, kid! You’re terrifying in that show.

This might be a question best put to regular Shadowplayer Scout Tafoya, whose book on Tobe Hooper is here.

Salem’s Lot stars Original Hutch; Prof. Humbert Humbert; Ramey Holvak; Holly McClane; Dr.James Kildare; George Peatty; Mr. Creepy; Father Dyer; Brisbane Bird; Eddie Goody; Baron Vladimir Harkonnen; Ed Harken; Sherry Peatty; and Needles, Yellow Jacket Assassin.