Mason shines in this one,
This review is from: Salem's Lot: The Miniseries (Full Screen) (DVD)"Salem's Lot" is one of the better Stephen King-based films, though it suffers from excessive length (three hours in the original TV version) and a lead performance by David Soul that brings new meaning to the word "limp." Soul virtually sleepwalks through his role of middle-class fiction writer who returns to his home town to investigate the "haunted house" of his childhood, and finds, instead of ghosts, a mysterious antique dealer and his Nosferatu-like colleague. The devious and clandestine exploits of the latter gradually lead to an outbreak of vampirism that threatens to bring the entire town within its clutches.
The film boasts a good seasoning of veteran actors in supporting roles, several of whom ---- Elijah Wood, Jr., Lew Ayres, and Marie Windsor ----- appeared in a number of film noir classics of the forties and fifties. (For a treat, see Windsor in the 1952 version of "The Narrow Margin"). But while it's fascinating to see these old pros in their various roles, it's James Mason who truly impresses.
Indeed, "impressive" may be too mild a word for Mason, who plays the recently-arrived antique dealer with such impeccable style that he single-handedly transforms "Salem's Lot" from an overextended B movie into something worth remembering. Observe his reactions, for example, when informally interrogated by the town constable as suspect in the killing of a small child. Or later, when he meets Soul during a gathering in his antique shop and the former broaches the question of "evil." Says Soul: "Do you believe a house can be evil in its very boards and windows? In its stone foundations? Evil?" "Oh, you're the writer," answers Mason with mocking insouciance --- the words are neutral, but his entire manner and inflection create a devastating put-down. Here is an embodiment of "cool" that would do justice to any jazz musician, but Mason does it quietly, slowly, with the limitless patience of a man who knows he can do anything.
The other outstanding element in "Salem's Lot" is Reggie Nalder as the vampire under Mason's control (though just how this control came about, and how it is sustained ---- is never explained). Some older fans of the Karloff-hosted "Thriller" series may recognize Nalder from that TV anthology, most notably in the episode, "Terror in Teakwood," where he played the sinister "Kaffke." Here, by contrast, his face is half-buried in makeup, but Nalder's cadaverous bone structure assists the illusion and makes his image of the vampire "Barlow" one of the most frightening since Max Shreck. He's not on-screen more than a few minutes, but, as Mason's character amusingly prophesizes in an early scene: "I'm sure you'll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he'll enjoy you. Oh yes. Oh yes."
"Salem's Lot" is not a great horror movie, since, along with the problems mentioned, it's burdened by lack of originality. Some scenes are atmospheric, such as those where child vampires are shown floating and beckoning through moonlit windows ---- hackneyed, but effective. These are offset by many sequences that are silly or adventitious (e.g., the one where students are acting out a historical play, so poorly directed it recalls Ed Wood or Bert I. Gordon). The film could have been better with a good lead actor, as well as more conviction from the supporting cast generally. Otherwise, it's more than worth watching for the tour-de-force performance of James Mason and the sheer scare-value of Nalder.