Monday, April 23, 2007

Salem's Lot vs. Salem's Lot

There are two movies based on Stephen King's "Salem's Lot". One is from 1979 and one is from 2004. Until Saturday I only knew the older one - which isn't bad, actually, provided you keep in mind it's over 20 years old. But I think the new one is better.

Now, I usually am not a fan of remakes of old movies, normally the original, the first one, is better. But in this case I have to admit that a lot of things are better in the remake.

First of all, although both movies actually have been made as TV-miniseries - and thus have the time to stay true to the novel -, the new version features more of the actual scenes from the novel (which, admittedly, I haven't read in a while, but until a couple of years ago it was one of my all-time favourites, very much like "Dracula").

Secondly the vampire in the novel - and the new movie - is heavily based on "Dracula", a gentleman with a deadly secret. The older version features Reggie Nalder looking pretty much like Max Schreck in "Nosferatu" (a movie loosely based on "Dracula" and produced in 1920 in Germany). The vampire in "Nosferatu" was ugly as sin, bald, with long, clawed fingers, a hunch (which must have given the actor quite a pain in the back after a while, since it's obvious he produced it with his body alone) and two longer, pointed front teeth (instead of the usual fangs we would expect from a vampire these days). The Barlow in the older version of "Salem's Lot" looks just like that - with a blue-green-greyish skin and glowing, red eyes. That surely is scary, but it's not the way King described him in the novel. And, as King points out in "Danse Macabre" - a book about horror he wrote in the 80's -, he has written the book by using the story as a ball he played against the wall "Dracula", so Rutger Hauer fits the role much better in the new version (he also played the head-vampire in the infamous "Buffy"-movie in 1989, as he played a lot of other 'bad guys' and demons over the years). Actually Barlow doesn't appear often in the remake, he's in the city dump with one of his first victims (though it's not sure whether he or his 'servant' is following the two boys earlier), later on he turns up to kill the mother of one of the main characters, he's heard in the cellar of the old house on the hill, inviting Marc Petrie, the same main character, to join him. And of course, finally he is staked in his hiding-place in the cellar of the local guest house. Unfortunately that doesn't kill all the other vampires (about 90% of the town's populace) as well.

Finally, the effects in vampire movies have become a lot better over the last 20 years and even though that's not the most important thing in a movie (not for me, at least), it makes quite a difference. I personally am a very big fan of vampires crawling along the walls and ceilings of rooms - something that has been described in various stories from "Dracula" onwards. And I like the voices coming out of nowhere whenever there's a vampire around, some sort of supernatural singing as if to lull in the victims.

The new movie has 'modernized' the story to a certain extend. There's emails, computers and cell phones in the movie - things which did not exist when the novel was written in the 70's. But that's not a big change, those are just minor details that make sure the audience gets deeper immersed into the story (because this little town in the USA is pretty much like their own and the live of it's inhabitants is pretty much like theirs). There are also some things which have been changed (Susan Norton, one of the main characters, is staked later in the movie than she is in the story, but by the same person; the priest, Father Callahan, goes over completely to the 'dark side' instead of fighting it as he does in the book). On the whole, though, the basic story is still the same. The evil comes to the small town and it spreads, turning more and more of the populace into vampires until, finally, the whole town has been turned into a hiding place for the un-dead - thus it is 'dead'. The burning of the obvious hiding-places (the Marsten House, the guest house and so on) is just the 'cleaning up' after the dead - it's just burying the town, actually.

So on the whole the new movie, the remake, is a lot better. (The same, actually, goes for "The Fog" - which quite surprised me when I saw the new movie, as I was a fan of the old one.) Both are good and worth watching, but if you want the one that 'feels' like the story a lot more, it'll be the version from 2004 - and not just because of the more famous actors (like Rob Lowe, Donald Sutherland or Rutger Hauer). The famous actors are just a little bonus in this case, I would have liked it just as much with unknown actors (providing they're good).

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