Salem’s Lot in Life & Death

DATELINE: Stephen King Meets James Mason

Lance, Mason & Friend Lance,  James Mason, & Friend!

When in 1979 we heard James Mason was doing a Stephen King TV movie, we were appalled. We refused to watch one of our perennial favorites demean his career in its last years by doing something as cheesy as Salem’s Lot.

Today we eagerly watch it and devour his every screen moment.

Who would have guessed that James Mason slumming on TV could be so delightful?  With Tobe Hooper directing like he is doing an imitation of Vera Miles approaching Hitchcock’s Bates mansion, you throw in some performers we always liked: Lance Kerwin, Ed Flanders, Elisha Cook, Lew Ayres, Marie Windsor, Kenneth MacMillan and Fred Willard!! What a juicy little horror—just a tad silly around the edges.

It’s a little perverse too. James Mason is the procurer for some kind of Nosferatu in Maine, finding little boys for him to devour. Lance Kerwin seems ripe, but he has eyes only for David Soul. Their smoldering subtext is off the charts in its own way. Did anyone making the movie understand the word ‘latent’?

James Mason and Lance Kerwin share only a couple of glances in their scenes, but it may be that they saw something utterly disdainful in the other.

With an uncut three-hour version of the old TV miniseries now available on streaming, you can sit back and wallow in low-rent horror that remains top-drawer compared to the junk of today. There is no needless blood and/or off-the-computer special effects. Here actors rely on their wiles, not on the blue screen.

James Mason is the full show here, delivering lines with an inimitable throwaway snobbery. Wait till you hear him pronounce, “expertise.”

Most of the movie he is either entering or exiting doorways and looking askance. He clearly enjoyed making a movie with his wife, Clarissa Kaye, and chewing the scenery. You will enjoy it too.

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