Monday, October 1, 2012
Movie Appraisal: A Return to Salem's Lot (1987)
For a year or more now I've been waiting to watch and review this movie. I knew it would probably be bad, but what I didn't expect was just how bad it would be. It's not that I personally dislike it because it's not the perfect sequel to Salem's Lot that I wanted. It's terrible because almost every aspect of this film is a total and complete failure. The editing is terrible and choppy. The film somehow looks worse than its black-and-white predecessor from eight years prior. The acting is at times astoundingly bad. The direction is awful, just awful. The scenery is cheap and looks terrible. And the plot makes no sense and doesn't work in any sense of that word. And that's not even scratching the surface as to how wholly abominable this movie actually is.
For one, that tagline up on that poster: "Based on characters created by Stephen King." makes absolutely no sense. There are no characters based on Stephen King's stories. There is a town that is wholly different than what King wrote. There are vampires that are totally different than what King wrote. There is a non-burned down 'Salem's Lot, which makes no sense since 'Salem's Lot always burns down when Ben and Mark light the town on fire at the end of any version of 'Salem's Lot. So, why is this town intact? Why no burn marks? Why is it burnt down all over again at this end of this film?
See, the problem here is that this movie is no sequel to 'Salem's Lot or Salem's Lot. It is instead a completely different canon. It simultaneously a remake of the miniseries with different characters and its own story entirely. And that's where I found myself confused. Why didn't they just call this movie something completely different? It has nothing to do with Salem's Lot as a town or a book or a movie. The vampires are wholly different, no longer the shambling zombies they are in the book- they instead are humans with fangs and a hatred of light. The only vampire in 'Salem's Lot who was intelligent and coherent was Barlow, but here that whole aspect is thrown away in favor of talking vampires for some reason. This cuts away all of the horror while also taking away the point of 'Salem's Lot, the message of a charismatic and powerful person taking away the will to think of an entire populace.
I can keep going on about how the plot is ridiculous and the acting is pretty awful. I can keep saying how this movie seems pointless and kind of insulting. I can keep ripping apart every aspect of the film, from the pointless and antipathetic characters to TWO ridiculous "romance" plots... and all the way to some terrible fight sequences... terrible cinematography... terrible editing... terrible direction of almost every sequence. I just found this entire movie disheartening and incredibly insulting. I didn't like it and would never recommend it... but... but there were some okay things in the movie, and although I find the flick wholly reprehensible, I'd like to focus on the more positive aspects of the movie (the few that there are) because I find that there is no point in tearing the terrible and forgotten movie apart. It's already out of the public's memory. I think that speaks volumes about how terrible this movie actually is.
The opening of the movie is actually kind of fun, with a kicking opening tune and a psychedelic LSD vision. I enjoy a good strange opening and this one worked for me, getting me pumped up for a much better film than this one turned out to be. The music in general for this movie is pretty good actually, being one of the few redeeming features to an otherwise completely unremarkable film. The scene with the natives and Michael Moriarty's character, Joe, filming a ritual of one of the native's getting his heart pulled out is pretty good. I had no idea what was going on, but the effects were pretty decent. It had me believing this movie might actually look kind of interesting. In my mind, Cannibal Holocaust kept running through my head... and I guess I must have thought maybe I would get a movie more in line with that kind of film. It would have been a whole hell of a lot better than what there is.
The special effects sure are "special," especially when none of them seem to look good until the very end of the movie. Even then- they don't look good... it's probably more that I actually saw something that didn't make my eyes bleed which was better than this movie had been doing to me. And even though there are scary monster faces sometimes, the movie is mostly boring. There is no horror here, no tension. The vampires show up quickly and do nothing else. Yes, people are bitten with some terrible blood effects, but mostly the vampires stand and talk... and then stand and talk some more. Every once in a while they- wait for it- SIT and talk. WOW. Wow. Oscar calibre performances, people. There is overacting galore, although the kid, Ricky Addison Reed, and Michael Moriarity to a pretty good job at keeping cool. If "keeping cool" is swearing constantly and at the weirdest and most inappropriate times. I can't blame the actors for the odd lines though. The script seemed to be the real culprit here.
So, this is Tara Reid'd first role... if that interests you at all. Doesn't really mean much to me, I have to say. Knowing what movies that girl would be in- well, I'm not surprised this is where she started. Kind of fitting in a way. And kind of sad too. She is easily the worst actor here... and that's saying a ton. I seriously wanted her to stop talking every time she opened here mouth. Her "death?" scene was also painful to watch. I can't believe that that was the take they decided to go with. Did they even know what a good performance was? The sad thing is, they really must have because one actor really shines and rises this movie above absolute garbage. Oh, he's not really even introduced until two-thirds of the way through the movie or so... after you go catatonic because it's that bad... but once Samuel Fuller enters the flick as Van Meer, the Nazi Killer, the movie takes a turn to getting a lot more interesting. Samuel Fuller is wonderful here and seems to be having a great time. The man takes the performance and sells it for all its worth. He easily outshines everybody else. He is the only likable character as well as the only one worth cheering for. He chews the scenery up at times, but he is such a joy to watch that he alone makes the movie a little bearable. For the twenty or thirty minutes he decides to grace the screen with his kooky hair and bad dude stance, he is the greatest thing around. Hell, I would love more stories based on his character alone. Again, he's the only good character here in this movie.
So, the biggest thing that bothers me is the departure from the established lore of the freaking franchise that this movie is a sequel to. How do these vampires know their own history with both Straker and Barlow dead? Didn't Straker and Barlow come from Austria and England (basically Europe) too? Why are these vampires American and like 300 years old? Why are they here when all the vampires here were supposedly made by Barlow? Did they take over the town after Mark Petrie and Ben Mears from 'Salem's Lot burned the whole town down? Did they rebuild it? Or were they always there, these vampires, as Barlow made the whole town under his thrall? Because that would have been stupid. This is one of the big reasons this movie has to be its ow separate canon. It would make no sense otherwise. Why does Axel say that he's 300 years old? What is the point of that? Is it supposed to make him scarier? Or is it some kind of convenient way of saying, "Dude, this vampire's hardcore!" Well, it doesn't work. The line is awful; it doesn't make him more intimidating, it makes him seem like a petty bastard. Barlow was the first vampire there, but he's totally forgotten... well, except for the art of him on the box and poster. Yeah, that's definitely Barlow from the Salem's Lot miniseries. So, these seem to be in canon with one another... which would only really be possible if nothing made any sense any more. They would have to be implying that this town already had vampires in it. Or that they came later? I mean, is this movie saying that it takes place in the far-flung future of 2287? What? What? WHAT? What? I keep saying "what" so often it doesn't even sound like a word anymore...
The vampires were mindless like zombies in the movie, the book, and the canon, not like this... except for Barlow. It was scarier that way and so much more effective. This is just stupid. And then somehow the town name keeps changing between Jerusalem's Lot and 'Salem's Lot... when it's been established that the town name was officially changed to 'Salem's Lot. It's in the book. What am I even saying? They didn't read the book. Why would I give them the credit of reading the book? I must be insane. EVEN THINKING that these numbskulls would have considered reading the book... or (HA HA) watching the movie that this movie was a sequel too. Because they didn't watch that movie either. They didn't care about stupid things like consistency... or canon... or anything established. Hell, how is this even based off of anything Stephen King did? I mean, sure some of the plot is ripped off wholesome from the book... but calling this a sequel is like calling me a sane and smiling person. It's just not true and nobody should ever say things that they can't take back like that.
Oh, at least we get to see breasts... said Saquarry dryly. His face was likened to a rock. Breasts were not going to help this movie. They were just going to tell how bad a movie this was. Trying to distract with breasts was never going to work. There is so little of substance here and... this movie is entirely classless. And clueless. Why even include a scene like this? Are you establishing a romance? No, not really. Are you establishing how it might be difficult for Joe to hurt his beloved? No, not really. Oh, it's mentioned once, but never amounts to anything. The romance and the sex scenes are pointless. These are pointless breasts that make the entire movie worse because they have no point. I'm not saying that naked women are wonderful in movies, but they are usually meant to establish something (or for pure fanservice), and this movie doesn't seem to be doing either. These are breasts for the sake of breasts and there's just no point beyond that... and the shots aren't even good. They don't try to make the act of sex look vicious or terrible or sweet or sexy... the directing does NOTHING AT ALL. This is a terrible movie. This is such a terrible film.
Wow, it turned daylight very very quickly towards the end of the movie. BAM. Night to day. There we go. That's how the sun comes up. No gradual rise. No tension. Nope. One second as dark as the dead of night and the next it is noontime. Wonderful. I get the feeling nobody associated with this movie has ever seen a sunrise...
Look, let me reason with you, the reader, here. Do not watch this movie. Do not seek it out. Do not think that you should watch this movie in any way. Despite a good performance by Samuel Fuller and a pretty good film score, this movie is a waste of time to watch. It has nothing to do with 'Salem's Lot as the town, the book, or the movie except in name. It has nothing to do with Stephen King either except for stealing some of his plot-points much worse than he ever wrote them. Some of the effects towards the end of the film also look okay, but no better than any other movie out there. Avoid this movie at all costs. This is The Reaping level of bad, and I'm not taking that back. So, I guess this October starts off wonderful... hopefully the next thirty nights go better than this one did or else I'm going to be a very unhappy fella.