Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Radio Drama Review: Salem's Lot (1995)
Well, here is a radio drama review finally. I say finally because I've been reviewing things for almost four years and have never actually reviewed an audio drama. Shame on me. They're actually worth a lot if done correctly, and this is one of the best I've heard. Anyway, before getting into this, I should welcome you all to yet another horror-filled month of reviews and enjoyment! October Nights are here, and these reviews are for you, dear reader, so much more than they are for me. I say that because every year I literally kill myself to get these reviews done for the amusement of the masses. I enjoy the hell out of writing them, but reviewing 31 horror-related things in 31 nights is often a little insane, even for me.
This is my forth annual October Nights, and as I mentioned in the post leading up to this first post, I think it will be a fascinating month of reviews. The last several years I've started the October month out with a Salem's Lot review, and I'm doing the exact same thing every year until I run out of adaptations to review. Anyway, this year is the radio drama adaptation by the BBC, and, honestly, it is by far the best adaptation I've had the pleasure of enjoying.
It literally hits most of the major points in the novel without missing a beat. And it's incredibly enjoyable to hear those scenes from the novel done incredibly effectively in an audio format. While both miniseries are enjoyable and fun in their own right, both make some pretty huge mistakes in the end. I spoke of both of the miniseries before here and here. (I also reviewed a sequel and the book itself if you want the story of what's happening, which I'm not going to get into here.) The miniseries alter and change characters and the ultimate fate of characters so much that it does affect some of my enjoyment of them. While both adaptation are actually quite good in their own right as adaptations or simply as standalone stories, both do suffer a little from their departure from certain parts of the novel's narrative.
This is one of the few books that I think is seriously near-perfect, which is why the changes of the adaptations actually bother me at all. Changing Callahan's character in the most recent miniseries was a grievous mistake on the creators' part, especially when Father Callahan would have such a pivotal part to play in The Dark Tower series after the events of 'Salem's Lot. And in the first television movie, the fact that characters are omitted (especially Dr. Cody) has always bothered me.
Now, speaking of this radio drama, most of the book is there. Yes, some parts (like the side-stories of characters who are not main characters) are either completely omitted or mentioned in an off-handed way by more main characters. The plot mostly focuses on just the core five or six characters of the narrative, barely mentioning the side-characters at all unless they become important to the main plot. While the purist in me loves the entire novel, filler and all, the writer in me loves how the audio drama accomplishes what it does. Of course some things need to be taken out of the narrative. I'm mostly glad that the characters and their stories aren't changed at all really. And I'm glad that the story unfolds basically how it does in the novel. While there are some big changes, like the bookends of the episodes of the radio drama involving Ben and Mark telling their story to a Mexican priest, most are cosmetic changes and omissions, something I cannot see a problem with.
Honestly, the focus on the main characters works incredibly well, especially backed up by fantastic vocal work by the voice actors all around. Mark is the only character who even sounds a little off, but most of the characters sound exactly like they should with Straker and Barlow (played by Doug Bradley of Hellraiser fame) being literally incredible voices in their own rights.
The production is creepy, especially as a vampire story. It works every bit as well as Dracula or some of the other more macabre vampire stories out there (of which there are far too few for my liking). Some of the scenes work very well, especially any scene involving Barlow, who has singularly jumped up my list of terrifying villains in fiction to basically take the top spot. Of special note is Matt Burke (played by Gavin Muir), whose voice is a pleasure to listen to. The acting is especially good all around, and you'll find yourself literally having goosebumps if you listen to this late at night.
I had the special circumstance to not only be in a small New England town on the day I listened to this, but also to be out and about on an overcast fall day as I listened. My job gives me the ability to listen to many audiobooks and audio dramas and such, and I took advantage of it on the perfect day to do so. I know that not everybody out there lives or works in a small New England town much like the titular 'Salem's Lot, but if that chance comes up, this is perfect listening in situations like that.
I wholly throw my support behind this adaptation of one of my favorite books. I recommend this completely, unlike last years debacle with the terrible A Return to Salem's Lot. Check it out if you get the chance. I doubt you'll be disappointed. Also, here's a website and podcast that you can download it from, just because I'm a great guy.
The only negatives that I can think of are Mark (who sounds funny to my ears) and some of the acting which can be slightly overdone. Also, at times, the action moments can sound very confusing. But as an audio adaptation, I would put this up there with some of the greats. Give it a listen if you want a spooky time, just make sure you have three-and-a-half hours to spare to listen to it.