Back Comments (1) Share:
Facebook Button
Stephen King Triple Feature

Salem’s Lot

(1979)
Sinister events in the town Salem’s Lot bring together a writer (David Soul) fascinated with an old hilltop house; a suave antiques dealer (James Mason), whose expertise goes beyond bric-a-brac; and the dealer’s mysterious, pale-skinned “partner” (Reggie Nalder). (From WB’s official synopsis)

Salem’s Lot was Stephen King’s second published novel (1975) after Carrie (1974), as well as the second novel to be adapted to another medium, also after Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976). Perhaps more important to the pantheon of King adaptations, Tobe Hooper’s version, adapted by Paul Monash, was the first in a long line of made-for-TV mini-series based on one of the author’s notoriously gruesome books. The two-episode event began life as a standard-issue, feature-length production, but, after a parade of accomplished screenwriters – including Stirling Silliphant (Academy Award Winner for In the Heat of the Night, 1967), Robert Getchell (Academy Award Nominee for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, 1974), and Larry Cohen (who would later write & direct the theatrical sequel, A Return to Salem’s Lot, 1987) – were unable to break the 400+ page novel down, it was passed off to Warner Bros.’ television department. The longer runtime allowed Monash & Hooper to cover every aspect of the book, making a better movie and a more faithful adaptation. Despite Salem’s Lot’s popularity, the idea of ‘made-for-TV King’ took another ten years to catch on.

About half way through its epic runtime, I realized that I’ve never actually seen Salem’s Lot in its entirety – at least not in a single sitting. I was missing out, because it really is one of the better King adaptations. While beautifully fitting the tone of the author’s earlier work (minus the not-safe-for-television stuff), it covers the expansive quality of the novel without getting bogged down in subplots. I’d even go as far as to call it one of the best TV movies of the ‘70s (an epic decade for TV-movies) and, most surprising of all, one of Hooper’s best as a director. I previously discussed Hooper’s tumultuous post- Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) career (he was fired from three movies between 1977 and 1982), but neglected to mention the popularity of Salem’s Lot. It was almost certainly what got him the gig directing Poltergeist (1982) for Steven Spielberg. It’s not as dynamic or experimental as the director’s previous films, Chainsaw Massacre or Eaten Alive (1977), and it has a distinctive qualities of a made-for-TV movie, but Hooper keeps the camera moving and squeezes an awful lot of eerie production value from a TV budget and produces genuine shock quality within the confines of TV censorship. The cast is also great, including grounded drama from lead protagonists David Soul and Bonnie Bedelia, a surprisingly subtle performance from Fred Willard, and ever-so-slightly hammy turns from James Mason, Julie Cobb, Kenneth McMillan, Elisha Cook Jr., and Geoffrey Lewis. Fans of Tom Holland’s Fright Night (1985), Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys (1987), and Guillermo del Toro/Chuck Hogan’s The Strain (2014-present) will all recognize a number of elements ‘borrowed’ from King’s story and Hooper’s mini-series.

Salem’s Lot was first made available on home video in two-tape-long, 183-minute and 112-minute ‘digest’ versions. The shorter one cut away loads of story and character development (it was made for European theaters and featured slightly more ‘offensive’ shots). The shorter version was later forgotten when WB released a flipper DVD of the complete cut. The flipper’s 1.33:1 transfer was eventually recycled for dual-layer discs. This Blu-ray debut is also framed at 1.33:1, which is certainly Hooper and cinematographer Jules Brenner’s preferred aspect ratio. There is rarely an excess of space at the top or bottom of the frame and no signs of cropping on the left or right. This is a surprisingly good transfer, considering the film’s age and the fact that few TV movies are well-preserved. There’s a lot of grain on the print – some of which causes snowy issues during foggy sequences or blotches during darker ones (the biggest upticks accompany optical zoom shots), but it all appears accurate and rarely overwhelms the fine detail. Patterns and textures are tight and complex, while rarely exhibiting any form of edge enhancement. Gamma/contrast balance is very effective, pressing deep blacks without damaging softer gradations. The largely neutral, but eclectic colour palette is natural and consistent.

The original mono soundtrack is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The mix is underwhelming, utilizing minimal ambient sound (aside from a couple of particularly loud monster moments), but dialogue is clean (there are occasional inconsistencies in sound quality from shot to shot) and the music exhibits surprising depth. Harry Sukman’s compositions have the air of a television series score, but it’s not always a bad thing. In fact, the mournful major themes are quite effective.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with director Tobe Hooper – This is a typical showing from Hooper, who is always a well-prepared and smart behind-the-scenes storyteller. Unfortunately, the epic runtime gets the better of him and he runs out of steam pretty early on. The information is still good, there’s just more silence between factoids than usual.
  • International theatrical trailer

It’s too bad no one has ever included the alternate scenes used for the European theatrical cut, because I’d certainly like to see them without sitting through an otherwise inferior version of the movie.

 Stephen King Triple Feature

 Stephen King Triple Feature

 Stephen King Triple Feature

 Stephen King Triple Feature

 Stephen King Triple Feature


Stephen King Triple Feature

Cat’s Eye

(1985)
A wandering supernatural feline’s adventures provide the link between three stories. In the first, the staff at Quitter’s Inc. promise to help a nicotine fiend (James Woods) kick the habit. Next, a luckless gambler (Robert Hays) is forced into a bet involving a stroll around a building – on a five-inch ledge encircling the 30th floor. Lastly, the wayfarer kitty rescues a schoolgirl (Drew Barrymore) from a vile, doll-sized troll. (From WB’s official synopsis)

As a weaker horror anthology than George Romero’s Creepshow (1982) and a weaker Lewis Teague movie than Cujo (1983), Cat’s Eye has always felt like the ‘also-ran’ of the Stephen King film library. It certainly isn’t the worst Stephen King movie – it is arguably better than Fritz Kiersch’s Children of the Corn (1984) or Mark L. Lester’s Firestarter (1984) – both of which were released the year before, but still barely manage to eak out a single memorable moment. The cast is high-calibre, Teague’s direction is smart, and the production values are reasonably high, yet it feels like more made-for-television than the two actual TV movies in this review. It’s as if a particularly lavish few episodes of Amazing Stories were hastily tied together to cash-in on the author’s popularity. King’s three story script – two based on his own short stories (both published in the Night Shift collection) and one story written exclusive for the film – don’t lend themselves to a theatrical adaptation. Quitters, Inc. (which was readapted in 2007 as No Smoking by Indian director Anurag Kashyap) is the best of the bunch, because it aims to be funny and generally succeeds, and General, with its goofy special effects and isolated narrative, plays well to the anthology structure. The middle story, The Ledge is just filler and very easily forgotten. None of the stories really work in the context of a horror movie or feel related enough to be part of a shared anthology (even with the awkward, cat-starring framing device and multiple appearances by an adorable little Drew Barrymore).

In the end, I’m not even sure who this movie was made for, besides Stephen King fans that enjoy being mollified with Easter eggs and call-backs to other King film adaptations. The only ‘scary’ episode is made to appeal to children. While King’s fanbase certainly expects stories told from a child’s point-of-view, I can’t imagine anyone was particularly stoked by this undercooked movie.

Cat’s Eye has been released on anamorphic DVD in a number of countries and on Blu-ray in Italy via Pulp Video, before this 1080p, 2.35:1 disc was released stateside. Again, I’m pretty surprised by the image quality, probably because I only have memories of fuzzy TV broadcasts. The 2.35:1 framing alone is an incredible upgrade over sloppy pan & scan. Teague and all-star cinematographer Jack Cardiff really thought about the scope compositions and it is vital to the film’s nominal success that they’re maintained. The substantial increase in detail that the HD image allows is just the icing on the cake. Grain levels are accurate and consistent, despite a hint of smearing in some of the daylight shots. Textures and patterns are tidy and complex without signs of compression. Colour quality is relatively neutral by design, yet dynamic in terms of layering.

Cat’s Eye is presented in its original stereo sound and DTS-HD Master Audio. Being a theatrical release, it has a much more complex aural palette than the two TV movies on this page. Environmental ambience fills out the stereo spread without being particularly loud and doesn’t overlap with the well-maintained dialogue tracks. There are few stand-out moments, but also no notable dips in quality. Alan Silvestri’s busy synthesizer score is quite amusing, even though it seems to have been written for a completely different movie, and is richly blanketed over the liveliest sequences.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with director Lewis Teague – This commentary was recorded for the original WB DVD release. Teague discusses the film’s comedic tone, location filming, the cast & crew, working with King and producer Dino De Laurentiis on multiple pictures, treating the cats humanely while making it appear that they are in danger, and more. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a whole lot to say and leaves huge swaths of commentary space empty.
  • Trailer


 Stephen King Triple Feature

 Stephen King Triple Feature

 Stephen King Triple Feature

 Stephen King Triple Feature

 Stephen King Triple Feature


Stephen King Triple Feature

It

(1990)
October, 1957: the small town of Derry, Maine. Seven children face an unthinkable horror which appears in various forms, including Pennywise (Tim Curry) – a clown who lives, hunts, and kills from the town’s sewers. Years later, the surviving adults who are brave enough to return try to stop ‘Its’ new killing spree – this time for good. (From WB’s official synopsis)

Salem’s Lot may have set the precedent for the Stephen King mini-series, but Tommy Lee Wallace’s It set the standard. The two-night, star-studded series was a hit and was followed closely by the likes of Golden Years (1991), The Tommyknockers (1993), The Stand (1994), and The Langoliers (1995). 26 years later, It still stands apart from the rabble with a fervent fan-base and multiple, popular home video releases. Much of its enduring legacy is owed to Tim Curry’s indelible performance as the villain, Pennywise the Clown, who scared the bejesus out of now-adult children who happened to see the series on primetime television. Revisiting It all these years later, I’m surprised how little screentime Curry actually has – his presence is just that strong. Outside of Curry, however, the mini-series hasn’t aged very well at all. The kid-driven sequences benefit from the ‘child logic’ of Pennywise’s frightening assaults (well, frightening when I was a kid, at least – they surely aren’t anymore). Wallace’s ambitious (for TV) and energetic direction works in the confines of this type of fantasy (as it had for his feature debut, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, 1982), but, in the context of the adult world, the stagey melodrama and overwrought characterizations are laughable at first, then boring as the movie drags on into its second half. The kid actors are also a lot more compelling than their grownup counterparts, despite the super high-calibre adult cast.

It was one of many Stephen King adaptations that George Romero was attached to direct, along with Pet Semetery and The Stand. Romero worked with screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen (not to be confused with Larry Cohen) during pre-production, though their original script was pared down from six hours to about three. Romero obviously didn’t get to finish the project (apparently, the production overlapped with his work on Tom Savini’s 1990 Night of the Living Dead remake), but the mini-series’ creative adaptation of King’s unfilmable book is likely due to Romero’s influence. The basic story is still too internalized and tied to King’s worst instincts (obsessive nostalgia and armchair psychology) to work here (again, especially considering the stricter standards of the era’s TV censorship), but Wallace and Cohen fill the time and balance the past/present elements well. And they decided to cut the underage child orgy chapter of the original book, so that’s nice.

As far as I know, It was only ever released on flipper DVD from WB. Like Salem’s Lot, it was originally aired at the tube television-friendly aspect ratio of 1.33:1, but, unlike Hooper’s film, it was cropped to 1.85:1 for DVD. I understand this created controversy among fans and that controversy appears to have convinced WB to release the Blu-ray version in 1.33:1. I think that it’s obvious that Wallace and cinematographer Richard Leiterman were conscious of widescreen framing when they shot the movie (just employ your set’s zoom function for proof) and that the option for both the 4x3 and 16x9 transfers would’ve been ideal. That said, this is another fabulous transfer, possibly even the best of the three. Details are extremely sharp and patterns are complex without any notable artefacts. Grain levels appear pretty accurate, based on the film’s age, though inconsistent. Black levels may have been pushed a bit further than their ‘natural’ levels, which does create some crush (specifically during outdoor sunlit scenes) and may be the reason the grain cakes-up a bit during some of the darker sequences. The second half of the mini-series also has some hot spot issues. The colour timing leans a little more orange & blue than I recall, but I haven’t seen the movie in nearly 20 years and important stuff – like skin tones, lush greens, and poppy early ‘90s fashions – look fine.

It is presented in its original 2.0 stereo sound and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. It’s sound design is perhaps even more minimalistic than Salem’s Lot’s, despite having been released so much later. Dialogue and incidental effects are more consistent, but there’s not a lot going on in terms of directional enhancement, aside from the supernaturally-driven sequences, which are relatively impressive for ‘90s television. Richard Bellis’ faux-symphonic keyboard score is nicely mixed with a decent stereo spread and bass support (despite the lack of a discrete LFE). It’s too bad it’s not very good.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with director Tommy Lee Wallace and actors Dennis Christopher, Tim Reid, John Ritter, and Richard Thomas – As the presence of the late Ritter indicates, this track was recorded before the actor’s death and accompanied most DVD versions of the film. Like Hooper’s solo track, this one runs out of steam over the super-long runtime, but Wallace and the cast do an admirable job filling as much time as they can muster with memories from the making of the mini-series. Ritter is actually a very valuable commentator, because he was a huge fan of King’s work and knows more about the subject than even Wallace.

Note that this is the same slightly shorter 187-minute cut that appeared on the various DVD releases. The complete broadcast version was 192 minutes. It appears that credits, titles, and a single scene account for the missing footage.

 Stephen King Triple Feature

 Stephen King Triple Feature

 Stephen King Triple Feature

 Stephen King Triple Feature

 Stephen King Triple Feature

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


Links: