The Stephen King miniseries/TV movie has become something of a long-standing tradition over the last four decades. While many of his classic horror novels have been given the cinematic treatment, some proved far too long for the silver screen, and instead were brought to life on the small screen, where they could be broken up into parts.
This entire tradition began back in 1979 with the adaptation of King’s second novel “Salem’s Lot”. And now, 40 years later, it’s still fondly remembered and considered by many to be a horror classic. So in honor of its 40th anniversary, we thought it would be fun to take a look at 40 fun facts about Salem’s Lot!
1. As mentioned earlier, “Salem’s Lot” was King’s second novel (following “Carrie”) and it helped to establish many of the tropes he would later be known for. These include the main character being a writer, another prominent character being a teacher, and a small town with a dark secret.
2. Stephen King originally got the idea for “Salem’s Lot” while teaching “Dracula” to a high school English class. He wondered what it would be like if a vampire emerged in modern (well 1970’s) New England rather than 1800’s London. And thus, the genesis of this classic story was born!
3. Studios were interested in adapting the novel pretty much as soon as it was published. And for four years (1975-1979), the project languished in development hell.
4. By the time it started preproduction, two other vampire films were already crowding the market in 1979 (Nosferatu: The Vampire and the Frank Langella Dracula film). Because of this, it was decided that Salem’s Lot would do better as a TV miniseries.
5.Its budget was $4 million ($14.2 million in today’s money), which was unusually high for a TV movie at the time. In fact, it cost over twice as much as Carrie ($1.8 million), which was released theatrically!
6. Despite its Maine setting, Salem’s Lot was shot entirely in southern California, which really wasn’t unusual for the time. Though nowadays, it probably would have been filmed in Vancouver, or Louisiana, as these seem to be the cheapest places to film. The 2004 TV movie remake was randomly shot in Australia!
7. Much of the filming took place in Ferndale, California. If it looks at all familiar, other films such as Outbreak, Joe Dirt, and The Majestic were also filmed there!
8. Ferndale is the also the hometown of celebrity chef Guy Fieri. Which raises some very interesting questions about him being a chef and coming from a town known for vampires!
9. While Ferndale had a lot of great locations, the production team struggled to find a building suitable for the Marsten House. So they needed to build a façade from scratch and attach it to the front of an existing house. So the exterior itself was a very large, very expensive prop.
10. When it was still going to be a theatrical film, director George A. Romero was attached to direct. However, upon the switch to TV, he left the project, fearing that he wouldn’t be able to work as freely within the language/violence restrictions that Television had.
11. After Romero left, Tobe Hooper’s massive cult success with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre got him on the producers’ radar. Producer Richard Kobritz even said that after watching that film, he knew he had found their director.
12. Early on the in the project, famed Exorcist director William Friedkin was attached as a producer (and allegedly considered to direct as well). He was one of the ones who suggested Tobe Hooper.
13. Unlike George A. Romero, Tobe Hooper saw the TV limitations as a beneficial challenge. He knew that he would have to get more creative and rely on dread and suspense rather than overt blood and gore to scare the audience.
14. When casting, James Mason lobbied hard for the part of Straker, as he had always wanted to play a villain. However, he sort of did so already in Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita back in 1962. He can also be seen popping up for a set visit on The Shining in Vivienne Kubrick’s documentary, The Making of the Shining.
15. As James Mason was cast as Straker, his real life wife Marissa Klaye was cast in the role of Marjorie.
16. Straker and Barlow’s antique shop is actually the headquarters of a newspaper called The Ferndale Enterprise, which is still in circulation today.
17. Fans of the Die Hard series will recognize Susan (Bonnie Bedelia) as Holly McClane. Dealing with Hans Gruber must not have seemed that scary after facing off against vampires!
18. In a major departure from the novel, it was decided for the vampire Barlow to be less eloquent/sophisticated, and more monstrous and animalistic. His look was heavily inspired by Max Schreck in Nosferatu.
19. One scene in particular that’s garnered a lot of controversy is when Barlow breaks into Mark’s house, killing both his parents. Many said it violated the “rule” that vampires needed to be invited inside, which even the other vampires in the film are subject to. Ultimately, Stephen King explained (as the scene plays out very much the same in the novel) that because Barlow is the head vampire, he’s far more powerful than the rest, and thus he can enter anywhere he pleased, invitation or not.
20. The lead role was of course played by David Soul (of Starsky & Hutch fame). But this wasn’t his first time dealing with vampires, as an episode of that series featured a serial killer who believed he was one, and even drank the blood of his victims.
21. Originally, the script was supposed be written by none other than Robert Bloch, the novelist who first wrote “Psycho”. And in weird way, this would have been very fitting, considering that the Marsten House gives off some very similar eerie vibes to the Bates Motel from Psycho.
22. After Bloch’s departure, a script was written by Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, Phone Booth, Captivity), but producer Robert Kobritz hated it, even calling it “lousy”. We’ll never know just what was wrong with that script, but most fans would at least be curious to find out how it went.
23. One of the biggest challenges to filming was Barlow’s vampire makeup. Actor Reggie Nalder later said that it kept cracking, and much to everyone’s dismay, would slow down filming as it had to reapplied in between each take.
24. Nancy McKeon (of Facts of Life fame) appeared as an uncredited extra during the school play rehearsal scene.
25. Despite this issue however, it was good enough to get Salem’s Lot nominated for an Emmy for Best Makeup. But sadly it lost to The Scarlett O’Hara War.
26. While Ben’s former teacher Mr. Burke helps him with this vampire threat, it wasn’t actor Lew Ayres’ first time dealing with something demonic. He had previously appeared in Damien: The Omen II a mere one year earlier!
27. The cinematographer, Jules Brenner also worked on another famous horror film, Return of the Living Dead.
28. Reggie Nelson had also worked on other vampire films like Dracula’s Dog, and even the X-rated porn parody Dracula Sucks!
29. The iconic floating window scene was actually not pulled off with stunt wires. Instead they used a boom crane, and had the young actor standing on it. To this day, it remains one of the best-remembered aspects of Salem’s Lot.
30. Father Callahan may only have a small role in this film adaptation, but does much more in the book, and even plays in important role in the “Dark Tower” series.
31. Despite George A. Romero fearing that the TV restrictions were too much, extra gory scenes were added for the European theatrical release. It was also edited down to 90 minutes, which many fans didn’t like as it completely butchered the narrative and made everything feel quite rushed.
32. The iconic creepy eyed look that the vampires sported was achieved with contact lenses, designed by Morton Greenspoon (who sadly passed away in 2018). He really made his mark on the horror genre by making contact lenses for other horror films like The Howling, The Lost Boys, Fright Night 2, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Underworld. His father even owned a vision-care company, which is what got him his start!
33. For its release in Spain, it was titled Phantasma II, despite not being a sequel, or having anything to do with Phantasm, which came out that same year.
34. In 1987 the sequel, Return to Salem’s Lot was released in theaters. It was quite unusual for a TV movie to get a sequel in theaters (usually it’s the other way around). But this “sequel” had essentially nothing to do with the original film, except for vampire subject matter.
35. Return to Salem’s Lot was also Tara Reid’s movie debut, so there’s that.
36. Salem’s Lot really struck a chord with audiences and helped inspire a new wave of “modern” vampire films that got away from the old European setting. Some of these included The Lost Boys, Fright Night, Near Dark and The Brood.
37. It’s also been heavily parodied, most famously in the South Park episode “The Ungroundable” as Butters is floating outside Cartman’s window.
38. Despite its massive fame and fan acclaim, some have criticized it for being a bit too slow. Horror reviewer/comedian Joe Bob Briggs even confessed during Monstervision that he loved the concept, but always found the film (at least the first half) much to slow and a bit boring. He was of course quite defensive when stating this, as even he knew how beloved Salem’s Lot is.
39. Salem’s Lot has lived on in such pop culture fame that it even inspired Swedish band Ghosts’ first album cover, Opus Eponymous!
40. In 2019, New Line Cinema announced that it will produce another adaptation of “Salem’s Lot”. Screenwriter Gary Dauberman (It, Annabelle Comes Home, The Nun) will write the script and James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring) will produce!
Which of these surprised you? Which ones did you already know? Let us know in the comments below. And for more reviews, rankings, and fun horror content, follow Halloween Year-Round on Facebook and Twitter!