Sometimes dead is better.
“The following is a contributor post by the Midnight Mystic Mage.”
I will be reviewing the novel ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King in this post. ‘Salem’s Lot is short for Jerusalem’s Lot in case the initial apostrophe was throwing anybody off or had you wondering. I actually was able to read the book and watch the first movie as well and I really enjoyed both of them. The book has been mentioned by King on more than one occasion as his favorite story that he has written, and it is with good reason that he would say that. King does a wonderful job portraying a small town setting and really making the character’s relatable. You cannot help but get sucked into the story and feel close to many of the people within the town. My personal favorite character was the teacher Matt Burke, who was bursting with personality and brought some comic relief to a setting that at times was very bleak and in need of just that.
The main character, however, is named Ben Mears. He is an author who is returning to his childhood home to write about a certain house that gave him quite the scare in his younger years. That house was called the Marsten House, named after the infamous Hubie Marsten who was a hitman and was suspected in the cases of many children who went missing while he was living there. Mears went into the house as a child and found Hubie Marsten hanging by a noose within. The trauma of the situation, as well as the sense of wonder for the terror that the house seemed to wreak on the town, are what brought Ben back to ‘Salem’s Lot to write a novel about the place.
As it so often happens, our protagonist becomes enamored with a young woman. Ben is relaxing in the park when he sees Susan reading a book of his and begins to strike up a conversation. One thing leads to another and the two become very infatuated with each other. Susan even leaves what seems to be a fleeting love interest for Ben. This actually leads to quite a bit of tension between Ben and said love interest later in the story, landing him right in a hospital bed which of course does the jealous ex-lover no favors.
Mears was actually looking into renting out the old Marsten House to stay in while he did some of his writing. He also came across the information that it had been purchased and occupied by a man named Kurt Barlow and his business partner Richard Straker. They own a rather expensive antique business in the town and Barlow proves to be very elusive; none of the townspeople get to meet him because he is gone on an extended “buying trip” abroad.
If I have you interested at this point, then I would pause on the review and come back to it after you get the time to read the book or see the movie for yourself. I had a friend spoil what exactly was going on in ‘Salem’s Lot for me before I got to it and I would like to avoid doing the same for any of you that plan to read the story. Here will be a good stopping point before I get to spoilers, so if that applies to you then thank you for reading and I hope you come on back to share your thoughts on the story when you finish it and to see what I had to say about it.
Some of the people in town begin to recognize parallels between the terror that was brought upon the town in the days of Hubie Marsten and the present day havoc that seemed to coincide with Kurt Barlow and Richard Straker moving into the old Marsten House. The local children are going missing and people all around are becoming very sick and exhibiting strange symptoms. They are sleeping throughout the entire day and appearing very pale and death-like in the night, their strength is being sapped away from them when they make contact with sunlight, and I am sure you are catching onto what it is plaguing the town by now.
You guessed it, Kurt Barlow is a vampire who has lived for an incredibly long time and is creating an army of his own kind with the people in ‘Salem’s Lot. This is the reason that nobody in the town had been able to catch a glimpse of him, and if Stephen King imagined him to look as he did in the movie, they all would have run for the hills at the first sight of him. Richard Straker is a human counterpart to Barlow, able to smooth things over in the community to some extent until it is all but too late for the doomed town.
Hubie Marsten appears to have been a human who was allied with Barlow, much like a Richard Straker of his own time. We are able to work this out in hindsight after realizing what it is that is going on in the town and after hearing a few comments made by Barlow that would elude to this fact. It is left a bit foggy as to why he met such a terrible end. He did not just take his own life by hanging, but he also murdered his own wife before doing so.
When a few people such as Matt Burke, Ben Mears, and his girlfriend Susan Norton begin to catch on to what is really going on, they begin to question their very sanity to believe that such a thing could be possible. It really makes you consider if these things were going on in your own hometown, would you be able to get over the impossibility of it all before it was too late? Would you wait around telling yourself that it just could not be and end up being taken out by one of the sneaky creatures of the night? I really felt King did a masterful job making you imagine how it would feel in a real-life setting to struggle with these types of questions.
Susan really struggles with this herself and is tired of waiting for the men who are being strategic and planning how to go about the attack on Barlow. She decides to charge headfirst to the house and find out once and for all if this is the real thing or if it is all just a bunch of baloney as she suspects. She finds out the hard way that what is going on in ‘Salem’s Lot is all too real, and is turned into a vampire by the evil vampire lord. Sadly there will be no damsel in distress to be saved in this story; Mears has to put down the woman he loves with a stake to save her from endless suffering as a monster. I audibly called out in disagreement at this point in the story startling my wife, “you can’t do this to us, Stephen King!” How can you just play with our emotions like that, he is the true monster!
There is a striking scene when the priest, Father Callahan, comes face to face with Barlow. The vampire challenges him to throw down his cross and battle him with his faith alone. The priest feigns that he will do this in order for Mark to escape, but when the time comes he grips his cross tightly too afraid to dare toss it to the side. In doing this there is a transfer of power over to Barlow who is able to toss aside the usual strength of the cross due to the lack of faith behind the man holding it. A very interesting take on a vampire showdown.
It is not an entirely unhappy ending aside from Ben losing the woman he loves along with many others along the way. Evil is vanquished at least at the very head of it in the form of Kurt Barlow and Richard Straker. The town is still left in shambles and dealing with the newfound vampire curse, but Ben Mears and Mark Petrie follow through and carry out the job that must be done in order for peace to one day be restored. It was the type of ending that does not leave one entirely joyful and full of glee, but it does leave you very satisfied and in awe of what you have just read. It may not leave all of the characters that you love unscathed and living happily ever after, but is that what would happen with something like this truly plaguing a small town? I think that it would not and I believe that in so many ways King was able to bring something so entirely false and fictitious into a lens of what it could be like in real life and in the present day.
The 8-Bit Review
The scary part of the story is how the characters really get you to consider: what if this was you and your hometown? You can see them going through the changes as they doubt the things they see but can come to no better conclusion as to what might be happening. Watching them lose their grip on reality and believing they might be losing their sanity along with it is quite an eerie thing to see unfold.
King is always a pleasure to read and I felt that he did top notch work as always with this one. There were some situations that felt a bit awkward such as the exchange between Ben Mears and his would have been father-in-law, but overall the story was so enticing and at the same time very comforting with a tinge of terror always around the corner. He strings you along all the way to the bloody end, with false hopes and terrifying twists around each bend.
I have to put this up there with Stephen King’s best works, which is undoubtedly saying quite a bit. His list of classics goes on and on, but I feel that this one is a real gem that maybe many people do not keep at the forefront when mentioning his literary accomplishments. I myself had never even heard of it before reading it and to be honest don’t know how I ended up with the book. I am very glad that I stumbled upon it in my bookshelf though and I wholeheartedly recommend it to any fans of a good frightening tale.
There is a great sense of community that comes through when the town begins to catch onto what is happening amongst their own. There is the courage that it takes for each of the characters to push through and do whatever is within their power to save the town from destruction even while some who should be right on the frontlines such as the sheriff let their cowardice show through. There were some important morals to take away from the story but these two of courage and community are the ones that I believe are of the greatest importance.
There is conflict all throughout the story, whether it is between love interests, family troubles, the distrust of Ben Mears because he arrives at the same time as Barlow and Straker, and of course the actual main conflict with the vampires themselves. There really is so much going on within the story and it is a joy to follow from cover to cover.
Page Turner: 10/10
This was a gripping tale, I found myself bringing the book with me to every room and reading at times that I usually would not just so that I could find out what was going to happen next. During commercial breaks, in the car, beside the pool, any spare time I had was going straight to the book and I was more hooked than I have been in quite some time. The realism made the psychological aspect of the book so interesting and King did a wonderful job of painting the picture with a small town atmosphere that really drags you in and makes you want to stay a while.
King wondered what it might be like if Dracula came to New York. That did not quite suit him so he took that in another direction and wondered what it might be like if Dracula went to a small town in the present day. This wondering is the reason that we now have ‘Salem’s Lot and I have to be grateful that he took the time to ponder upon this and unfold a story that was told with such style and grace.
My Personal Score: 9/10
I truly loved this book and hope that I can hear from some of you who have enjoyed it yourselves. The movie was also actually incredibly scary, especially for the time that it was released. Perhaps I will be able to get around to reviewing it soon but I will definitely recommend both the first movie and the novel to all of you, they are incredibly entertaining and might be off of some of your radars as they were with mine. There was a second movie titled A Return to ‘Salem’s Lot that didn’t do as well critically, but I would still like to check it out when I have the time.
So that is about all that I have for this one, please let me know your thoughts on the book, the movies, or what I had to say down below.
Aggregated Score: 8.9
Did you enjoy this post? Consider becoming a Warrior of Light and join us in restoring integrity and quality to games writing. We specialize in long-form, analytical reviews and we aim to expand into a community of authors with paid contributors, a fairer and happier alternative to mainstream games writing! See our Patreon page for more info!