A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

return to salems lot

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Town full of vampires

Joe Webber (Michael Moriarty) is a documentary filmmaker who is always looking to tackle the next shocking topic if it will help advance him and his film career. While vacationing in a small New England town of Jerusalem’s Lot with his teenage son Jeremy (Ricky Addison Reed) he becomes aware that the entire town is made up of a population of vampires led by elderly Judge Axel (Andrew Duggan). They are aware of Joe’s film career and give him an offer to film a documentary on them so as to give future generations a better understanding of the vampire lifestyle. Initially Joe is intrigued with the idea, but when he finds out that they want to turn his son into one of them he refuses and spends the rest of the time trying to escape and with the help of elderly but tenacious vampire hunter Van Meer (Samuel Fuller) save his son.

This flick is complete disaster from the beginning. It opens with Joe filming a documentary on a jungle cannibal tribe that looks like a real tacky rip-off of Cannibal Holocaust. The gore and special effects are abysmal and the story and characters have nothing to do with the Stephan King novel to which it is based nor the 1979 TV-Movie. Had the plot gone more with Joe filming a documentary on the populace it might have been interesting in an offbeat way, but the script brings up the idea and then never follows through with it.  There are shades of dry humor here and there and had it been more consistent with it the film could have been viewed and possibly enjoyed as a parody, but as it is it is nothing more than cheap straight-to-video fare.

The characters are poorly defined and at times even contradictory. Joe starts out as this callus man who puts his directing career first and has no concern for his son and hasn’t seen him for years, or even mentioned him to his friends. Then suddenly they get to this town and he will stop at nothing to save him. The son also does not like the father when he first sees him and yet magically and quickly bonds with him the minute they get to town. He is also described to be deeply troubled psychologically, but shows no sign of it during the course of the movie.

There is also the issue of Van Meer shooting Judge Axel in the head twice with a gun, but even as bullet holes spew out blood from his forehead he still goes on walking and talking like nothing happened. Supposedly this is to signify that the only way to kill a vampire is to stick a wooden stake through their heart and if you try to kill them any other way it won’t work, but this still doesn’t make sense. For instance if you break a vampires kneecap wouldn’t that effect the way they walk? If so then the same logic should hold true if you put two bullet holes into their brain. It would more than likely turn them into a complete vegetable a vegetable that may go on living forever until you drive a wooden stake through its heart, but a vegetable nonetheless.

Moriarty gives another great performance that completely exceeds the quality of the material. This one is even more impressive because he actually plays a normal person here and does so effectively, which is interesting given the nature of his sometimes offbeat behavior off-camera. The person though that really steals it is famed film director Fuller as the elderly vampire hunter. The guy shows an amazing amount of charisma and energy and plays up the character to an amazingly amusing degree and helps save what is otherwise a disaster.

Veteran actresses June Havoc and Evelyn Keyes appear as two of the elderly women vampires. Keyes really plays-it-up and the way she sucks the blood from one of the victims off her fingers looks down right erotic. The scene where Havoc, Keyes and writer/director Larry Cohen’s then real-life wife Janelle Webb chew on the dead body of Cohen’s real-life daughter Jill Gatsby gets a few points for audaciousness. This is also a great chance to see Tara Reid in her film debut as one of the vampire children.

The final thirty minutes is an improvement namely because of Fuller’s presence, but it does nothing to hide the film’s many other flaws, which is a perfect example of bad 80’s horror.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 18, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

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