Salem’s Lot ( 1975 ) by Stephen King

Salem’s Lot (1975) is a Vampire novel by best-selling horror author Stephen King. ’Salem’s Lot was King’s second novel, following Carrie (1974), and is considered to be one of his best, and one of the best vampire novels overall.

The vampire, Kurt Barlow, is patterned after Count Dracula. The idea for the novel came in a conversation King had about what would happen if Dracula found his way to contemporary America. King has described the creative process as like a game of racquetball: ’Salem’s Lot was the ball and Dracula was the wall.

The ball existed in the 20th century, but the wall was a product of the 19th century. He decided that the sexual undercurrent so powerful in Bram Stoker’s Victorian novel might have “run out of gas” by present times. The monster Barlow evokes fear and terror: He is evil through and through. Like Dracula, he has a fearsome presence, with RED lurid eyes that are “like the furnace doors to hell.”

His consumption of blood revivifies him and makes him appear younger. And, like Dracula, his appearances are few, adding to the aura of mystery and terror that surrounds him. In the story, Barlow, a foreigner, purchases the dilapidated Marsten House in Jerusalem’s Lot, a small town in Maine, from Larry Crockett, a shady real estate agent who cannot resist the millions Barlow offers him.

The town is anything but the idyllic stereotype of small-town America: It is not safe, secure, or tranquil. It seethes with secrets, alienation, and disaffection below its superficial surface. Even before the arrival of the vampires, it has been dying spiritually. The arrival of Barlow speeds up the town’s death momentum. He quietly moves in and starts turning citizens into vampires, creating an army of the Undead.

Slowly the vampires begin to take over the town, and fear reigns after dusk as packs of vampires roam about. Barlow has a Renfield-like assistant, R. T. Straker, who is more of a consciously evil person rather than a malleable lunatic. King hints that Straker may be supernatural, but ultimately he dies a human death.

Straker commands truckers, who are the modern-day GYPSIES who serve the Master Vampire. He is far more capable and cunning than Renfield. Dracula preys upon young women, but Barlow preys upon everyone. His chief victims are children.

Civil authorities are useless, and so a group of citizens band together as the Vampire HUNTERS:

• Ben Mears, a 30-year-old writer who has come back to the town to face old childhood nightmares

• Matt Burke, Ben’s old high school teacher of literature, who is knowledgeable about folklore, and who is the first to openly question what is happening in the town

• Mark Petrie, a boy of 11 who is knowledgeable about vampires in popular culture

• Jimmy Cody, a doctor who is called to examine the bodies of some of the victims

• Father Callahan, a flawed priest.

Initially, a young woman named Susan Norton, a romantic interest of Ben’s, is part of the group, but she falls prey to Barlow and becomes a vampire herself. Ben combines characteristics of Stoker’s characters Jonathan Harker and Arthur Holmwood. He is reminiscent of Dr. John Seward. Cody refers to Matt as “Van Helsing,” likening him to Professor Abraham van Helsing, the chief vampire hunter of Dracula, but Van Helsing really is dispersed among the three men, Mark, Matt, and Ben.

Matt withdraws from the actual killing, leaving that task to Ben and Mark. The vampire hunters turn to Dracula to learn what they must do to fight the vampires. They get holy WATER from a local Catholic church; they make STAKES out of firewood; and they make crosses from tongue depressors. In addition to battling the evil without, they must confront their own inner Demons, and learn the importance of faith and ritual.

Ben and Mark are forced to overcome their fears and confront the wily and elusive “Master Vampire” in his lair. Ben must save the soul of Susan by driving a stake through her heart. Mark succumbs to Barlow’s evil gaze when his coffin is opened. Ben stakes Barlow, who dies dramatically in his coffin with his skin disappearing and his fleshless skull thrashing about on his satin pillow.

But unlike the tidy ending of Dracula, in which all the monsters—Dracula and his three vampire brides—are destroyed, and Jonathan, Mina, and their son live in peace and security, ’Salem’s Lot ends on a note of uncertainty. Barlow the Master Vampire has been destroyed, but his vampire creations live on.

The terror is not over. Ben and Mark become like father and son. For a year after their ordeal, they wander about the country, psychologically scarred, and eventually go to Mexico. But they cannot forget that back in Jerusalem’s Lot, vampires without a master are still roaming about. They go back and light a fire of purification that will destroy the town and the vampires. The implication is that a new and better town will rise up like a phoenix from the ASHES.

’Salem’s Lot was adapted into a two-part miniseries for television in 1979, directed by Toby Hooper. It starred David Soul as Ben Mears, James Mason as Richard Straker in a role more prominent than the Straker character in the novel, Lance Kerwin as Mark Petrie, Bonnie Bedelia as Susan Norton, and Reggie Nalder as Mr. Barlow.

Nalder’s appearance departs from King’s description of the vampire, evoking Max Schreck in his Nosferatu role with his bald head, pale skin, and protruding RATlike fangs. He does not speak; rather, his words are conveyed to others by Straker. A Return to Salem’s Lot was released as a film in 1987.

Directed by Larry Cohen, it features different characters and stars Michael Moriarty and Samuel Fuller. A new television adaptation aired in 2004, starring Rob Lowe as Ben Mears, Donald Sutherland as Richard Straker, and Rutger Hauer as Mr. Barlow.

Further Reading:

King, Stephen. ’Salem’s Lot. New York: Doubleday, 1975. ———. Danse Macabre. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1983. Miller, Elizabeth. Reflections on Dracula: Ten Essays. White Rock, B.C.: Transylvania Press, 1997. Silver, Alain, and James Ursini. The Vampire Film: From Nosferatu to Interview with the Vampire. 3d ed. New York: Limelight Editions, 1997. Waller, Gregory A. The Living and the Undead. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.
[author image=”” ]Rosemary Guiley works full-time in the paranormal and metaphysical fields. She has written more than 50 books, including single-volume encyclopedias, on a variety of topics, A-Z, angels to zombies and everything in between. Source Amazon.[/author]
Taken from : The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters

Edited for the Web by Occult World


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