New Line is partnering with The Conjuring people to develop a Salem’s Lot movie. I have some thoughts.
“What would happen if Dracula came back in the twentieth century to America?”
That’s what Stephen King stream-of-consciously asked his wife over the dinner table one night. Her rather pragmatic – and kind of hilarious – response seemed to close the discussion: “He’d probably be run over by a Yellow Cab on Park Avenue and killed.”
Still, in the ensuing days King amended the question to be more specific: What if the legendary Count Dracula suddenly showed up in a sleepy little country town? The locals would be picked off one by one, and everyone who disappeared would eventually return with fangs.
This idea formed the basis for Salem’s Lot, which eventually became the author’s second novel as well as the first TV mini-series adapted from his work. (It was later adapted into a 2004 mini-series for TNT.) Those who saw the 1979 version at just the right age remember it fondly.
Like, for example, The Conjuring Universe director/writer/producers James Wan and Gary Dauberman. According to THR, Wan and Dauberman are now prepping a new movie version of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot for New Line, with Wan set to executive produce and Dauberman to write and produce. New Line is still looking for a director.
It’s a rather logical project for all involved. Wan and Dauberman have collaborated for the past half-decade are both currently serving as producer’s on DC’s forthcoming Swamp Thing series. New Line, meanwhile, is always up for a new Stephen King adaptation after It broke all the records you could imagine and then even some more after that. No coincidence: Dauberman wrote It and It: Chapter 2, one of the most anticipated films of 2019. So, he’s in the in-house horror/Stephen King guy right now.
The timing of this is a bit peculiar for me because it’s only been two weeks since I watched and wrote about the 1979 Salem’s Lot mini-series for the site. I still haven’t fully shaken the image of little vampire Ralphie floating outside that damn window.
So, naturally you might think I have some pressing thoughts on this news of a potential new Salem’s Lot coming in our near future. I do, and here they are:
I hope this happens.
To be more specific, this feels like a potentially successful repeat of the formula which supercharged It into such a compelling behemoth of a movie. There’s an old Stephen King book and mini-series which has a nostalgic hold over a lot of viewers. However, it hasn’t actually aged all that well, let down by the various, mostly budgetary constraints of its era. Thus, we have the “I loved it as a kid, but they could make a better version of it now” factor. (Not that this seemed to greatly benefit the 2004 Salem’s Lot reboot.)
From a box office standpoint, the crucial difference is age. It followed a 1990 mini-series which meant many hyped for the new movie version in 2017 were old enough to have kids of their own who might also be interested despite the R-Rating. Salem’s Lot’s nostalgic appeal extends further back and might not play out in the same way.
Then there’s simply the nitty gritty of how exactly you go about adapting this thing. For example, the It movie honored the spirit of King’s book and the mini-series but updated it for today. So, rather than have the first part of the story take place in the late ‘50s it happened in the late ‘80s instead thus allowing the second half of the story to happen closer to present day.
Salem’s Lot, however, was set in contemporary times to when King wrote it and served as a commentary on post-Nixon America. Such commentary was largely absent from Tobe Hooper’s mini-series. Do you put it back in for the movie? If so, do you stick with the 1970s setting or do you update it for today, in which case it would have to be about Trump, not Nixon?
Given Dauberman’s propensity for setting horror films in the past (Wolves at the Door, Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation, The Nun), I’d guess his natural instinct would be to keep the Salem’s Lot story in the 70s or maybe move it into the 80s where it could slyly comment on Reaganism.
Sample logline: It’s morning in America again, but one little town in Maine is stuck in a never-ending night.
In truth, I don’t expect Dauberman to inject any real social commentary into the piece. That hasn’t exactly been his style to this point. I imagine he’ll spend far more time simply debating whether to stick with the suave, European version of Kurt Barlow from the novel or the feral, Nosferatu-inspired version from the mini-series. Given how much of It’s publicity centered around its monstrous Pennywise, I’d imagine Dauberman will opt for a more monstrous Barlow.
Either way, he’ll likely find more success than the producers who attempted to turn Tobe Hooper’s mini-series into a two-hour, theatrically-released cut called Salem’s Lot: The Movie and simply came up with a rather confusing version of the story.
While we wait, another member of the King family already has his version of a vampire story in the works. NOS4A2, the third book from Joe Hill, King’s oldest son, will soon be an AMC TV series. If Salem’s Lot is Stephen King attempt to update the classic Bram Stoker Dracula for 1970s America, NOS4A2 is Hill similarly looking to update the vampire myth for today but in a far more aggressive way, presenting a villain who, as USA Today put it, “drains unhappiness from children like vampires suck blood.”
Here’s the trailer:
The show is due to premiere on June 2nd.
All of this has me wondering: is horror due for a vampire revival? Since the turn of the new century, the genre has cycled through torture porn, slasher remakes, found footage flicks, and haunted house movies. Lately, Jordan Peele’s “social thriller” and A24’s art-house flicks have made their presence known, and thanks to It and Pet Sematary we won’t soon see the end of Stephen King adaptations. On the small screen and in video games, zombies continue to populate the land, with AMC now prepping a third Walking Dead spin-off and Netflix viewers still raving about Black Summer.
The vampire film, however, hasn’t really been a thing since Twilight: Breaking Dawn-Part 2 in 2012. We’re several years removed from the days of vampire shows like True Blood, Vampire Diaries, The Originals, and The Strain, and while I hear good things about The Passage on Fox – a show I have to admit I had no idea involved vampires – I also hear it’s unlikely to come back for a second season. The CW, meanwhile, does still have a Lost Boys update in development.
Whether we’re due for a comeback usually depends on if society needs to revisit the old metaphors again. Does the vampire and all of its inherent commentary on sexuality make sense for us again? Or can you find new uses and allegories, like Ana Lily Amirpour did with A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night or True Blood did by reframing a classical coming out narrative around vampires?
Right now, for a variety of reasons, zombies are in. So are witches See: Charmed, Light as a Feather, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. And I don’t know that any single subgenre is truly dominating the film side of things the way slashers ruled the 80s. Maybe we’re still too close to Twilight and other recent vampire stories for a full revival, and maybe the ever-changing landscape of film and television is such that no one type of horror movie or TV show is ever again going to absolutely dominate. However, Salem’s Lot and NOS4A2 are sure going to their best to bring vampires back.
Which are you most excited about – Salem’s Lot or NOS4A2? And do you long for more vampire movies or shows? Have we have had enough of those for a good long while? Most importantly, what version of Kurt Barlow do you hope to see in the new movie – Nosferatu-style creature or suave and sexy? Let me know in the comments.