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Remake not a 'Lot' better

Rob Lowe as a vampire slayer.
Rob Lowe as a vampire slayer.
Erik Heinila/TNT

"Salem's Lot" was a really scary 1979 miniseries based on a really scary Stephen King novel. So . . . why remake it?

"What would happen to 'Hamlet' if it were only done the first time in the Globe Theatre?" said executive producer Mark Wolper. "The great ability we have in theater, in television and films is we can reinterpret the material. . . . Hopefully people will do it better, maybe sometimes worse."

This is definitely one of those "sometimes." The new, two-part movie (which airs Sunday and Monday at 6, 8 and 10 p.m. on TNT) is definitely worse than the original.

It's just not particularly scary. Which is a problem for what's supposed to be a horror film.

The set-up for this "Salem's Lot" is essentially the same as the book and the 1979 TV version. Ben Mears (Rob Lowe), a writer with a troubled past, returns to his small hometown, where something evil lurks. A vampire is moving to town, and he's about to convert the population.

But what should be creepy is pretty tedious. Part 1, in particular, just drags.

Wolper and Lowe both maintain that one of the reasons to remake "Salem's Lot" is that they have better technology today. And, indeed, the 1979 version looks dated because of its primitive (by today's standards) special effects. Particularly the big, bad vampire, who looked like a cross between Nosferatu and Bugs Bunny.

"It's a much more realistic rendition," Wolper said.

Not that they're dissing the original. At least not much. Wolper said it was "very scary in its time." And Lowe said, "It has a special place in my heart."

"But the truth of it is you couldn't deal with the horror and its intensity in 1979. You couldn't push that envelope. You couldn't push the envelope in terms of special effects. When you go back and look, it's a guy in a mask. . . . So we had the ability to do it better."

And, yes, having Rutger Hauer instead of a guy in a mask play vampire Kurt Barlow is an improvement.

But Lowe also said that the themes in the book are "pretty provocative, and they didn't deal with any of that in the early version because TV wouldn't let them. So this is a really true adaptation of the book, which wasn't done the first time because they couldn't do it."

I agree with his point about special effects, but Lowe is way off here. The new script deviates greatly from the novel — the ending isn't even the same.

I won't give away too much about the new plot, except to say that almost all of the narrative is told in a flashback. The TV movie opens with Lowe's character attacking the priest, Father Donald Callahan (James Cromwell) — a character who died in both the novel and the first miniseries — which doesn't do much to help the narrative because we know from the beginning that both characters survive the vampires.

There's a difference between something that looks better and something that is better. The new "Salem's Lot" looks better; the original version is better.

I agree with Wolper and Lowe that there's no reason not to remake movies if you can improve upon the original. But if you can't, don't bother.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com