A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)


Riding on Stephen King’s Coattails

Main Cast: Michael Moriarty, Tara Reid

Director: Larry Cohen

Let’s save ourselves some trouble upfront and state the obvious.  The only thing Stephen King had to do with 1987’s A RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT was that once upon a time he wrote a novel in which vampires overran the town of Salem’s Lot, which was later made into a TV movie.  Eight years later Larry Cohen wrote and directed another movie called A RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT that, other than the name of the town and the fact it was full of vampires, had absolutely nothing to do with the King story.  And when I first saw this movie back in the late 80s, I was very upset.

Personally, I don’t even think this movie should be allowed to be listed on King’s IMDB page because it’s about as much a Stephen King movie as that Scott Baio movie ZAPPED! is a sequel to CARRIE.

In this story, anthropologist Joe Weber has come to Salem’s Lot with his troubled teenage son Jeremy, whom he hasn’t seen in three years.  Joe’s Aunt Clara left him a cabin in town, so Joe has decided this will be a good place to reconnect.  When they arrive, they’re greeted by a near-empty town, occupied by a gas station attendant and a police constable.  Everyone else seems to be hiding out.  What they discover later that first night, however, is much worse.

The town of Salem’s Lot is populated by vampires.  They want Joe to tell their story.  They’ve chosen him because of his experience in studying and writing about different cultures around the world, and that’s basically what he’s doing here, too.  Joe agrees, but starts to have second thoughts when he sees the influence the town and its residents are having on Jeremy.  However, when he tries to escape, he’s attacked and Jeremy is taken from him.  If he wants to get his son back, he better stay put and follow through on his promise to complete the story.

It’s probably unfair to condemn A RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT as a terrible movie, even though it is, because the things that make it so bad are only the script and the acting.  The story itself, if it were called something else and wasn’t marketed as a sequel to a classic Stephen King story, could have at least seemed like a better movie.  But anyone going into this one expecting an actual sequel is going to be even more disappointed than they would have been had they just found themselves watching a random bad movie.

They can’t even get the history right.  Although never stating it outright, the movie insinuates that the vampires have been occupying this small town for hundreds of years.  But it was only 8 years earlier that Barlow and Straker blew into town and destroyed it.

Joe says he had stayed with his Aunt Clara–not really his aunt, just a family friend–when he was 14 and Clara later hints that she was a vampire even then, but that would have to mean Joe was only 22, at the oldest, when this movie took place, which clearly isn’t possible because his son is a teenager himself (Ricky Addison Reed was 11 at the time, but Jeremy is clearly meant to be older than that).

The vampires in this movie appear and act like normal humans, even carrying on with the town, attending school, holding political office as Judge Axel runs the town.  They farm cows for blood. That’s a far cry from the animalistic vampires we met originally in Salem’s Lot.

The acting here is absolutely terrible.  Michael Moriarty should be ashamed of himself.  The kid playing his son gets a pass because he was 11 and had never made a movie before–never made another one after, either–but Moriarty had been around long enough at that point to at least pretend to try to give a decent performance.  Instead, he spends the entire movie coming across as indignant that he had to be there at all.  Then again, with a script like this, he had probably already given up before the first action was called.

I do think this idea could have been done properly and might have even been well-received.  The premise is an interesting one, after all.  But a bad script, even worse acting, and then trying to call it a sequel to a King classic when, in reality, it couldn’t be further from a sequel if it tried, that was the last straw.

First time viewers need to be warned.  A RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT is trying to trick you into seeing it.  But don’t be fooled.  It’s just a sad little movie trying to ride the coattails of a much better movie with a much bigger name attached to it.  It’s not a sequel and has nothing whatsoever to do with Stephen King or his story.

King on Film

Carrie (1976)

‘Salem’s Lot (1979)

The Shining (1980)

Creepshow (1982)

The Boogeyman (1982)

Cujo (1983)

Disciples of the Crow (1983)

The Woman in the Room (1983)

The Dead Zone (1983)

Christine (1983)

Children of the Corn (1984)

Firestarter (1984)

Word Processor of the Gods (1984)

Cat’s Eye (1985)

Silver Bullet (1985)

Srazhenie (1986)

Gramma (1986)

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Stand By Me(1986)

The Lawnmower Man (1987)

Creepshow 2 (1987)

The Dark Half (1993)

The Tommyknockers (1993)

Needful Things (1993)

The Stand (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

The Mangler (1995)

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

The Langoliers (1995)

Sometimes They Comes Back … Again (1996)

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)

Thinner (1996)

The Shining (1997)

Ghosts (1997)

Chattery Teeth (1997)

The Revelations of ‘Becka Paulson (1997)

Trucks (1997)

The Night Flier (1997)

Chinga (1997)

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)

Gerald’s Game (2017)

1922 (2017)

The Stand (2021)

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