Literature / 'Salem's Lot

"Old friend, what are you looking for?
After those many years abroad you come
With images you tended
Under foreign skies
Far away from your own land."
George Seferis

"Tell you now that the whole town is empty."

A 1975 horror novel by Stephen King, his second one published following Carrie.

The plot focuses on the Maine town of Jerusalem's Lot, which is slowly taken over by vampires, and a small band of survivors, including protagonist Ben Mears, who decide to fight back.

The eponymous town is also featured in King's short stories "Jerusalem's Lot" and "One for the Road". (The former, written several years earlier, is set in 1850 and is more of a Cthulhu Mythos story; the latter is set three years after the events of the novel). These stories are included in Night Shift, and also in the illustrated edition of 'Salem's Lot. Said illustrated edition was released in 2005, and also contains several deleted and alternate scenes.

The novel has been adapted into two television Mini Series. The first, directed by Tobe Hooper, aired on CBS in 1979 and was later released theatrically (in edited form) overseas, while the second aired on TNT cable in 2004. There was also an in-name-only 1987 theatrical sequel, Return to Salem's Lot, and a Radio Drama adaptation produced by The BBC in 1995.

    The novel and 1979 miniseries contain examples of: 

  • Abusive Parents: The McDougall baby Randy is subjected to assorted beatings from his mother Sandy (although she regrets it every time, and completely freaks out when the baby dies).
  • Adaptation Distillation: The 1979 miniseries takes out several minor characters and condenses the story considerably.
  • The Alcoholic: Ed "Weasel" Craig.
    • If Father Callahan isn't one to begin with, he's well on his way to becoming one by the time he leaves town.
      • This is proven out by the events of The Dark Tower series. Callahan once again makes an appearance, and talks about past events including drowning out the memories of 'Salem's Lot with drink. He gets better at the end.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Sure, Barlow is destroyed, but he succeeds in making Jerusalem's Lot a hotbed for the undead.
  • Asshole Victim: Straker, Barlow, The McDougalls, Reggie Sawyer, Charlie Rhodes.
  • Bald of Evil: Straker in the novel, Barlow (as part of his Orlokian look) in the 1979 miniseries.
  • Big Bad: Kurt Barlow.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Barlow is destroyed, but it's far too late for Jerusalem's Lot as the whole town has become overun with vampires, and it's uncertain that Ben and Mark will be successful in eradicating them.
    • Indeed, the "One for the Road" story pretty much reveals that they weren't, and in fact the numbers keep increasing as the now-undead townspeople feed on any travelers who pass through the area.
  • Breaking and Bloodsucking: This is the standard operating procedure for the vampires. While they require an invitation before they can enter, they quickly overrun the small town by making nightly visits. In particular:
    • Matt invites an ill Mike Ryerson to spend a few nights recovering in his guest room. That night, he listens in horror as Mike invites Danny Glick in. When Matt works up the courage to investigate, Mike is dead. Later, Mike returns to the same room waiting for Matt, but is driven away by a crucifix and revoking the invitation.
    • A delirious Mrs. Glick explains to her husband about her dreams of the last few nights: Danny returning home so she can breastfeed him again.
    • After Susan becomes a vampire, she visits Mark's bedroom that same night, offering to 'kiss' him.
    • By the end, the town's so corrupted the vampires managed to start entering without the need for "invitations" .
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Corey Bryant literally craps his pants when Reggie Sawyer performs a mock execution.
  • The Bully: Richie Boddin, although he quickly loses that status after he makes the mistake of picking on Mark Petrie (who promptly engages a Curb-Stomp Battle).
  • Buried Alive: Avoided with Danny Glick (who is not dead but in fact a vampire), since Mike Ryerson stops filling his grave with soil, jumps down onto his coffin and opens it, to find a life-like Danny (who presumably bites him and turns him into a vampire also — this is shown explicitly in the 1979 miniseries but implied in the novel).
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Kurt Barlow.
    "I am not the serpent, but the father of serpents."
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: It's faith that makes religious symbols an effective weapon against vampires. When Callahan starts doubting his faith, his cross no longer has an effect on Barlow. Barlow tells him: "Without faith, the cross is only wood, the bread baked wheat, the wine sour grapes."
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Susan's ex, Floyd Tibbits.
  • Creepy Child: Danny Glick.
    • An entire school bus full of them get revenge on the strict bus driver.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: George Middler, who has a suitcase full of panties and bras and stockings and who dresses in them behind closed doors whilst masturbating.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Jimmy, when he plummets down the booby-trapped staircase and straight onto a pit of upturned knives. Enough said. His death in the original manuscript also qualifies for this trope (he is devoured alive by rats), although it is a lot gorier than the version which made it into the book.
  • Dawson Casting: Mike Ryerson is around 27 in the novel; in the mini-series he's played by 44-year-old Geoffrey Lewis.
  • Developing Doomed Characters
  • The Dragon: Richard Straker is both this and The Renfield.
  • Dwindling Party: Although some do (permanently/fully) die, most in fact get converted to vampires.
  • Executive Meddling: The original novel had Jimmy Cody get eaten alive by rats controlled by Barlow, but Doubleday refused to publish it and King had to rewrite it so that he was instead impaled by knives.
  • Extremely Dusty Home: The Marsden House, even when Hubie Marsden was living in it.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Poor Father Callahan. Not only does he have his entire faith mocked and ripped apart by the Big Bad, but he also is forced to drink the main vampire's blood and forever be marked as an Untouchable to the rest of humanity.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Straker
  • Genre Savvy: Mark Petrie and Matt Burke.
  • Ghost Town: Salem's Lot is reduced to being a ghost town after the vampires take over. The novel's prologue has a newspaper article about a reporter trying to find out why it became one. Another ghost town, Momson, VT, is mentioned in the same article.
  • Gossipy Hens: Led by Mabel Werts.
  • Greater Scope Villain: The Lord of Flies, whom Straker must sacrifice Ralphie Glick to before Barlow is allowed to enter the Lot.
  • Groin Attack: Straker does this to Mark and later, another Groin Attack (of a much squickier nature) upon Mark is threatened, but not executed.
  • Hate at First Sight: By the end of his first meeting with Susan's parents, her father thinks Ben is a great guy. Her mother, on the other hand, begins hating him at just about the same moment as his dad decides he's okay, which causes a big fight between her and her daughter.
  • Holy Burns Evil: Christian symbols do work against vampires, but only as long as the person wielding them has faith in them.
  • Hope Spot: Sandy McDougall thinks that her dead baby Randy (having been killed/turned into a vampire the night before by Danny Glick) is simply 'playing dead' with her to punish her for beating him. She proceeds to spoon-feed the lifeless baby some chocolate custard but her hope is dashed (and she starts screaming in realization) when she tries to make him smile and the custard she had fed him plops out onto the table below him.
  • How We Got Here: The novel's prologue takes place after the main events of the novel (but before the epilogue). The prologue's unnamed characters eventually turn out to be Ben and Mark.
  • Human Resources: Implied. Mark picks up a book written in Latin with a picture of a disemboweled child but quickly puts it back down because the binding feels 'uncomfortably familiar'.
  • Human Sacrifice: Straker kills Ralphie Glick and sacrifices him to the "Lord of Flies" in preparation for Barlow's arrival in the Lot.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Jimmy Cody, thanks to a booby trap rigged on the stairs to Eva's cellar.
    • Earlier in the novel, Win Purinton's dog Doc is found impaled on the cemetery gate by Mike Ryerson.
  • Infant Immortality: Both averted and played straight — several children die, only to return as vampires; but Mark Petrie survives the novel.
    • The whole situation starts with the death of the Glick brothers — Ralphie is made as a sacrifice to allow free reign for Barlow to take over and his brother Danny becomes the first turned resident and begins the undead infestation.
    • Heck, at one point the heroes head into a house to stake a family of vampire only to find a vampire baby (presumably Randy McDougall) among them.
  • It's Personal: It gets really personal for Ben when Barlow turns Susan into a vampire, and for Mark, when Barlow kills his parents. Conversely, Barlow specifically targets them because Mark managed to badly injure and escape from Straker.
  • Jerkass: Sandy McDougall, who often hits her ten month old baby son Randy. Even Fr. Callahan would like to strangle her every time he hears about it in confession.
    • Roy McDougall, her husband, who spends all his time drinking at the bar.
    • Reggie Sawyer, a psychopath who finds out his wife is cheating on him and starts beating her and raping her. Then her lover Corey gets turned into a vampire and decides to come back to avenge his humiliation...
    • Charlie Rhodes, a school bus driver who throws kids off the bus for such infractions as talking too loud and passing notes, once forced the school principal to suspend a couple of boys for letting the air out of his tires (though he hadn't actually seen them do it, and it turned out that another kid was the culprit), and forced yet another kid into confessing (falsely, it's implied) to having left a cow pie on his driver's seat. He, too, gets his comeuppance after the kids turn.
  • Kick the Dog: Barlow is a particular fan of this trope.
  • Kill 'em All: Out of a huge cast of characters, Ben, Mark and Father Callahan are the only major characters to survive, and only a handful of the more minor characters survive.
    • Callahan later dies in The Dark Tower.
    • Callahan also mentions in The Dark Tower that Ben died as well, as he visited his funeral in Mexico.
  • Kill It with Fire: In the book's ending, Ben and Mark return to the town with the purpose of burning it down and most of the vampires with it.
  • Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: A huge (and hugely expensive) version of the book with deleted scenes was released by Centipede Press. Fortunately a trade version with the deleted scenes was later published.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • Looks Like Orlok: Barlow in the 1979 miniseries. In the book he's more of a Classical Movie Vampire, accent and all.
    • This version's portrayal is actually what Type One Vampires look like in The Dark Tower. It's a fan theory that Barlow is the Progenitor which may explain why he has a human disguise.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: At first, Sandy McDougall convinces herself that Randy's only trying to punish her for hitting him, and tries to give him breakfast.
  • Must Be Invited: Matt is almost killed by a vampire because he let the man in his home after he was bitten, but before he died. Matt manages to get the vampire to leave by saying he's revoked his invitation.
  • My Beloved Smother: Ann to Susan. Susan is not happy.
  • Naked Apron: How Bonnie Sawyer surprises her secret lover Corey right before her husband surprises them.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Subverted, Barlow, the head vampire, is killed. But all those that fell under his curse stay vampires.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: They're actually quite similar to Bram Stoker's version of vampires, as Stephen King acknowledges in one version of the book. They also differ in a few ways, and The Dark Tower goes on to explain the vampires in greater detail. For one thing, sunlight doesn't kill them, but it's certainly uncomfortable. They have their own religion. And according to Barlow's dialogue, they're Hungarian, not Romanian (Stephen King mistakenly refers to Magyar and Hungarian as two different things).
  • Parental Substitute: Ben to Mark, after his parents are killed.
  • Pedophile Priest: A rare non-Catholic example, Reverend John Groggins. In the chapter where King tells us about the town's secrets, it's revealed that he often has 'horrible dreams' in which he is preaching to the Little Misses' Bible Class 'naked and slick'.
  • Please Wake Up: Randy McDougall's mother when she finds him dead in his bedroom, and Danny Glick's father at his burial service.
  • Police Are Useless: Even after figuring out what's going on in his town, Constable Gillespie refuses to aid Ben and Mark in fighting Barlow, opting to hit the road instead. And his Clueless Deputy ends up as one of the vampires.
  • Present Day: Literally; the novel was published in October 1975, and the main part of the narrative spans September and October of that year.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Barlow claims to be older than Christianity, which means he's at least 2000 years old.
  • Scrapbook Story: Not the whole thing, but it does begin and end with newspaper accounts of the strange goings-on in the Lot.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Parkins Gillespie decides to get the hell out of town once he reasons out something is amiss.
  • Shout-Out: Plenty, including Dracula (both the original novel and the Hammer film adaptations), The Haunting of Hill House, and Peyton Place.
  • Sliding Scale of Vampire Friendliness: Death from feeding causes conversion, morality shifts in converts, and a voracious appetite makes these vampires definitely hostile.
  • Smug Snake: Barlow.
  • The Speechless: Barlow in the miniseries.
  • Staking the Loved One: Ben is forced to stake Susan after she becomes a vampire.
  • Stupid Evil / Evil Is Petty: A curious version. King makes it a point to allude that the worst kind of evil isn't the Dark Lord and his Evil Army, but the near-endless rabble of not-too-bright humanity going about their daily lives, fornicating and lighting firecrackers inside cats.
  • Super Window Jump: Barlow enters the Petries' house in this manner.
  • Things That Go Bump in the Night: When Barlow confronts Father Callahan, he takes the appearence of Callahan's childhood bogeyman, "Mr. Flip".
    • When Mike Ryerson (who was bitten by Danny Glick and is becoming a vampire, but doesn't know it yet) is talking with Matt in the bar, he makes reference to being "just like a little kid afraid of the Allamagoosalum".note 
  • Those Two Guys: The cops earlier in the story.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Why, oh why did Susan enter the vampire's lair without backup?
    • It's even lampshaded, as she thinks that when in the horror movies she saw, the heroine went up to the cellar, she thought "What a silly bitch ... I'd never do that!" And yet, she's doing exactly that.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Or, rather, a whole bunch of them, as one chapter informs us.
    • Albie Crane murdered his wife after she cheated on him with a salesman. He then threw her body down an abandoned well. Nobody knows about this and they just assume she left with the salesman.
    • Hubie Marsten was in correspondence with Kurt Barlow years before he came to 'Salem's Lot.
    • Coretta Simons has stashed $30,000 behind the wallpaper of her house but she has terminal cancer and has forgotten about it.
    • The 1951 fire in the Lot was set by a (roughly) 16 year old boy who graduated well and won a fortune on the stock exchange. The compulsion to set the fire ate away at him for the next twenty years and he died of a brain embolism in his 40s.
    • Reverend John Groggins has paedophilic dreams about the Little Misses Bible Reading Class.
    • Hal Griffen masturbates over six pornographic magazines at every opportunity.
    • George Middleton crossdresses and (again) masturbates behind closed doors.
    • Mike Ryerson came to life on the autopsy table and killed/converted Carl Foreman.
    • Danny Glick bit Randy McDougall and converted the baby into a vampire.
    • It's implied part of the reason Barlow picked 'Salem's Lot to start his colony was because, in addition to its remote and isolated location, there are enough skeletons in the closets of the townspeople that it's a perfect place for his evil to take root.
  • Undead Child: Several.
  • What Could Have Been: King played with the idea of writing a sequel to 'Salem's Lot for years, at one point mentioning a possible opening with Callahan working at a soup shelter and a vagrant coming in telling him that it's not over at "the Lot". In the end, there was no sequel (apart from the short story "One For The Road" mentioned above) and King ended up continuing Callahan's story in The Dark Tower.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Father Callahan's story ends right after he's been pwned by Barlow, and we don't hear from him again. His story was later told in Wolves of the Calla.
    • There's also the almost literal use of the trope in the slowly gathering rats suddenly just...dropping out of the story. In the original plan they were going to devour the guy who fell down the trick staircase. Instead King just had him be impaled.
  • Wise Beyond His Years: Mark
  • You Have Failed Me: Barlow kills Straker after the latter allows Mark Petrie to escape before he can be fed upon. However, in his letter to the heroes, Barlow is pissed about being forced to kill Straker and refers to him as the best servant he ever had.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Bonnie Sawyer and Corey Bryant.

    The 2004 miniseries contains examples of: 
  • Adaptational Villainy: Father Callahan. In the book he leaves the down disgraced, whereas here he becomes the new Renfield for Barlow. Ironically the miniseries coincided with the final three novels of The Dark Tower in which Callahan returned and redeemed himself.
  • Ascended Extra: Ruthie Crockett, a very minor character in the novel is made into a major supporting character in the miniseries.
    • Abusive Parents: It's subtly implied that her father is sexually abusing her.
    • Rich Bitch: She has quite a bad attitude and is callous and cruel towards Dud.
  • Bittersweet Ending: A bit better then the novel at least. Ben dies but he and Mark manage to hunt down near all the vampires in the town with Callahan being their final target.
  • Death by Adaptation: Both Ben Mears and Father Callahan are dead at the end of the miniseries.
  • How We Got Here: The movie begins with Ben chasing down and putting Callahan into a coma before being taken to the hospital for treatment. He then tells an orderly about the events which lead up to the present.
  • Kill It with Fire: The solution to the vampire infestation. Of course, considering the conversation Dud and Barlow have on how rats when frightened of fire find new holes to hid in...
  • No Ontological Inertia: Averted, killing Barlow doesn't cure or destroy his progeny.
    • However it's implied that When he corrupted Father Callahan he took control over him and possibly made him a fail safe so that if Barlow were to be killed, his fledglings would still survive.
  • Not Himself: Mike and Charlie just before completely going vampire.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: They're pretty much classic vampires. Though the way they die is kinda weird, essentially turning to dust and flying into the air.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: And how.
  • The Renfield: Straker.
  • Undead Child: An entire school bus worth of 'em.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The Roys' baby, what happened to it after the Doctor "traded" him for his beemer?
  • What Have I Become?: Matt gets Mike to freak out by pointing out he's got autopsy scars all along his chest, which along with revoking his invitation got him to leave him alive.