Monday, August 15, 2011

THAS: Salem's Lot

I have no strong feelings about Salem's Lot, one way or the other. Too dry and shapeless, disperse and conventional to evoke much joy from me, too thematically watery and narratively plodding to evoke much admiration. The shapelessness of the material leaves much of Hooper's visual inspiration adrift instead of shaping towards thematic or tonal ends, and the tonal inspiration Hooper does create is nugatorily aided by the half-baked and riskless teleplay that simply refuses to dig into a single thematic undercurrent. But, as dull-minded and wanting in profundity I find the overall film, I nevertheless recognize it as one of Hooper's most cleanly virtuosic efforts - as it has Hooper working with conventionally dependable material, dependably respectable production values and production assists, and thus showing he's wholly capable of turning in a completely respectable, rather master-class horror film and horror narrative. And besides often being a truly effective, virtuoso chiller, with some stupendous horror imagery and assured suspense set-ups (the notorious jail-room scene, a gleeful jack-in-the-box of a scene and "Distillation of a Scare" worthy of The Funhouse; the terrorizing crate menacing its transporters; Mike Ryerson's fascination with the grave leading up to his hypnotized meeting with little Danny Glick; Susan's entrance into the Marsten House, the promise of point-of-no-return plot progression both vindicated and sublimated by the sudden implementation of baroque technique), it also exhibits, I thankfully believe, more than suitable a helping of Hooper's unique cinematic graces: his soft, communicative visual elegance, his non-extravagance and constant thoughtfulness of craft, the resulting formal substance and richness, his sensitivity uncommonly independent from sentimentality and kitsch, and the general artistic maturity he embodies, an uncommon resistance of entertainment's common shallowness.

To wit, as to what Salem's Lot is good for...

... take for instance its introducing female lead Susan (played wanly, with offbeat, mumbly presence, by Bonnie Bedelia) via a gentle, anchored tracking shot that seems to begin out of nowhere. The responding shot - a tracking shot that follows a starry-eyed David Soul - reveals this below shot a starry-eyed POV... though only after she appears to us first a floating sylvan apparition:

Or this sotto-voiced dramatic scene where Susan officially breaks it off with Ned Tebbets.

Following the busy shot of Ned jumping back in his van and driving off in a huff, we cut to the first still below, which places Ben respectful, just taking in from afar that everyday provincial sight of a strong and independent woman; then, as they continue the walk that Ned rudely interrupted with his presence, Hooper simply pans along with them. Any speaking they do is now out-of-earshot and our view is kept obfuscated by rosebushes - a recognition of the adulthood on display.

Or this shot that immediately follows the one above, juxtaposing two couples, the above sincere and plain, the below false and treated with mocking stylization (a romantic-like, circling shot of goodbye kisses) - mocking, but also provocatively disorienting to us, the audience, about what we should already know: that these two people are deceiving each other. (Momentarily touched on in the background is the uncomfortable presence of the very man she is fooling around with.)

Here Hooper and DP Jules Brenner accurately locate the Marsten House as literally part of author Ben Mears's writer-head-space:

These shots that also epitomize their respective characters:

An appropriately hard-hitting moment in a film that direly needed more hard-hitting moments:

Or this dynamic one-off shot during the crate transporting scene:

Or the following two striking scenes that I may like to give individual posts to in the future. In the first, while the men deliberate matters of importance, Hooper grants the camera's attention decisively to Susan, and has the scene play out with solely her senses and her experience in mind. In the second, which particularly deserves breakdown, we're intimately introduced to Mark Petrie's room, as well as to the thoughtful, sensitive Mark himself... as well as to the relative detachment existing between the boy and his parents, as well as to Hooper/the camera's marveling attitude towards the gifted youngster, the camera in this scene scrutinizing - literally angling in on - his aura of quiet pretension (the scene shows him rehearsing his lines for the school play which he is granted recognition for writing himself).

Susan Waits

Mark Rehearsing in His Room

Essential Review:
Ferdy on Film on SALEM'S LOT