Hickeys From Hell
Vampires are a staple of horror since the dawn of human fear. There’s the sexy bloodsucker craze with Twilight, The Lost Boys, and Pat Sajak. But vampires go way back, even to the ancient Chinese, who had narratives that if a vampire came across a sack of rice, they would have to count every grain. This inevitably gave rise to everyone’s favorite Muppet mathematician.
Dracula produced the most famous of the creatures of the night, with much thanks to Universal Pictures and their silver screen films. It wasn’t the classic it is now when it first came out, but the novel made vampires incredibly popular in the public eye. Bram Stoker’s masterpiece assigned certain characteristics to vampires that stuck with them through almost all modern retellings. Aversion to garlic, holy water, and sunlight, Stoker sets the stage for it all. Except sparkling skin. That was absent.
Stephen King published his second novel, ‘Salem’s Lot, in 1975. In all honesty, it’s a blatant rehash of Dracula, and it f–ng nails it. Set in a rural town in Maine, it follows the titular Jerusalem’s Lot as a vampire infestation takes over the town. It’s got the basic structure of Stoker’s vision: vampire comes to town, vampire turns people, people try to kill vampire, people kill vampire. Simple stuff, but King does something with it that hits home. The vampire Kurt Barlow slowly turns the entire population of ‘Salem’s Lot into a horde of night terrors.
What Do I Think?
Movies like 30 Days of Night and From Dusk Till Dawn, with their multitude of vampires, have desensitized me to such things. However, I still found myself relishing in the silent transformation in the fictional little town. Having read the original Dracula, I couldn’t help making mental comparisons. But the personal touches King produced with the characters created a much more visceral monster story. It’s not just Little Miss Victorian Chastity, it’s visible people with tangible motivations and misgivings.
That’s what ultimately makes this book; it’s the townspeople and their ultimate fall into death and blood.
Scary? Maybe if you hadn’t heard the story a million times. Entertaining? Wildly so. I am certain I will find myself happily reading it, enjoying it once more. Four out of five Cthulhus.(4 / 5)
Photo Credits: Cover of ‘Salem’s Lot, 2011 edition by Anchor Books; GIF from ‘Salem’s Lot, 1979 TV miniseries from Warner Bros. Television