Castor’s Underrated Hallow’s Eve Gems – A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

Normally, I would be beleaguered about the prospect of a belated, mostly disconnected sequel to a beloved 1978 miniseries. However, the X-factor is Larry Cohen’s name across the credits from his penmanship to his direction. Cohen is always a distinctively Homeric, astute, streetwise New York helmsman.

What could’ve been a paycheck job for most schlockmeisters, Cohen interjects the picture with gutter-poetry moxie. During his surveillance of an Amazonian sacrifice, anthropologist Joe Weber (Cohen muse Michael Moriarty) rationalizes his voyeuristic detachment (“I thought you said this was a fertility ritual.” “Of course it is. He knocked up the chief’s favorite wife.”).

Anyone who is briefly gnostic of my taste will bristle when a raucous child is introduced in the form of Weber’s profane, chain-smoking teenage son Jeremy (Ricky Addison Reed). Nonetheless, the writing here is the salvation behind his unruly antics as he is not a redeemable ragamuffin.

In the meantime, the protagonists are finagled by the New England hamlet’s homespun delicacies. Both father and son are endeared with harlequin romances. To be moderately scrutinizing, the film’s creature effects are rather neoprene and thrifty (Axel’s blue demon could a Spirit Halloween mask) and the terror is minimalist next to the Leni Riefenstahl social commentary.

Much like It’s Alive III, Q: The Winged Serpent and The Stuff, Cohen endows Moriarty with a richly idiosyncratic character with moral ambiguity (while in Jerusalem’s Lot, Joe is wheedled to be a documentarian on the vampire’s lineage and lifestyle). The judge’s tour of folklore (mirror reflections and no garlic allergies) is a crackling sampler of Cohen’s unimpeachable, politically charged imagination. At one point, Moriarty is disillusioned when a history lesson is “anti-human propaganda”.

Stephen King never adjoined a sequel to his novel and the film is entirely Cohen’s creation (sans the input of King himself) which might be why it is such a ghoulishly off-kilter, propulsive horror-comedy (“If he loves us, he’ll be my successor. If not, I’ll send his soul straight to hell. Goodnight dear.”).

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