There are few monsters as enduring as the vampire. For well over a thousand years, mankind has told itself stories of preternatural beings who look like us, and perhaps even used to be us, but who now live by draining the life from us. Sometimes, these are just campfire stories, meant to give us a chill and a thrill before we drown them out with reality. But other times, we can’t help but believe our own stories.
In the past few decades, vampires have taken a big hit in pop culture. Yes, they’re still popular, perhaps even more popular than they’ve ever been before, but they’ve lost some of their power. Vampires were once terrifying entities, wielding their seductive beauty as a cobra does, to hypnotize and ensnare their victims. But in recent years, we as a society have defanged vampires, so to speak. We have rendered them harmless by giving them consciences and glittery skin, and making them into a metaphor for fighting the temptations of the flesh.
That is not at all what you get when you visit ‘salem’s Lot.
This sleepy little community in Maine is Everytown, USA. There’s nothing really to do, and kids tend to leave as soon as humanly possible in search of a bigger life. This leaves the elderly, children, and people who weren’t able to escape and had to settle for keeping the town running. It’s a town that could fall off of the map with very few people ever noticing, and that’s exactly what happens. The building horror of what decimated the town, and how quickly and easily most of the townspeople gave into that destruction, is where King really shines.
In one corner, we have a terrifyingly magnetic mastermind of a vampire, his disturbing and well-spoken henchman, and the townspeople that quickly succumb to their new master’s advances. Some of these newly turned are children, which made them all the more disturbing. No one can write children quite like King, be they brave and compelling or terrifying enough to make a person decide against reproduction. Child and adult alike march to the beat set out for them by their new master, who is everything a vampire should be. He, and his newly turned children, are everything vampires should be; they’re beautiful, but their beauty is a disturbing and deadly. They are mankind’s reproduction of a Venus Fly Trap, using their unearthly beauty to entice their prey into their hungry, tooth-lined maws.
In the other corner, we have a motley crew of renegade townsfolk, rebelling against the force attacking their town and doing their best to save ‘salem’s Lot from utter annihilation. An author from out of town, the girl he hits it off with, an English teacher from a local high school, a doctor, a priest, and a child stand alone against an incomprehensible evil. Where the story goes from there is something you’ll have to read to find out.
There is one other central player in the story: the Marsten House. This house, the site of the town’s most disturbing history and allegedly haunted to boot, is what drew Ben, our writer, back to ‘salem’s Lot. It is a menacing presence hovering over the town, seemingly evil in spite of its inanimate state, which makes it the perfect abode for a monster. King did a great job of making the house itself super disturbing.
In recent years, I’ve grown to love reading horror novels during the month of October; they just get me excited for the changing seasons and cooler weather and Halloween. This book was just exactly what I was hoping it would be, atmospheric and scary in a purely intellectual way that didn’t hinder my sleep. King did a great job reclaiming vampires for the horror genre. Keep in mind that this book was originally published in 1975, long before we as a modern society decided that vampires should be lusted after instead of feared, but it was still refreshing to read a novel that gave the bloodsuckers back their throne of fear. If you’re in the mood for a good Halloween read, I heartily recommend this book. And if you’re just looking for a way to see vampires in all of their terrifying glory, I think you just found it.