Salem’s Lot is the only book I’ve ever read that has truly scared me. Published in 1975, I read it when I was maybe 12 or 13 years old and I could not look out my bedroom window at night for a very long time after reading it.
Salem’s Lot is a town that gets taken over by vampires. Slowly at first and then with increased frequency the townspeople either get turned, eaten or flee. Six people fight back, two of them live to tell about it and this is their story.
Ben Mears, a writer that spent a few years of his youth in Salem’s Lot arrives back in town after 25 years to write a book about the local “haunted” house. He had the fright of his life in Salem’s Lot specifically, in the Marsten house. On a dare, he entered the house to bring out a memento and went upstairs where Hubert Marsten, the house’s previous owner, was said to have hung himself after shooting his wife. In the upstairs bedroom a demon with huge green eyes, hung upside down and opened its mouth to howl. He fell backwards down the stairs in his attempt to get out of the house and was left with a lasting memory, one that stuck through to his adult years.
A couple of antique dealers, Kurt Barlow and Richard Straker, have bought the Marsten house and set up a new shop in town. Barlow is often on buying trips in Europe and is never seen in town, only Straker is ever seen. Ben meets and starts dating Susan Norton, a college girl. He settles into Eva Miller’s boarding house and befriends Matt Burke a local high school teacher.
Not long after Ben’s arrival in town, two young boys go missing while on their way to visit their friend, Mark Petrie. The town is in an uproar and set up a search party for the missing boys. The oldest son, Danny Glick, shows up a day or so later, confused about what happened to his little brother, Ralphie. They were taking a shortcut through a dark, woods path when suddenly everything went black. He recalls waking up and his brother being gone.
I’ll give you a little taste of one of the creepiest scenes in the book: Matt Burke goes out to the local bar one night for a drink and runs into a young man that he once taught in school, Mike Ryerson. He decides to sit down with Mike and finds that the young man is quite ill. Matt takes Mike back to his home to watch over him while he is ill. Mike falls dead in his guest room but that isn’t even the worst part, the worst part being that Mike is clearly dead, no breathing, no heartbeat and all that but he looks as fresh as a spring daisy.
The next day, Matt has Susan over so that he won’t be alone because he is still pretty creeped out about what happened to Mike and how he looked in the end. That night, he hears something in his upstairs guestroom: a window creaking open. He goes to check it out and Susan stays downstairs. She hears a scuffle and an eerie voice scream “Ill see you sleep with the dead, teacher!”
This is when the general creepiness really sets in. Mark Petrie, a fan of the monster movie genre, has a lot of supernatural knowledge. When he gets a visit to his third floor window from a pale and decidedly fang-ier Ralphie Glick, he knows that vampires are in town. Ben starts to see things for what they are while most townspeople are still in denial. He is not alone though, he is joined in his crusade by Matt Burke, Matt’s family doctor, Jimmy Cody, the young Mark Petrie, Father Callahan and Susan Norton.
While not everyone makes it out of Salem’s Lot alive, they do take down a number of vampires on their way. What I like about this book now, maybe not so much when I was twelve, is that there are no taboos and no one is safe. Your favorite character gets it, and maybe not so favorite characters as well. It has a real creepiness that gets you where you live. No matter what scares you, King brings it on. Scared of hearing noises somewhere in your house? We got it. Scared of something in the dark woods, we got that too. How about the basement? The thing behind the closed door? An abandoned car in the woods? A cemetery? Getting your throat ripped out and your blood guzzled down like a warm, sticky martini? Yeah, they’re all here. Read this book and prepare to have your gooses bumped and your spines tingled!