Salem’s Lot’s Director Explains His Approach To The Vampire Horror In The Upcoming Stephen King Movie

Kurt Barlow in Salem's Lot 1979
(Image credit: Warner Bros. Television)

Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot was first published nearly 50 years ago, but it says a lot about the work that it remains an all-time favorite for a great number of the author’s so-called Constant Readers. Like any great vampire tale, it slowly creeps before jamming its teeth into your throat, telling the story of how a small Maine town gets completely wiped off the map by a monstrous invasion. It delivers some of the best scares in any of King’s books – which is why writer/director Gary Dauberman has used it extensively as an invaluable resource as he has been working on bringing the story to the big screen.

The first ever footage from Salem’s Lot debuted last night during the Warner Bros. presentation at CinemaCon – the annual Las Vegas convention held for theater owners – but before the sizzle reel aired, Gary Dauberman took the stage to talk with host Aisha Tyler about his work on the movie. She asked the filmmaker about the building the horrific world audiences will discover in the upcoming feature, and Dauberman explained how Stephen King’s books were a key inspiration:

I go back to the Stephen King novels where everything feels very real, and very grounded. I mean, Derry, Castle Rock, Jerusalem Lot, they all feel like real places in Maine. They all feel populated by real people, and I wanted the scares to feel really grounded because they're just gonna be that much more scary.

While Stephen King’s books most certainly do have a tendency to go to some extreme places (both figuratively and literally), the magic in the author’s writing is his ability to ensconce readers in detailed environments and craft characters that are beautifully rendered and multidimensional. He gets you to deeply care about the protagonists of his stories… and then when he sends them all to hell, you get to enjoy the emotional ride right alongside them.

This depth very much extends to monsters as well – and the vampires of Salem’s Lot are a perfect example. The soulless, bloodsucking creatures are an abomination because they are pure evil, but still look like your family, friends and neighbors. As Gary Dauberman put it,

Vampires are… you know, they're terrifying to look at, but also it's about performance. It's about their inhuman human-ness that just makes them all the much more scary.

Salem’s Lot tells the story of Ben Mears, an author who decides to confront a traumatic event from his childhood by returning to his hometown – Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine – so that he can write a book about where it happened: the dreadful Marsten House. Ben plans to take up residency in the place, but upon his arrival he discovers that it has already been rented by a strange couple of men named Kurt Barlow and Richard Straker. As it turns out, Barlow is an ancient vampire, and Straker is his devoted servant, and together they work to feast on the entirety of the secluded town.

Gary Dauberman has assembled a brilliant cast for Salem’s Lot, with the major roles played by terrific actors including Lewis Pullman, William Sadler, Pilou Asbæk, Alfre Woodard, Bill Camp, Makenzie Leigh, John Benjamin Hickey, and Jordan Preston Carter.

While on stage at CinemaCon, Gary Dauberman also explained why it was that he was passionate about making the Stephen King adaptation, having already contributed to the extensive canon by writing the screenplays for both IT and IT Chapter Two. The filmmaker explained that it came down to two things:

Well, you know, the book is one of my all time favorites in any genre; It's terrifying. I think it's one of the crown jewels of the King library, which is really saying something. What excites me in the same way that IT excited me is that just like IT, it has never been given the big screen theatrical experience ever… This is the first time on the big screen, and I just feel very, very honored that I get to be one of the shepherds bringing it onto the silver screen.

Salem’s Lot has been adapted twice previously, but as noted by Gary Dauberman, both were made as television productions. In 1979, director Tobe Hooper made a three-hour-long miniseries that aired across two nights on CBS, and in 2004, a remake of the same length was produced for TNT and directed by Mikael Salomon.

We still have a lot of questions about Gary Dauberman’s Salem’s Lot – including about how the scope of Stephen King’s novel will be contained in a single feature film – but they only serve to inflame anticipation. Of course, all questions will be answered when the horror movie arrives in theaters on September 9.

Between now and then, be on the lookout here on CinemaBlend for the first Salem’s Lot trailer, and to keep track of all the Stephen King adaptations that are now in the works, head over to our Upcoming Stephen King Movies and TV guide.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.