The man producer Richard Kobritz called upon to get him his vampire in SALEM’S LOT is Tobe Hooper, the director of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and the last person one might expect to find directing a glossy production for a major studio much less one intended as a television miniseries. Yet the hiring of Tobe Hooper is only one incident in a production chronicle almost as complex as the story of SALEM’S LOT itself, which comes to TV November 17th and 24th on CBS. Stephen King’s 400-page novel of vampirism in contemporary New England was acquired four years ago by Warner Brothers, who intended to produce it as a theatrical feature. At the outset, King and the studio agreed that he would not write the screenplay. He was busy with his own projects as a novelist (in less than a year, King’s career would begin to soar). So Warners was left with the task of finding someone to adapt King’s brilliant but complicated plot into something manageable as a normal movie and without sacrificing the elements that made the book so powerful. But over the course of the next two years, the studio was unable to come up with a satisfactory screenplay. Stirling Silliphant (who had adapted IN THE HEAT 0F THE NIGHT and more recently THE SWARM, and was also producing for Warners), Robert Getchell (ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE) and writer/director Larry Cohen (whose independent feature IT’S ALIVE was a surprise sleeper for Warners in 1974) all contributed screenplays all of them rejected by studio brass. SALEM’S LOT was becoming not only an impossible project, but a source of frustration: CARRIE, a King novel filmed by Brian DePalma, was released in late 1976 and began racking up enormous profits. Warners was sitting on a potential goldmine, but could do nothing with it.
“It was a mess,” King recalls. “Every director in Hollywood who’s ever been involved with horror wanted to do it, but nobody could come up with a script. I finally gave up trying to keep a scorecard.” At one point, if only because Warners was running out of writers and directors to consider, Tobe Hooper’s name was mentioned in connection with the SALEM’S LOT movie. But by then, interest in the project at the theatrical division was beginning to flag. Finally, it was turned over to Warner Brothers Television, in the hope that a fresh approach and the possibility of financial interest by a network would revitalize it.
Enter Richard Kobritz. Kobritz was the 38-year-old vice-president and executive production manager at Warner Brothers Television who had hired John Carpenter to direct a striking 1978 suspense telefilm, SOMEONE IS WATCHING ME, starring Lauren Hutton. As a genre buff with an eye for new talent (Carpenter went on to direct HALLOWEEN three weeks after finishing SOMEONE. . .), Kobritz at least stood a fighting chance of making some sense out of SALEM’S LOT. Kobritz began by reading the already completed screenplays. “They were terrible,” he says. “I mean, it isn’t fair to put down anyone’s hard work, but the screenplays just did not have it and I think some of the writers would probably admit that. Besides, the book is admittedly difficult to translate, so much is going on. And because of that, I think it stands a better chance as a television miniseries than a normal feature film.” So the decision was made to turn SALEM’S LOT into a miniseries and thereby lick the problem of its unwieldy length. Actually, though the production is technically labeled a miniseries, it is basically a four hour movie (31/2 hours, figuring commercial time) scheduled for successive nights. Emmy winning television writer Paul Monash was contracted to write a new, first-draft teleplay. Monash had created the landmark dramatic series, JUDD FOR THE DEFENSE (about a flamboyant lawyer in the F. Lee Bailey mold) during the late ’60’s, and as a producer was responsible for the features BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE and Brian De Palma’s CARRIE. Monash had also been producer of the mid-60’s TV series PEYTON PLACE, a credit that Kobritz, who has referred to SALEM’S LOT as “Peyton Place turning into vampires” was aware of. Clearly, one key factor in a viable teleplay would be an intelligent combination of the huge number of characters in SALEM’S LOT. Monash pulled it off.
“His screenplay I like quite a lot,” King offers enthusiastically. “Monash has succeeded in combining the characters a lot, and it works. He did try a few things that weren’t successful the first time. In one draft he combined the priest, Father Callahan, and the teacher, Jason Burke, as a priest who teaches classes and it just didn’t work, so he split them up.
“Some things were left out because of time, some because it’s television,” says King. “My favorite scene in the book is with Sandy McDougall, the young mother, where she tries to feed her dead baby, and keeps spooning the food into its mouth. That won’t be on TV, obviously.”
Other changes were made by Kobritz, who takes a strong creative interest in the films he produces. His three major alterations to Monash’s first script were: To characterize the vampire, Barlow, as a hideous, speechless fiend, not the cultured villain carried over from the novel, to have the interior of Marsten House, which looms over the town of ‘Salem’s Lot, visually resemble the vampire’s festering soul and to keep Barlow in the cellar of his lair, Marsten House, for the final confrontation with the hero (in the book he is billeted in the cellar of a boarding house once his mansion is invaded) a concept Kobritz would later say, “works in the book but wouldn’t in the film.” Kobritz also pushed the killing of an important female vampire to the climax, to give her death more impact and provide the film with a snap ending.
With the example of such turgid, dramatically impotent “evil in a small town” miniseries as HARVEST HOME before them, Kobritz and Monash were determined to make SALEM’S LOT work despite the television restrictions against frightening violence. The project would be designed as a relentless mood piece where the threat of violence, rather than a killing every few minutes sustained terror. And it would be cast with an eye toward good actors first, and TV names second.
But still, there was the matter of all those stakings, and a relentless murderer with no redeeming virtues. “CBS worried about a few things in the screenplay,” King explains. “They worried about using a kid as young as Mark Petrie is in the book, because you’re not supposed to put a kid that young in mortal jeopardy, although they do it every day in the soap operas. “Paul Monash finally sent them a memo that I think covered it. He pointed out, for one thing, that CARRIE which was a CBS network movie was the only movie that ever cracked the top five in the weekly ratings.”
Next came casting. From the instant Barlow was designed to symbolize “the essence of evil,” Kobritz had in mind Reggie Nalder whom he remembered from Hitchcock’s THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, and genre buffs recall from that film, Michael Armstrong’s MARK OF THE DEVIL and Curtis Harrington’s THE DEAD DON’T DIE. Kobritz’s idea was to recreate the Max Schreck vampire from Murnau’s 1922 NOSFERATU.
In a quirky touch, Kobritz also hired genre veteran Elisha Cook, Jr. (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL THE HAUNTED PALACE) and former B movie queen Marie Windsor to play Weasel, the town drunk, and Eva Miller, the landlady with whom he’d had an affair years before.
“That was an inside joke we threw in right from the start,” Kobritz concedes. “I’m a Stanley Kubrick buff, and on purpose we’ve reunited them 23 years later after THE KILLING. In the script, it says Eva and Weasel were at one time married and then got divorced, so it was funny to think of that same couple from THE KILLING, 23 years later, now divorced, but still living together. It was also the first time since then, I think, that they’d worked in a movie and had scenes together.”
The rest of the casting was less frivolous, and reflected the seriousness with which Kobritz wanted the whole enterprise to be regarded. Kobritz sent James Mason a copy of the Monash teleplay, offering him the role of Straker, the European antique dealer who has Barlow smuggled into Marsten House and whose character had been expanded in the absence of a speaking Barlow. Mason loved the part and agreed to make his first appearance in a television drama since the medium’s early days (several years earlier, he had not been told that 1974’s FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY was not intended for theatrical release).
Key supporting roles went to Emmy nominee Ed Flanders (Bill Norton, a composite character who became both the heroine’s father and the town doctor), Lew Ares (Jason Burke, the local teacher) and Geoffrey Lewis (Mike Ryerson, the gravedigger). Bonnie Bedelia, an Oscar nominee 10 years ago for THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?, was cast as Susan Norton, who is on the verge of leaving ‘Salem’s Lot before she meets Ben Mears, played by David Soul.
David Soul? Though the hiring of Soul may shock or disappoint readers of the book who know him only through STARSKY AND HUTCH, it marks a shrewd move by Kobritz (which is discussed at length in his interview). Soul’s acting ability may sometimes have been concealed in STARSKY AND HUTCH, but it wasn’t in the telefilm LITTLE LADIES OF THE NIGHT, which happens to be the highest rated TV movie ever made. His presence therefore guarantees an audience. “I think the casting of David Soul is fine,” says King. “I have no problem with that at all.”
Soul also offers a strong counterpoint to Lance Kerwin (who starred in the well reviewed, but poorly rated-1978 NBC series, JAMES AT 16), selected to play Mark Petrie. Kerwin has a brooding presence that undercuts his superficial physical resemblance to Soul, and the two actors, who join forces to destroy the vampires at the end of the film, project a strange chemistry when seen together.
Production & Direction
SALEM’S LOT was budgeted at $4 million, about norm for a prestige miniseries, with financing split between CBS and Warner Brothers and a European theatrical release was planned from the start. It would, naturally, be shorter than miniseries length, but it would also contain violence not included in the TV version for example, the staking of vampires would not occur below the camera frame, and one death in particular Bill Norton’s impalement on a wall of antlers would be seen in graphic detail, while shot in a markedly restrained fashion for television. Because of his oft stated goal of having SALEM’S LOT like a feature, not a TV special (whether it was to be released theatrically or not), Kobritz and his staff handpicked production personnel capable of providing the right texture and depth under deadline pressure. Jules Brenner, who had shot the impressive NBC miniseries HELTER SKELTER, signed on as cinematographer; Mort Rabinowitz, a 23-year veteran of the film industry who was art director for Sydney Pollack’s CASTLE KEEP for which he and his staff built a castle in Yugoslavia) and THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?, was hired as production designer; and Harry Sukrnan, an Oscar winning composer (SONG WITHOUT END), who wrote the excellent music for SOMEONE IS WATCHING ME and whom Kobritz describes as “a former cohort and protégé of Victor Young,” was contracted to score SALEM’S LOT. And Tobe Hooper was enlisted as director. Following a chain of events Kobritz describes at length in his interview, Hooper was deemed the only appropriate person to direct SALEM’S LOT. Kobritz had screened for himself one recent horror film after another usually films by highly praised neophyte directors. Some of the features Kobritz found intriguing. Others, like PHANTASM, he remembers with a shudder of disbelief. None impressed him like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Hooper was called in for a meeting with Kobritz, and was signed.
It is important to note that the selection of Hooper did not signify an attempt to mimic the intensity of TEXAS CHAINSAW in a television show, which would be frankly impossible. Kobritz was searching for a filmmaker with a confident visual style, a mastery of camera movement, and an ability to follow a script and adhere to a tight schedule. There was, apparently, never any concern that Hooper would not be able to direct a film that did not contain a large quota of violence. “I think it goes without saying that if a man has a strong visual style and is also able to meet those other qualifications, his skills encompass more than the making of violent movies,” says Kobritz. “I knew Tobe was our man from the day I met him. And he’s come through like a champ.”
Hooper was signed in late spring of this year, and one of his first tasks was a field trip to the location that would be used for most of the exteriors of ‘Salem’s Lot. In 1977, Tony Richardson had directed a Warner telefilm, A DEATH IN CANAAN, which was supposed to be set in a small, contemporary Connecticut town. Ferndale, a northern California town 16 miles south of Eureka, and 75 miles south of the Oregon border, doubled perfectly as a bogus Connecticut location. Anna Cottle, associate producer for SALEM’S LOT, had been Richardson’s assistant. She remembered Ferndale and particularly the cooperation of the local inhabitants. After a brief scouting trip, Ferndale was chosen for SALEM’S LOT.
But in all of Ferndale, there was no house which could be used as a double for Marsten House, so Rabinowitz and his staff were dispatched to Ferndale to build one. They found a cottage on a hillside overlooking Ferndale and the Salt River Valley; it was decided to build a full-scale mock up of Marsten House around the existing cottage complex, complete with a stone retaining wall and several misted, dead trees. The family residing in the cottage was paid $20,000 and guaranteed all of the lumber from Marsten House once shooting was completed. The filming of SALEM’S LOT began on July 10 in Ferndale. “It took 20 working days to build Marsten House from scratch,” Rabinowitz recalls. “We put the last touches on it very late at night before shooting was to begin. I remember, my assistants and I were up there painting, and someone drove on by the road just below us. All of a sudden, he slammed on his brakes and backed up, got out of his car and just stood there staring at the house. ‘My God, I’ve lived here 25 years,’ he said, `and I never noticed that house before!’ I played along and just said, ‘Gee, I don’t know we’re just tourists.'”
Rabinowitz estimates the cost of the exterior Marsten House mock up as $100,000. Another $70,000 was spent constructing the interior of the house Kobritz’s rotting embodiment of the vampire’s soul back at the Burbank Studios. The interior rooms and passages of Marsten House posed the more difficult challenge for Rabinowitz and his staff. For one thing, there was the problem of creating atmosphere without going overboard.
“It’s a very difficult line,” admits Rabinowitz. “By the nature of the writing, you’re going into a theatrical abstraction, and you must take it further than normal, but not too much further. It’s trial and error. When I designed the interior, the first shots were way over, which I knew they would be, and I had to be careful in bringing them down not to lose all the gory description and so forth. When it’s that fine a line, I’ll intentionally go overboard and then gradually shave it back and back. I’d say it was two weeks from the first still photos and testing of the color lighting to the final result.
“I used a lot of plaster, no I could make huge craters all over the entire set and furniture so that it looked as though it was pock-marked, and from some of these larger openings in the walls I put a kind of epoxy or resin, and let it drip as if it were oozing from the interior, as if it were an open wound. We wanted a rotting, sick appearance, almost as if in discussions with the director and producer, we were looking into the body, the heart of the vampire. It reflects his whole being more so than just a decayed house. So we decided to go for an abstract image.
“Then,” Rabinowitz continues, “in front of the camera, we took the same material in medium shots and close ups and just loaded it up so it would ooze and pour right in front of you. Sometimes it’s very clear and at other times it’s not too obvious, just a little glistening in the background. “There’s a dark, greenish tint to the interior. We put down glaze after glaze after glaze, for the proper amount of sheen, and then various shades of green, mixing it up with other colors to that it wasn’t solid green.”
Two other important duties for Rabinowitz were the building of the antique shop (Strakers business front) and the small South American village where the beginning and end of the film are set.
“The Latin town was shot on the Burbank back lot and the San Fernando Valley Mission,” says Rabinowitz. “We used the interior of the mission church, and I built an adobe style native but on stage.
“My decorator, Jerry Adams, who is fantastic was responsible for most of what you see inside the antique shop. Ninety percent of what you see is his taste initially directed by me. But the individual pieces all Jerry Adams. I also have an assistant, Peter Samish, who is only 28 but is brilliant. He’s the son of Adrian Samish, the producer and former head of CBS who was not popular among many people. So Peter has not gotten where he is because of papa, he had a very rough time. But he was just to creative and inventive on this picture.”
Rabinowitz, a stickler for accuracy, found that one of his most perplexing assignments was to come up with a coffin for Barlow. “It was designed special,” he notes, “because there was no way to find anything like that. The research was difficult to come by, it’s a 400 year-old coffin but once I did find it, our cabinet shop and our antique shop here is so superb that they gave me exactly what I drew up, right on the nose. If I’d had to work at another studio, I don’t think it would have come out as well, because they are superb—just the finest in our business.”
Rabinowitz tries to be a perfectionist. A professional painter and sculptor, he has taught at UCLA and USC, and spends six months of each year at his Santa Fe, New Mexico studio, painting and sculpting for galleries. At 53, he is still excited by what he terms “that marvelous madness that is Hollywood,” and he still finds his work there a challenge. For SALEM’S LOT, in the rush of production for television, there are things he would do over if time allowed.
“There is one interior of the Glick boy’s bedroom,” Rabinowitz confesses “where I overdid the color and blew the gag. I absolutely telegraphed it by making the room a somber brown, so when the scene opens you’re in that mood already. Then, when the vampire arrives, it’s not as big a surprise. It’s still a very effective scene, but I’d have toned down my part of it more.”
In his interview, Hooper speaks of Rabinowitz with genuine awe. Rabinowitz worked closely with Hooper, and feels he developed an understanding of his personality. “He’s very good natured, extremely so,” says Rabinowitz, “very warm, but very laid back. He’s quite shy. But once he gains your confidence and you gain his, that stops. Was he articulate? With me, yes. He was very articulate. With others, not so much. It took time. It’s a personality kind of thing. But he knows exactly what he wants.”
But getting what he wants was another matter entirely for Hooper, particularly in the case of David Soul, who was also under pressure to perform. According to Soul, Hooper was articulate in relating to him what he wanted.
“I believe he is a good actor’s director and I believe he will be even more so,” observes Soul. “I think the problems of this film, which were primarily the special effects, the vampire obviously, and the fact that we were shooting out of continuity, made it difficult for him to spend the kind of time with the actors he’d have liked to.
“Many, many times we’d pull each other aside to talk and he’d say, `Goddammit, David, I’m sorry we can’t spend more time working out these relationships, but this just isn’t the time to do it so just hang in there.’ He was concerned that everybody on the set was happy. He’s a very gentle, very, very bright man. This picture, if nothing else, will seal his future, as an important director along with the Steven Spielberg’s, the John Carpenters, the John Badhams people like that.” Soul, who was cast two months before the start of production, was able to make suggestions that helped define his character a little better, but he feels some inconsistencies remain.
“Yes, there are a lot of inconsistencies, built into the script because the producers felt that since it’s television, there needs to be this reiteration of the fears on Ben Mears’ part so the audience is constantly aware. That for me is not giving the picture everything it could have. There are only so many times Ben Mears can say, ‘Did you ever have the feeling something is inherently evil?’, you know? There are a million other ways to say that same thing. I much prefer the scenes such as the entrance of Straker with his cane, which comes far closer to creating true terror than dialogue can.”
The scene with the cane the first meeting of Mears and Straker, helps illuminate Soul’s working relationship with Mason.
“There was a certain kind of awe to my working with Mason,” Soul explains, “and I used that for the relationship between the two characters: Mears is intimidated by Straker. It sounds simplistic, but it works. I did not try to get to know Mason better, so it was as if, in my early scenes with him, this imposing stranger could be the evil coming from the house. And only as we got further into the picture did my curiosity as David Soul—and certainly as Ben Mears—manifest itself in a kind of relationship with the character. So I kept away from him in the beginning. Also, the may Tobe staged our scenes heightened the element of surprise. The scene where I meet him as he’s walking with the cane is very well staged by Tobe, because I’m staring at the house and feeling all those disturbing sensations and memories and I back out almost out of the shot and then” Soul gasps “there he is behind me. These kinds of cinematic devices helped a lot, and that’s Tobe.
“I was impressed by both Tobe and Mason. There were a lot of impressive people on this film, actors especially. Lew Ayres was the same as Mason in a way, though he was a little difficult to crack. He’s a very orthodox and tough actor. He was a matinee idol, and he considers himself still to be a star. But once that was broken down, it became a very warm relationship.
“Mason is fascinating. He’s better than most TV actors and he’s also a personality. He’s got a mystique that he’s built up forty years and that’s what you’re watching also, and what you’re playing opposite. I was surprised to find out how organically he works, he had a whole history for Straker. His conversations about the character were very intelligent.
“How did I change my own TV personality and still play a hero? It’s a good question. I don’t have a pat answer. Obviously, they’re different characters. I think the accouterments changed me somewhat the glasses, the clothes. Also, I cleaned up my speech pattern a little bit. I sound like a writer, a man who’s at home with words. In STARSKY AND HUTCH, it was always dip-dip-dip, sort of half-finished sentences, a street jargon and repartee. This time, I stuck with the lines and the discipline of a well written script. There’s also a mysterious quality to Ben Mears and I tried to work with that. I didn’t socialize a lot. It was a rough part, and in a sense, I let the neuroses that were building up in David Soul because of the pressure work for the character.
“That’s one area in which Tobe was very helpful and understanding. He listened. “Have I seen THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE? No, but I do want to, very much, after working with Tobe.”
Hooper, who’s career literally reached a standstill a year after his arrival in Hollywood, is a living testament to the difficulty of maintaining a career in the horror genre. Shortly before he was approached by Kobritz for SALEM’S LOT, Hooper had even met with Italian producers over the possibility of directing THE GUYANA MASSACRE, before his agent blew the whistle on the project (“God bless him,” Hooper now says). Hooper openly admits that SALEM’S LOT pulled him from obscurity.
“Look,” says Hooper, “this is a quantum leap for me. SALEM’S LOT is my best picture, and there’s no question about it. It’s a major studio production, I’m working with a fantastic cast and crew. And Kobritz is wonderful. This is a first for me.” But is it the same Tobe Hooper in SALEM’S LOT that we saw in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or even EATEN ALIVE? Can the same audacious spirit run through something created for television? “Oh, I think so,” Hooper replies. “For one thing, my style is ingrained in me. It does not change. It improves, perhaps, but it does not change. Also, SALEM’S LOT does not rely on the same kind of dynamics as CHAINSAW. It is scary, it is atmospheric, but in a different way. I do not have to cheat the audience to bring it to television.
“The style of my films is not their violence. Violence has sometimes been an ingredient in them, but because I shoot it a certain way, people may have thought that is the style all by itself. You know, I made a number of short and feature films before I entered the genre with TEXAS CHAINSAW, and they didn’t contain violence, but my style was developing nonetheless in each of those films. “Part of the idea of SALEM’S LOT is to bring the audience into the movement, in a way the camera moves almost constantly. I am leading the audience on, but I’m satisfying them too, I’m not cheating them. They’re not going to expect a dollar’s worth of scare and get 75 cents worth of talk. And you can do that without slicing someone up with a chainsaw.”
In fact, there is relatively little dialogue in SALEM’S LOT. The narrative is advanced primarily in cinematic terms through camera movement and editing, and through scenes that establish perspective in a strictly visual way. Kobritz’s desire for this effect, and his need for a director who could add to his and Monash’s ideas, not just catty them out was the main impetus behind the hiring of Tobe Hooper.
One of Hooper’s most striking scenes of barely glimpsed violence is the murder of Dr. Bill Norton by Straker, who picks him up and heaves him across a room into a wall embedded with antlers. Hooper’s camera carries the audience right along with Norton, holding on a dose shot of Norton’s horror struck face up to and including the moment of impact. Because the actual impalement is not seen in a wide shot, the scene is technically acceptable for network TV, and Hooper’s surprise trick of dragging the audience along on the victim’s death ride assures both shock and terror.
In another sequence, Hooper and his special effects team employ a coffin’s eye view of the inside of a grave, to involve the audience in the resurrection of one of the Glick brothers. In his interview, Kobritz explains the mechanics of two of SALEM’S LOTS most elaborate effects: the vampires’ contact lenses and the shot in reverse levitation scenes. Hooper discusses their emotional quality. “I invented those,” Hooper says, “working with the makeup and special effects people. The one with the eyes has to do with hypnotism. I was going for an effect that would implicate the audience again, I guess it’s my interest in psychology rather than have them walk out of the room for a drink when the vampire turns to hypnotize someone. Those are generally very boring, predicable scenes.
“I studied what I had been exposed to as a film student and moviegoer, from the old Universals all the way up to the Hammer Films. No matter how you try to explain those away or make allowances, it’s always just Chris Lee with those damned bloodshot eyes. I knew our hypnotism would have to be something that is not easy for an audience to comprehend. Well, we’ve all had bloodshot eyes. So what we came up with was a kind of contact lens that just glows and glows and follows you, and is obviously not an optical done in the lab, and is therefore strange and fascinating to look at. The result is that it makes you look in his eyes, too, and you just wonder and look and look and look.”
And the levitation scene, in which the vampires float through the window to prospective victims?
“Well, I’m sorry they told you so much about that. Damn! That’s the kind of thing that should also make you guess, no you’re riveted to your seat. It’s one of those devices that ought to be revealed after you’ve seen the picture. But since they’ve told you. “The business of bringing the kid into the room on a boom crane eliminates the use of wires, and if you keep the camera in a certain position, keep the kid moving so you’re distracted from guessing or trying to guess how the effect was done, which is unlikely anyway and you cut properly, it’s very disturbing. It’s just obvious there are no wires. I also had an ectoplasmic mist surrounding him, and issuing in a kind of vacuum from him to his victim and back again.” The levitation effect was also enriched by shooting in reverse, which made the ectoplasmic fog swirl in an eerie way.
“We wanted something like the Nosferatu Of Murnau’s 1922 film where the vampire was walking death, ugliness incarnate, a skull that moved and was alive. “
– producer Richard Kubritz
Creating the image Of the vampire was a little like a fishing expedition, ” admits makeup man Jack Young, who in his 30 years as a makeup artist has worked on films from The Wizard of Oz to Apocalypse NOW changed the at least six time,” he says displaying a small card with Polaroid shots of each of the six renditions in his lab on the Warner lot. “We tried him with light pink on his face but he looked phony, burlesque. We finally came up with the light gray which is dead and bloodless. “Reggie Nalder (who plays Barlow) has such a wonderful face; he always plays some pretty grim so We just put ears on him, made him bald, put gray horrible makeup on him and used his own lips. For the teeth I made impressions of his, created a false set and then aged them by airbrushing shadows on them. They yellow and like they have cavities.” The eerie look of the vampire Barlow’s eyes are created by contact lenses almost like half a ping-pong ball—light green in color with red veins—that fit over the eye and can only be worn for 15 minutes at a time. The pupils reflect as do the eyes of the other vampire characters in the film, an effect created by yellow screen-like contact lenses. “They spark when the light hits them,” says Young with a devious look in his eye. “It looks awful, like they have searchlights coming out Of their eyes.”
In the scene near the end of the movie when Mears is driving the stake through Barlow’s heart, Barlow’s claw-like hand flies up and grabs Ben’s wrist. “For the claws, ” says Young, “I made a composite you can form with your hands. Ifs like a clay you can hake but it has flex. It wasn’t originally made for nails but that’s what I used it for. It’s all part of the attempt to get away from the stereotype Dracula. ”
As Ben continues to drive the stake in, Barlow’s head starts to rise from the coffin to meet Ben’s. Then suddenly the flesh seems to fall from the head, revealing a ghost-like skull. “I had to make the head about four or five times to get it to come out right, ” admits Young. The final one is hand-carved out of plaster then covered with a composition of wax that would sag , not drip. “I got the skin to appear to fall away by turning a heat gun on the completed portrait head,” adds Young.
But how will all of this look on a big screen? With everyone involved with the production stressing that SALEM’S LOT is a feature, not just a television special, it seems a logical question.
“This piece was not made with a lot of concessions to TV, beyond the obvious limiting of the use of violence,” Hooper replies. “There has been some second unit shooting, about five days I think, for some of the special effects. These are physical effects, as you called them before, not opticals there are no cheap opticals designed for the TV screen. The photography is very good, Mort Rabinowitz’s art direction is just remarkable, SALEM’S LOT will look like a feature.”
SALEM’S LOT wrapped shooting on August 29. Hooper assembled his rough cut within a couple of weeks after. CBS has already begun to promote the miniseries, and will air it on too successive nights during either the November ratings “sweep” (when network ratings are closely monitored to determine future advertising rates and the best specials are consequently televised) or a date soon after.
And way up in Center Lovell, Maine, the author of SALEM’S LOT is awaiting the production’s telecast like the rest of us.
“I thought THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was a great movie, and I like the screenplay they’ve come up with for this, so I’m looking forward to it,” says Stephen King.
“What I’d really like them to do is send me a videotape of the European version. I’d be very into that.”
TOBE HOOPER Director Interview
For all his efforts to become a mainstream Hollywood filmmaker, Tobe (pronounced Tow-bee) Hooper remains an enigma. The controversy caused by THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), his second feature, created an underground cult reputation for him even before he abandoned his native Texas for California. The strange and sporadic distribution of the film, the folding of the company originally licensed to release it (after the conviction of its officers in the DEEP THROAT obscenity case), and the resultant “disappearance” of millions of dollars in rental receipts, all contributed footnotes to the bizarre history of its director. The release of Hooper’s first Hollywood movie, EATEN ALIVE (which he had filmed as DEATH TRAP) a year later did not make his cinematic vision more accessible to the public, even some of his staunchest defenders felt it clouded nuances that had been crystallized in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. At the time of TEXAS CHAINSAW’s release, it was difficult even to ascertain Hooper’s age, he was variously described as a man in his late 20s to mid-30s. Hooper now gives his age as 33. He studied cinematography and music in Texas, and made two feature-length films, a PBS documentary on Peter, Paul and Mary, and a psychedelic art film called EGGSHELLS before a carefully calculated move into modern, commercial horror with TEXAS CHAINSAW.
Significantly, the least publicized aspect of Hooper’s background his interest in psychology supplies perhaps the most forceful current to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Hooper is one of several young, contemporary filmmakers, Brian DePalma and John Carpenter among them who acknowledge a debt to Alfred Hitchcock. But Hooper realizes that Hitchcock’s ability to shock is in many ways the least of his gifts. Hitchcock is one of a handful of filmmakers who, early in his career, integrated a mastery of technique with a strong story sense. However powerful DePalma and Carpenter’s films may occasionally be, they have until recently, remained essentially derivative. Hooper, on the other hand, has fused his technical skills with the deep psychological base of his films, and virtually created a new genre. Hooper lives in Los Angeles with his 13¬year-old son (“I’m divorced, I was married very young and I’ve been divorced about eight years”). He openly admits that producer Richard Kobritz’s call for him to direct SALEM’S LOT rescued him from obscurity. Most articulate when discussing the technical side of his films, Hooper speaks slowly, with a deep, gravelly voice that projects a low-key charm. He describes his present career stage with just one sentence: “It’s the second act.”
You were announced to direct THE DARK, and now it’s out under John Bud Cardos’ signature. What happened?
Tobe Hooper: It was an unpleasant and totally impossible situation. There was a conspiracy where the first assistant director (Cardos), who was a friend, had shot a picture before for these people and actually had been promised this one. But Bill Devane wanted me, and so did the associate producer (Igo Kanter), and the actual producer (Edward L. Montoro), who produced GRIZZLY, THE DAY OF THE ANIMALS, and had re-edited and distributed BEYOND THE DOOR. But this producer and I had a conflict that would occur daily. He had a vision, and I had a vision, and they clashed. I found myself not wanting to be a traffic cop and consequently, I was not. So I shot about four days of the picture after prepping it. In four days, I had probably five major arguments. The crew had been hand selected without my consideration, and they were the assistant’s crew. After a while, I saw the man (Cardos) studying the script, and then I knew what his thinking was. I was calling my agent every few minutes. The producer(Montoro) should have directed the movie. He did not confine his interests to story planning. He interrupted something that was a very personal, very specific, well thought out, well learned through hardship style. My vision of film is stylistic which does not exclude commercialism. There’s no reason why a commercial picture cannot also be a dynamite film. And the times were in right now, it takes something to get those kids into the local theatre. However, it’s also a matter of having, once you get them in there, a degree of credibility.
There was talk that you had and lost a Universal Pictures contract, and then you dropped from sight until now and SALEM’S LOT
Tobe Hooper: You may not know I had a history with SALEM’S LOT for four years. I had an opportunity to come and work for Warner Bros on a yearly contract to develop something. Well, there was this book, SALEM’S LOT and this was before Stephen King got real hot. But there was a conflict because Billy Friedkin, a friend of mine and one of my major mentors, was at Universal. I made the decision to go to Universal because of Billy. Anyway, things didn’t work out at all for any of us at Universal at the time. The timing was wrong. I spent 18 months on two scripts, genre scripts which were never filmed. They were development deals. The majors will give young, promising talent a development deal, and if it meets their expectations, or their standards, or what they had for lunch, you can acquire from them an interest. Then you’re on to something else and another script. I did two scripts over an 18 month period of waiting and politicking and so forth. In the meantime, Billy left and came to Warners. Also, SALEM’S LOT had come up again there. I had gone to work on a project at Universal with Turman and Foster that did not work out for anyone, there’s no bad guys connected, it just didn’t work and so the motion picture division at Warners called me one more time, and with Stirling Sillipliant producing and writing at that time, they asked if I could get Ned Tannen at Universal to loan me out so I could come over and work with Stirling. Billv finally suggested that he produce and I direct SALEM’S LOT and I said that sounds terrific. Well, before the project got moving it fell through and SALEM’S LOT went to television. That was the last I heard for a long time until Richard Kobritz called me.
How do you feel about working in television?
Tobe Hooper: Well, when SALEM’S LOT was transferred to television I remember thinking that, actually, because of the way the book is constructed as a story, television is a good format for it. It’s a long story, and it’s fragmented, and you acquire the information that makes you respond cumulatively. And making it longer enables you to get most of the punches in. Kobritz is also a wonderful producer, Mort Rabinowitz is an incredible production designer I’m so impressed with him it’s unbelievable, and I hope he’s available for everything I do and of course there’s the cast, who were so receptive and inventive.
How did you get on with James Mason? Do you think he came away feeling he’d worked with a solid director?
Tobe Hooper: I do absolutely. He didn’t say anything to me so much as to my mother. I brought my mother around a bit, Mason and his wife spent a little time with her, and took a liking to her. I got more information back through my mother than Mason. But he showed, when we worked, a remarkable professionalism and a creative and inventive quality that complemented what I wanted. I had a very warm relationship with all of the cast. I’m not just a technician, even though my background is cinematography, editing and music. That is now second nature to me, and my new wonder is the construction of human behavior. I was always interested in characterization, but what I’m saying is it is now a priority, because the technical aspect my style is already ingrained. The thing I love is working with so main talented people because they can invent and bring so much to their work. That’s what I love—not just being a filmmaker, but a director. I aspire to being an actor’s director. And again, that does not diminish the technical style of the picture.
Do you still feel Hitchcock is the best?
Tobe Hooper: Well, I love Hitchcock. I love his films. He inspired me as a teacher of film language. But I feel now that his strong point was his film language and not the humanity or a display of genius in terms of relationships. To break that down very simply—genius as a technician, lack of genius in performance. Even though he has used tremendous actors, it seems as though they have had to confine themselves because of the technical side of the movie. I’m learning not to work that way although my film language may somewhat resemble Hitchcock’s because I loved his movements and the way he got into points of view and discovery and timing.
Is there a sweep to the camera movements in SALEM’S LOT?
Tobe Hooper: The camera is almost always moving. I mean, incredible booms, dolly shots, epic Atlas Apollo moon shots that sweep away very quickly from the interior of the Marsten House to show you the epic scale of the house. You won’t believe your eyes. There’s a staircase equal to if not larger than the one in GONE WITH THE WIND the Memphis mansion, not Tara. The staircase almost goes into infinity. But besides that, the construction of the whole interior is somewhat like CITIZEN KANE. it’s so massive that you can walk into the fireplaces, it has strange things you don’t expect to see at all. It’s all pock marked with oozing craters in the wall, really horrifying stuff.
What did Mason say when he saw that?
Tobe Hooper: Oh, Mason loved it. But the way I played Mason was for a contrast in what he looked like and what he did. He is immaculate, never a blemish on him, a very well-tailored man and a pleasing fellow. And inside that house of decay it’s an incredible contrast, as well as Mason. I should say Straker enjoying himself and what he’s doing. It’s really a shocking bit of chemistry when you see a kindly actor, a prestigious man carrying a black bundle wrapped in plastic through the bulkhead doors and into the cellar of the Marsten House, and very pleased, you see, almost with the expression of the cat that ate the canary, he unfolds this little dead child on the dining room table, and is quite proud of himself, you can almost see the tail feathers of the canary sticking out of his mouth. The contrast is so frightening it’s wonderful. And that was just one of maybe a hundred little bits that Mason did.
How was David Soul to work with?
Tobe Hooper: I was shocked. He’s not like his television series, he’s quite talented this is a new David Soul.
You seem pretty happy with SALEM’S LOT
Tobe Hooper: Oh, listen (laughs), there’s only one like it. It’s an actual epic. I say epic in the sense that it’s long like GONE WITH THE WIND, it has a large cast, it looks like a multi-million dollar spectacle which it is. It’s the epic piece of its genre.
Do you see it as an updating of DRACULA with the character interaction and a central figure whose presence is felt even when he isn’t seen?
Tobe Hooper: In a sense. But it also bridges that credibility gap and takes you over from a situation that is meant to be an enchantment with the past, into the present in the return of Ben Mears—David Soul—to ‘Salem’s Lot. He returns but not altogether innocently.
Did you catch the similarities between the house in CHAINSAW and Marsten House?
Tobe Hooper: Oh, of course. In a way, that was deliberate. The house occupies a space that is unique and has a magnetic power that seems to identify with the negative side of human nature. The house we built is about five times larger than the Universal backlot PSYCHO house.
Is the European theatrical of SALEM’S LOT more explicit?
Tobe Hooper: It’s a little more explicit. This piece does not stand or fall on that kind of dynamics it doesn’t need that. This film is very spooky, it suggests things and always has the overtone of the grave. It affects you differently than my other horror films. It’s more soft shelled. A television movie does not have blood or violence. It has atmosphere which creates something you cannot escape the reminder that our time is limited and all the accouterments that go with it, such as the visuals.
Did the combination of working with big stars for the first time and the short TV schedule present problems?
Tobe Hooper: Yes, but I overcame most of them. I completed the picture in 37 days. That’s like shooting two major features in one quarter the time you’d normally take. It caused conflicts. But most of the people were willing to help. We worked long hours, we did not work eight-to-five. I mean, we really worked. The reason I sound so wiped out is I’m trying to recover from working two months on three hours sleep a night. I’m exhausted, but this film was very necessary for me. It is a feature. It is not by any stretch of the imagination a conventional television show. It’s really packed, it’s loaded, and I’m proud of it.
How many camera set-ups were you doing a day?
Tobe Hooper: It’s hard to say, we were working so fast. I’d say between 35-to-40.
That’s like a throwback to the Roger Corman pace.
Tobe Hooper: It was murder. We were tying up two stages, and we’d jump from one to the other. We also used local locations for interiors, to match exterior locations in northern California.
This is a big career jump for you right into the mainstream. You were rescued. Your name was even mentioned in connection with a Guyana film at one point.
Tobe Hooper: Oh, sure, I went to Rome to meet those guys and maybe do the Guyana piece. And God bless him, my agent, John Gaines, said “Absolutely not.”
Do you have anything lined up after SALEM’S LOT? Are they genre?
Tobe Hooper: I have three things to select from now. And they split the difference between genre and non genre. I’m moving from the genre in an intelligent way, I think. One leap and it’s risky. I love and respect the genre, and I’m delighted by its success and the respect—to a degree that is being given to it finally. I’ll never turn my back on it. What I’m interested in doing now, though, is what I indirectly suggested to you before something with dynamic human character relationships. And of course it will still have a strong story, a suspenseful story. I do, however, want to concentrate on characterization. But don’t worry I don’t think you’ll find me directing a nice little parlor comedy with a group of people sitting around talking. Not unless they’re discussing the destruction of the world.
Richard Kobritz is a creative producer in the Thalbergian sense. He is, in other words, a benign monarch. He believes in hiring the most talented cast and crew available to him, establishing the ground rules before shooting begins, then setting them loose to do their best work. As vice-president for production at Warner Bros Television, Kobritz monitors all of the studio’s TV output, a task which only allows him time to personally produce one film a year.
Strong willed producers are, of course, nothing new in television, where individual expression is stifled and a director’s personality is no more evident in a weekly series than in the commercials that interrupt it. But Kobritz, apparently, is different than most producers. His need for control is less a matter of ego than a desire to create a quality production. Kobritz trusts his intuition and wants to surround himself with collaborators who agree with his basic concept, yet will not hesitate to offer suggestions or changes. The measure of his formula’s success is that Tobe Hooper, still reeling from disastrous producer interference on two features and a fruitless 18 months at Universal Pictures, emerged from SALEM’S LOT with nothing but praise for Kobritz.
Kobritz entered the film industry in 1964 at age 23. He worked as an assistant director on several Doris Day comedies, then served as production manager on three films directed by Gene Kelly: A GUIDE FOR THE MARRIED MAN, HELLO DOLLY and THE CHEYENNE SOCIAL CLUB. He toiled briefly as a producer in the exploitation field for a few small companies, notably Fanfare, a now-defunct outfit. “Everything you’d do for a company like Fanfare was horror in some way, shape or form,” says Kobritz, who remembers the unreleased HOT SUMMER WEEK as representative of the firm’s exploitation horror product. Kobritz later worked as an associate producer for director Martin Ritt on “a couple of features,” including CONRACK (1974), starring Jon Voight. He has also been under contract to Twentieth Century-Fox, for whom he produced a number of television pilots.
You produced John Carpenter’s SOMEONE IS WATCHING ME.
Richard Kobritz: Right, which was called HIGH RISE when we shot it. The network changed it. It didn’t look like an NBC made for-television movie. It had a much more distinctive style. A lot of NBC’s TV movies all tend to look like THE ROCKFORD FILES.
That’s obviously intentional on our part, and I think you’ll find the same thing is true of SALEM’S LOT. I only personally do one of these a year, because I’m also in charge of production here, which doesn’t permit me to do more. I guess I’ve got a few rules. Number one is I try to find a director who has never directed television, and who has probably never directed a union film, but who has directed a nonunion feature in Carpenter’s case DARK STAR and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, and in Tobe Hooper’s case THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. It’s kind of a strange process I go through. It’s hard to find something you really want to do if you don’t have to do one, so you tend to be choosy within your own parameters. I generally gravitate toward the same kind of material, you know, horror, terror, something like that in a kind of Hitchcockian mold. To put it that way sounds very egotistical, but I don’t mean it like that. I’m just trying to get us into clear categories. Anyway, once I find that material we progress to the screenplay and in the meantime I try to see every movie I can, try to come up with somebody who is young and who is inexperienced with all of the problems of working a heavily unionized major studio operation.
Why is that?
Richard Kobritz: Because I’m looking for somebody who is visual, who isn’t wasting his time worrying about the politics of what the unions are doing, that’s my job. More than anything else I want a director who is visual, who knows how to tell it in terms of camera, not in terms of dialogue, or not in terms of conventional camera coverage. There are two rules I always stress, and in both John and Tobe’s case, they not only embraced what I said, but that’s the way they would have done it anyway. I don’t want a zoom lens on that camera and I want to keep that camera moving. That’s, unfortunately, become the way of television. So what I try to do is a small feature within a short shooting schedule which is difficult, but that’s television.
What changes did you have to make in the novel in scripting SALEM’S LOT for television?
Richard Kobritz: We went with the concept of a really unattractive, horrible looking Barlow. We went back to the old German NOSFERATU concept where he is the essence of evil, and not anything romantic or smarmy, or, you know, the rouge cheeked, widow peaked Dracula. I wanted nothing suave or sexual, because I just didn’t think it’d work, we’ve seen too much of it. The other thing we did with the character which I think is an improvement is that Barlow does not speak. When he’s killed at the end, he obviously emits sounds, but it’s not even a full line of dialogue, in contrast to the book and the first draft of the screenplay. I just thought it would be suicidal on our part to have a vampire that talks. What kind of voice do you put behind a vampire? You can’t do Bela Lugosi, or you’re going to get a laugh. You can’t do Regan in THE EXORCIST, or you’re going to get something that’s unintelligible, and besides, you’ve been there before. That’s why I think the James Mason role of Straker became all the more important. And he is, I must say, perfect. That sounds like puffery, but he was well worth it. We wondered if he would be available, if he would be attracted to the material and he was available, and he loved the material. It’s just an incredibly good piece of casting. We were fortunate. It’s a very good part, but he gives it so much himself he’s such a classy actor.
What was Stirling Silliphant’s involvement? He’s listed as executive producer. Did he also do a script at any time?
Richard Kobritz: He wrote a script for the theatrical version, which was never used—and of course, it was not used for this one. In fact, he has nothing to do with this picture. There is an agreement with the studio because of his prior involvement with the project. He made some encouraging phone calls, and I think showed up a couple of times to say hello to people, but he has nothing to do with the production. I understand there’s a Writers’ Guild arbitration underway challenging Monash’s solo credit on the script. We should know the outcome of that soon. No other scripts were ever considered. Monash was never even offered the other material. Obviously, the source is the same everybody read the book, everybody wrote his own screenplay. This is the one we went with. I would hope Paul would get sole credit. Of the three other what we’d call “contributing writers,” Stirling Silliphant has not protested, Bob Getchell has not protested, it’s just this Larry Cohen who had a really lousy screenplay. That was back before we were ever involved with it, back when the feature department had this very hot book, went through three screenplays and could do nothing with it.
What other changes were made from book to screenplay?
Richard Kobritz: The changes we brought from Paul’s original draft, which was very much like the book to what we ended up with from him make for a very classy movie. The major changes included Barlow, and that the Marsten House must never be clean and immaculate inside like Straker is. The house was very crucial, it must look like a veritable cesspool. I even put the line in the script myself that it must look like a shithole, only being that graphic just to get the point across. I wanted the audience to say, how could this man of Edwardian dignity live in such a place? And yet he does. And the third point was not to have Barlow in Eva Miller’s cellar as he was in the book at the end. it just doesn’t work I mean, from a point of sheer construction in a well written screenplay, he’s got to reside inside the Marsten House. He’s a major star in the picture the third or fourth most important character he’s got to be there. It may have worked in the book, but not in the movie. That house is the essence of evil God knows, Ben Mears talks about it till he’s blue in the face so to me that was very important. And one last thing I pushed the death of the last vampire to the end of the film. There were three violent deaths right in a row Straker, Barlow and her and all of a sudden, the killing and the device of killing became a really nothing, you know? So I changed that.
In what way does the inside of the house resemble a cesspool?
Richard Kobritz: It is a house of horrors. I don’t mean with ghosts and that, I mean the dirtiest, filthiest house you’ve ever seen, as opposed to being pristine, which it is in the book. I like that dichotomy of Straker being immaculately dressed all the time, without a piece of lint on his lapel, and yet you walk into this mansion with him, the interior we created on a stage and you know the plumbing doesn’t work, the walls fairly seep with moisture, and you say to yourself they must defecate on the floors and in the corners because you know there are no bathrooms in here. And that all adds to it. I just couldn’t believe the beautiful Victorian Gothic mansion in the book it was like the last scene in 2001, and I felt that would play against the horror. It worked well in the book, it wouldn’t work for us. I believe that to be a distinct improvement, I really do.
One of the gossip magazines said David Soul was drinking on the set.
Richard Kobritz: No, I didn’t notice any of that. It’s a very difficult script in that there is very little dialogue and the story is very intense. The pressure was hard on him. I even told him one day, “Let the neuroses play it’s working for the character.” He was not doing a normal script, with a lot of dialogue and everything explained. He was doing a very serious genre piece, dealing a lot in effects. I don’t mean special effects only, but where scenes tied into other scenes because we’re going for a special optical and stuff like that. In the same way that Cary Grant could question, in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, “Why does my character react this way? I would never be walking into a wheat field in my suit” and finding five very logical reasons why not to do it. But that unfortunately is the way it has to be done. That’s the whole thing with that THIRTY-NINE STEPS, SABOTEUR, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH genre of Hitchcock. By the same token, we were going for a genre piece here that was not always explainable in normal script language and normal dialogue, and I’m sure that would be very frustrating to an actor who takes his work seriously.
Did you realize how much Lance Kerwin and Soul would look alike?
Richard Kobritz: Yeah, but they really don’t. They’re both blonde, but, David is incredibly so he’s this blonde, beautiful, California young man. Lance is also light haired, but there’s this astonishing kind of forlorn, haunted expression to him. And he’s a remarkable young actor, without a doubt the most talented young actor I’ve ever worked with. He is good, that boy, because there’s an innate sadness not as a person, but as an actor. He’s able to portray a depth and a profundity you just don’t find in kids that young. You mentioned effects a moment ago.
Were there a lot of opticals, or mostly physical effects?
Richard Kobritz: Almost all physical effects, very few opticals. It’s not a picture where we’re going to spend weeks with miniatures or in post production ironing out the details in the opticals.
There’s a superimposition of Barlow’s face on the moan in the last page of the script.
Richard Kobritz: Yeah, I wrote that. We’re testing it and we’ll see if it works out. I put that in myself as a blue page, only because I kept thinking of it and finally I decided, why not? Lees have a final little laugh at the end. For the rest of the picture there’s no laughs at all, and this is kind of cynical and a little ironic.
Another effect is the disintegration of Barlow, will we see that? On TV, usually you see it but it’s so abbreviated.
Richard Kobritz: I know. I hope you see it. We shot it. That’s obviously out of my hands, but the network approved the script and it’s in there. There’s a still of Ed Flanders impaled to a wall of antlers. I can’t imagine how we’ll see. You will not see that. You’ll see what’s in the script we fly up to the wall with him and the moment of impact is in his face. The long shot would be strictly for European theatrical, like the stakings.
How did you show the town burning at the end?
Richard Kobritz: We never show it for two reasons, (a) we didn’t have the money to show it properly and (b) it’s too time-consuming to show that. I really want to wrap the picture by that time. I think the audience has caught up with us as far as what vampires are, the killing of vampires, the appearance of vampires in a sense we must now go to the ending in Guatemala as quickly as possible.
Another change was the use of hawthorne instead of garlic.
Richard Kobritz: Yeah, you know why? I was tired of garlic. And I was tired of every cheap joke, is it gonna be an Italian vampire, all that kind of stuff. So I said, lets go with something a little different, and our research people came up with hawthorne. I’m just tired of all the NIGHT GALLERY business where you hold up garlic and he says, “I’m not Italian,” or a crucifix and he says, “But I’m Jewish” I just didn’t want to get near a line like that, to wind up with an unintentional laugh at a moment when I definitely don’t want it.
You obviously did more than just “produce.” Were you on the set?
Richard Kobritz: Constantly.
And that didn’t bother Hooper?
Richard Kobritz: Not at all. I don’t want to put words in his mouth here, but I think it added security. It was a very good collaboration. Things were discussed when we shot, before we shot. It was a very close relationship. I’m sure that doesn’t happen much.
And you shot on location
Richard Kobritz: Yes, during July we shot two weeks in Ferndale, just outside of Eureka, sort of a New England Victoriana village, about 100 miles south of the northern California border. Then we came back here and shot an additional six.
The location brings to mind HARVEST HOME, the NBC miniseries based on Thomas Tryon’s book That was like four hours of boredom with a half-hearted climax. Did you see it?
Richard Kobritz: I did, and that was my feeling, too, unfortunately. Again, I think we have better material going in. Number one, the screenplay is better. They just had Bette Davis and were hanging their hat on one performance. What we’ve tried to do in everything from our vampires to our head vampire was to be different. We’re using a remarkable contact lens which is like half a ping gong ball, fits over the whole eye, and can only be worn for 15 minutes at a time before it has to be removed to let the eye rest for 3O minutes. They’re not just bloodshot eyes. I wanted an effect like the eyes in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and its sequel CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED I wanted them to be sick and decayed and, I hate to use the word but pus-filled. We also added one element which had not been done before, we put a reflective material in the contact, and when we turn our lights on it, they glow back at us. That way we didn’t have to do burn ins, we didn’t have to do opticals, all of which you never have the amount of time to do thoroughly. I looked at VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED three weeks ago when it played here, and I realized how seldom their eyes really glow in the picture. For us, when there’s a vampire, his eyes are shining, and that is important. Another thing was that we didn’t fly our vampires in on wires, because even in the best of films you can see them.
In THE EXORCIST you can..
Richard Kobritz: Yes, exactly. We wanted a method whereby we could actually fly a person in through a window. So we took a normal crane, like a Titan crane, and we put a long pole at the end of it, and we put the actor in a body harness at the end of that, so we were able to shove him into a room, and at the same time control his body movements. He could fly in, he could straighten up, he could tilt to one side, as long as the pole was not visible in the shot. We wanted to get a feeling of floating. And the effect is horrific, because you know there’s no wires, we’re shooting the whole window including the sill and wall above it. It was also something we were very nervous about, because you haven’t got the time, in a television show, to make a special effects mistake it had better work. We also did something else we shot the whole thing in reverse, and are projecting it forward, in the levitation and floatation scenes, because we want the smoke to be behind the vampires. That way we have more control over it. I think it turned out better than we had even hoped for it has a very spooky, eerie quality to it. And the key, again, is getting a visual director, because if you read the script, you’ll see there’s not much dialogue. That’s not to say there aren’t those expository scenes, those getting acquainted scenes but for a four-hour movie of the week, it is what you’d call “light on dialogue.” And that’s all the more reason why it has got to be visually strong.
Are you shooting a hard and a soft version to accommodate the foreign theatrical release?
Richard Kobritz: Not in terms of nudity or anything like that, but in terms of intensity.
You mean, in the TV version, a stake will be driven through a vampire’s heart and go out of camera range, while in the European theatrical, the audience will see the blood and —
Richard Kobritz: Exactly. We’re protecting ourselves. It’s a different market out there, one where you have to pay, not where you see it for free. But in a horror picture done primarily for television, you’ve got to deal in scares instead of blood, which is what we’re trying to do. What we want is to have the bogeyman jump out of the closet at the audience every few minutes. If it works, were successful. If we’re not successful we’re not successful. And that’s the hard part—trying to find someone who can pull that off. I’ve been lucky. In Carpenter’s case, he’s a guy we’ll come to recognize, not just because of the success of HALLOWEEN, but in the next few years through universal recognition, as a major talent. And the same is true of Tobe. Because I happened to like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, which I think is brilliant. I saw it a few times and I know they did it for $100,000 in 20 days with a student crew, and all those things that don’t help to make a picture good and still there was an incredible visual quality. What was hinted at and never seen really intrigued me.
There isn’t that much outright blood and gore in TEXAS CHAINSAW. You just think you see it
Richard Kobritz: Exactly. There are some beautiful touches. My God, I saw the way the camera was moving, the way the exterior of the house was established, things you don’t normally see in big features, let alone television.
Dollying in under the swing after the girl as she enters the house..
Richard Kobritz: Right—that scene in particular. I couldn’t believe how well that film had been made, especially under those conditions. But once I saw it, I had my director.
How did you find Hooper? After losing his Universal contract, and the fiasco with THE DARK he just disappeared.
Richard Kobritz: I didn’t know anything about a Universal contract or any of that. I heard about that later. For me, I find the best way to operate is to find the project first and then the director. I just ran a lot of films, some of them by people who were very well hyped. Some were okay, some were really terrible, and there were just none that compared to TEXAS CHAINSAW. I hadn’t seen it before, when it came out. It was just a title I knew of— it’s obviously a very memorable title. I knew it had made some money. I had heard Billy Friedkin had liked it and had recommended Hooper, that he’d worked on a few subsequent projects, some of which were aborted —one, EATEN ALIVE, was made. That I never did see. But once I saw TEXAS CHAINSAW, my mind was made up. I didn’t even know whether Tobe lived here. We found he had an agent, and we called him up. Obviously I had to have a meeting with Tobe, to tell him how I worked, which was probably totally different than anything he’d been exposed to even at a major studio, even at Universal. I said I work very closely. It’s essentially my decision what the final script is. Not to say your voice won’t be heard, but—
But you’re the boss.
Richard Kobritz: Right, and this is what I want to make. Last year I did this kind of picture, this year I’m doing this kind of picture. They’re in the same genre, but it’s a dissimilar subject matter. I like a very fluid camera, I want incredible visual style on the picture and I also want to make sure it is cast impeccably well. We naturally have to deal with some television names to satisfy the network, but I really want to make sure it’s a classy act we’re putting together.
That’s an unusual list. I would never expect a TV producer to say he wants a fluid camera, he doesn’t want zoom lenses. Was Hooper impressed?
Richard Kobritz: I don’t know. Well, yeah I think anybody who hears that is very surprised. I know I can keep a pace going and there’s certain things I can change or modify as we go along. But I care that the thing ends up looking like a feature, that it just is not something that looks like every other television movie with a modern jazz score behind it. Then again, it’s a subject matter that I’ve always liked and want to see dramatized well. I’m not into that, I don’t collect stills or anything, I just feel I want to make an interesting horror movie one with class, with believability. After I met Tobe, I decided he was the man to direct SALEM’S LOT. So I went to the network, they said okay I don’t mean they were overly enthusiastic. They didn’t even know who a Tobe Hooper was and I just said, “Don’t worry.”
Was any other director ever considered?
Richard Kobritz: No. There were a lot of directors that wanted to be considered, but weren’t. The book was originally purchased by our feature department, which then had several screenplays done on it and this is going back a few years ago and not one of the screenplays worked. The president of our TV division thought if we could sell it to a network as a four-hour, we might put out another screenplay with a brand new writer and see if we could lick the problem. We got Paul Monash and structured some things very much different than the book and totally different from the previous screenplays I mean, they were just bad screenplays. In a crazy way, SALEM’S LOT works better in a longer version than in a normal, theatrical version.
Not much happens in the book for the first half and then everything explodes.
Richard Kobritz: Also, the more you read of Stephen King—I’m like you, I’ve read most of his stuff—he’s damn hard to translate to the screen.
The characters all think to themselves. .
Richard Kobritz: And all those internal monologues that give you goose-flesh while you’re sitting alone reading area real problem to deal with cinematically. So we had to work on that.
I heard somewhere that George Romero was considered to direct.
Richard Kobritz: Well, I always liked NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and his name was one that I’d thought of. But I never contacted him because I’ve got all the problems of, will he come out here, can I convince the network when a man only makes pictures in Pittsburgh? It was easier with Tobe. But more important, I just liked TEXAS CHAINSAW better. It’s a film that has gone, I think, beyond a cult status, which it always had.
In theatrical features today, its probably safe to say no holds are barred in explicit horror. Since, on TV, you can’t show that, and even if you could, you’d panic the average home viewer, can SALEM’S LOT satisfy both the horror buff and the mainstream audience?
Richard Kobritz: I think we can. It is really superbly cast. Even in the supporting roles, we always went for actors instead of stars. We have in Ed Flanders who plays Bill Norton, the doctor a man who just got an Emmy nomination for TRUMAN AT POTTSDAM. We wanted complete credibility, complete believability. That to me was the real horror, a nice little town that’s slowly being eaten alive by vampires and all of a sudden wakes up to that realization. We had to get actors of a caliber that could give us the credibility, not just nice TV names who are limited in their acting ability. That’s Number One. Number Two is playing Barlow the way we did. He’s not in competition with Frank Langella, not in competition with Bela Lugosi it’s back to German Expressionism in the final analysis.
And it’ll be the first time most people will have seen that, anyway.
Richard Kobritz: Right! And again, trying to give it believability by not having him talk. He’s a monster, a fiend. And one last point, to me and I’ve heard this before and never quite believed it, but now I do, you’re frightened more by what you don’t see than by what you do.
The credo of the Val Lewton films of the 1940’s . .
Richard Kobritz: That’s it exactly. There’s that off-screen noise. . .and you don’t have to see a person’s neck ripped open, just that quick cut of the vampire or whatever, a hand coming into frame, is more frightening. HALLOWEEN was the best horror film I’ve seen in the last five to seven years in that respect, because you were jumping out of your seat every two minutes, and every scene was manipulated but it was a valid scare. And that, to me, was important. You really weren’t seeing a bloodbath up there. It was almost like seeing a 3-D movie, because things were jumping out of the screen at you. In a way, I think that’s what any good horror film tries to do.
Specifically, whose idea was the NOSFERATU look yours, Hooper’s, the make-up man?
Richard Kobritz: Mine. We brought the concept to the make-up artist, and he made a few sketches. We’d say, “No, we want the eyes darker”. . . and it was his and miss, trial and error. It went like that until we had what we wanted. And early on, 1 knew who the actor was going to be. Even back when I worked with Paul on the screenplay. Barlow, once he was determined to be ugly, was always going to be this one actor in my mind, if he was living in the United States.
Reggie Nalder-had you seen him in MARK OF THE DEVIL?
Richard Kobritz: No, I remembered him from Hitchcock’s film THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, the remake, and I thought he had a really unattractive face then. He was the one for me.
Curtis Harrington used him in a TV movie a few years ago, THE DEAD DON’T DIE (1974).
Richard Kobritz: Really? He obviously works sporadically because of his face, unfortunately. But I knew that if the man was in town and available, that was my Barlow. Nobody else was considered or even discussed.
So you telescoped the book a great deal—binned dialogue, combined characters
Richard Kobritz: Only because there was no way of doing everybody in the town, especially when their fate was relatively the same. Its a small town of 2,000 people and we tried to concentrate on the doctor in the town, the sheriff in the town, the children in the town, and some other peripheral characters-a representative cross-section. But where possible—except in the case of what wouldn’t translate cinematically or was just too long—we are very faithful to the book.
Everybody I’ve spoken to on SALEM’S LOT says CBS wants the movie on in November. Can you do that?
Richard Kobritz: I know they’d love to put it on during their November ratings sweep, and I think its a good piece of material for a sweep week. But I also know that in this sort of movie, a good, atmospheric, old-fashioned, Bernie Herrmann type score is essential, and weve got to get that done yet.
Do you think one season CBS might be anxious to get it on in November is they don’t want a vampire movie on after 1979, that the crest will have passed?
Richard Kobritz: No, I don’t think that’s it at all. This craze is going to go far beyond the end of this year. Especially when you’ve got so many important movies coming out, in particular Kubrick’s THE SHINING, another Stephen King novel which I’ve got to believe is going to be a masterpiece that’s going to lead all of them. I would think thats going to carry the genre even further in success and longevity.
Are you concerned about TV censorship of SALEM’S LOT?
Richard Kobritz: Well, my problem is obviously going to be Standards and Practices what they’re going to allow us to show and what they’re not. The script went by them. They approved it. But I know they’re going to come back and say they want a horror film but they don’t want to scare people either. I have no doubt that’s going to be the battle. I wouldn’t mind a disclaimer at the beginning, “Viewer Discretion Advised” if anything, that usually lifts the rating points up. I just don’t want to start cutting out the horror of the picture. To make a horror picture and then start cutting out the horror, why make the damned thing in the first place?
Bill Kelley Cinefantastique – Volume 9, Number 2 (Winter 1979)
From “On the Set of ‘SALEM’S LOT By SUSAN CASEY” (FANGORIA Issue 4)