A few weeks ago, Midnight Mass, a horror miniseries directed by Mike Flanagan, premiered on Netflix. Although it is not based on a text by Stephen King, it is easy to see that it is inspired by his work. The director himself directed two feature films based on the writer’s works: Gerald’s Game (2017) and the failed Doctor Sleep (2019). But this time he decided something more daring, to recreate his universe without choosing a specific book. Many saw numerous references to King at midnight Mass, among which is The Hour of the Vampire ( Salem’s Lot, 1979), the miniseries directed by Tobe Hopper. Even in one scene, a copy of Stephen King’s novel appears in the room of one of the characters.
This tribute and reference is a great opportunity to claim one of the best adaptations King has received on the small screen or in general. A two-episode miniseries that had a notable impact on viewers in those years. It is good to remember that when it was made there was only a previous adaptation of the author: Carrie (1976), based on his first novel, published in 1974. Salem’s Lot is from 1975 and came to television four years later.
For the direction of this vampire story, Tobe Hopper, director of The Texas Massacre (1974), a masterpiece that changed horror cinema, was chosen. In 1982 he would direct Poltergeist (1982), forever sealing his link with the genre. Although it is a story made for television, the three hours that The Night of the Vampire lasts demonstrates a great ability to build climates and put together great scenes with limited production.
The story told by the miniseries is that of a successful author, Ben Mears ( David Soul ), who returns to his hometown to write about a house in which sinister events have occurred over the years. But now The Marsten House has a new owner, a mysterious foreigner named Richard K. Straker ( James Mason ), who in turn is about to open an antique house in town. Mears is reunited with some old inhabitants of the place at the same time that he meets a woman with whom he falls in love. But his arrival will coincide with a series of terrible events that threaten the entire town.
The story is a classic vampire narrative and abides by many of its rules, from the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker to the film Nosferatu by FW Murnau. Soul, the protagonist, was world famous for starring in the crime series Starsky and Hutch (1975-1979), and the villain, or one of them, is played by the British James Mason, whose film career included works with Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock, among many other teachers. The rest of the cast are well-known faces from film and television from different eras, showing that the casting was done in an ambitious way and with an interest in achieving a great result.
But the most remembered in Argentina in relation to this miniseries has to do with something very specific. When it was broadcast in two nights on the old Channel 11, dubbed into Spanish, with cuts and in black and white, the impact it caused was remarkable. Not only was it a ratings success, but it also terrified a generation. The children who dared to see her could not sleep for several days. Seen today, 40 years later, the most important scenes are exactly the same as how we had stored them in our memory. The vampire boy banging on the window of his brother’s room, the undertaker who throws himself into a pit because he hears noises in a coffin, the main vampire appearing in a kitchen in a surprising way, the man embedded against the antlers of deer in a wall of the house of vampires.
At the time Stephen King was not so famous and vampire stories, which were very fashionable, had not managed to scare as much as these three hours of sheer terror. Today we realize the subtleties of the writer to describe a town and the irruption of evil, among many wonderful things. Midnight Mass reminded us of this classic of terror that has lost none of its impact and its ability to scare us. It is advisable to see it during the day, yes, unless one dares to repeat those nights of nightmares that we had forty years ago.