Over a year has gone by since Warner Bros. removed Salem’s Lot from their release schedule. Why has the film been shelved?
In September of 2021, writer/director Gary Dauberman went into production on a new adaptation of Stephen King‘s novel Salem’s Lot (buy a copy of the novel HERE), which has previously been brought to the screen as two separate three hour mini-series; once in 1979, and again in 2004. Dauberman’s Salem’s Lot was originally set to reach theatres on September 9, 2022, but then Warner Bros. decided to push it back seven months due to “COVID-related delays in the post-production realm” soon after it underwent some reshoots in the spring of 2022. Then, on August 24, 2022, Warner Bros. announced that Salem’s Lot was losing its April 21, 2023 release date to Evil Dead Rise. That was over one year ago – and yet Warner Bros. has never announced another release date for the film. For an entire year, Salem’s Lot, a hugely anticipated 2023 horror title, has been effectively shelved, and there’s no sign of it making its way out into the world.
Why is Warner Bros. sitting on Salem’s Lot? It’s not exactly clear. Sure, they have been busy releasing plenty of other movies in 2023 – in addition to Evil Dead Rise, their releases have included Creed III, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, The Flash, Barbie, and Meg 2: The Trench. But that still doesn’t give any excuse for why Salem’s Lot doesn’t have a release date somewhere on their slate. In general, horror has been performing well at the box office, with Saw X earning rave reviews and making more money than the last several films in the franchise. The Exorcist: Believer, despite poor reviews, also did fairly well, even when faced with Taylor Swift’s box office juggernaut Eras Tour movie. Five Nights at Freddy’s got terrible reviews, but was still a record-breaking smash. What’s even more puzzling about the delay is that the Dauberman-penned The Nun II was a box office juggernaut. So why isn’t WB releasing Salem’s Lot? With no big stars in the cast, it seems like the perfect film to release during a SAG strike.
The delay doesn’t seem to be an indication of Salem’s Lot’s quality, because there have been at least two test screenings of the movie that have gone over quite well. (You can get information from this YouTube report of a test screening reaction.) The biggest complaint I’ve seen is that the movie favors jump scares over character development – which I can’t say is surprising. Dauberman’s Salem’s Lot reportedly has a running time of 113 minutes, and it would have been a difficult task to condense King’s story into that much time and still include a ton of character work. Plus, if you know Dauberman’s previous works (he was written the Annabelle movies and The Nun, worked on the recent It films, and directed Annabelle Comes Home), you know he loves jump scares. So it was a given that Salem’s Lot would be filled with the jumps.
Stephen King himself has shared his (mostly positive) opinion on the film, writing on his X account that “The Warner Bros remake of SALEM’S LOT, currently shelved, is muscular and involving. It has the feel of “Old Hollywood,” when a film was given a chance to draw a breath before getting to business. When attention spans were longer, in other words. It feels like a horror movie version of slow-burn movies like THE GREAT ESCAPE. It builds very well. There are diversions from the book I don’t agree with, but on the whole, faithful. Best scene: Danny Glick in the hospital, trying to claw down a blood bag. The Glick scene could have been directed by John Carpenter in his prime.“
Making Warner Bros’ apparent lack of interest in releasing Salem’s Lot even stranger is the fact that they were excited enough about it to early footage to CinemaCon attendees back in April of 2022. But that excitement seems to have faded, and they never bothered to share that trailer online. The only bit of promotion we’ve seen, the only image that has been released from the film, graces the cover of a movie tie-in edition of King’s novel.
A rumor recently surfaced that Warner Bros. is considering releasing the film on the Max streaming service. As per a recent Variety report, “A source with knowledge of the back-and-forth says the move is not a reflection of the film’s quality but is due to the fact that the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike has created a growing need for Max content. Salem’s Lot is one of a few Warner Bros. films deemed to make the jump. But a Warner Bros. spokesperson said, “No decision has been made about the film’s future distribution plans.”
That is echoed in a Deadline report about WB’s decision to scrap the Looney Tunes movie Coyote vs. Acme, turning it into a tax write-off. Deadline writes, “There’s been buzz out there that the Gary Dauberman-directed, James Wan-produced feature take on Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, once destined for a theatrical release, is going to Max as the streamer needs product due to the inventory deficiencies created by the strikes. Warners says in regards to Salem’s Lot that the jury is still out and its brass hasn’t determined the vampire pic’s fate yet. Still, King is a brand name at the box office, and this is one of his classics. And horror works vibrantly at the B.O. post-pandemic. Surely, a $10M bare-minimum box office opening isn’t the worst thing in the world for a movie that will get legged out on Max, but it boils down to whether Warners wants to shell out $40M in marketing costs.” So, nobody knows. Rather than spend $40 million on marketing, maybe they’ll just decide to scrap this one and use it for a tax write-off, too. It wouldn’t be a surprising move for the current WB regime. I don’t agree with this “scrapped for a tax write-off” tactic at all, but they seem to like doing it.
With over a year having gone by since Salem’s Lot lost its last release date, here’s hoping that Warner Bros. will be making a solid decision about the film’s distribution very soon.
Dauberman’s take on Salem’s Lot is said to be set in 1975, the same year King’s novel was first published. Here’s the synopsis: Haunted by an incident from his childhood, author Ben Mears returns to his hometown of Jerusalem’s Lot in search of inspiration for his next book, only to discover the town is being preyed upon by a bloodthirsty vampire and his loyal servant.
The film stars Lewis Pullman (Top Gun: Maverick) as Ben Mears; Makenzie Leigh (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk) as Ben’s love interest Susan Norton; Spencer Treat Clark (The Town That Dreaded Sundown 2014) as Mike Ryerson, “one of the town’s simple folk”; Bill Camp (12 Years a Slave) as Matthew Burke, “a former high school English teacher who knows about the Marsten House’s evil past and helps out Ben”; Alfre Woodard (Star Trek: First Contact) as Dr. Cody; Pilou Asbæk (Game of Thrones) as the vampire’s familiar Richard Straker; and John Benjamin Hickey (Hostiles) as Father Callahan. William Sadler (Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey) is also in the cast, but it was never officially revealed who he’s playing. Alexander Ward (American Horror Story) might show up as the vampire Kurt Barlow.
Are you looking forward to Dauberman’s Salem’s Lot? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/salems-lot-2023/