I’m not talking startled by your teddy bear casting a lumpy, monstrous shadow against your bedroom wall for a split second, or the sense of mild panic that came when you were briefly separated from your mom at JC Penney’s. I’m talking real terror: stomach clenching, oh shit there are things out there that mean to do me harm fear, the kind that might be enough to plant the tiniest seed of doubt that your parents will always keep you safe.
For me, it was while watching Tobe Hooper’s TV movie adaptation of Salem’s Lot. Airing in November of 1979, I would have been all of seven years old at the time, just the perfect age for dark things to latch onto your subconscious and never let go.
The image of Ralphie hovering outside his brother’s bedroom window stuck with me for years. A little touch of Mandela Effect made me remember that he talks, but he doesn’t — that’s actually a similar scene involving a different character later in the movie. Watching it again as an adult, it is, if anything, even creepier because he doesn’t speak; he simply floats and scratches at the window, a horrifying, predatory grin on his face. What’s even more unsettling than that is how easily his brother, Danny, gives in and welcomes him in with a smile. If you have to invite a vampire into your house, you might as well be polite about it, after all. Now, obviously, I’m not the first to mention how effectively chilling this scene is. It inspired scenes in Fright Night and The Lost Boys, and was even parodied in a Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” episode. But it begs the question: is it merely a fluke standout moment in an otherwise unmemorable '70s TV movie?
Though Ralphie Glick just chilling outside his brother’s bedroom window is certainly the most memorable scene in the movie, it’s not necessarily the scariest. That would be in the second half of the miniseries, when groundskeeper Mike Ryerson (played by the late, great character actor Geoffrey Lewis) shows up in the house of kindly senior citizen schoolteacher Matt Burke (Lew Ayres). The scene is a masterwork in using mostly silence to chilling effect – Mike’s voice never raises above a grotesque, otherworldly hiss – not to mention some sort of damn clever practical effect that makes it look like his eyes are glowing.