Two years before infamously giving Bette Davis her last role in the horror comedy Wicked Stepmother, esteemed cult director Larry Cohen cast two other veteran beauties in 1987’s A Return to Salem’s Lot, his sequel to the Stephen King vampire story.
Here, Cohen gave June Havoc and Evelyn Keyes meaty roles as the matriarchs of a town filled with the blood sucking undead. Keyes, known for playing Vivian Leigh’s sister in Gone With the Wind and a series of femme fatales in noir flicks, was cast as the judge’s wife, lending not only her show business prestige to the proceedings, but a regal sense of bearing, as well.
Havoc, a Broadway legend and a vivacious presence in a series of Golden Age musicals and the acclaimed drama Gentleman’s Agreement, was cast as the former caretaker of the film’s lead, played by quirky Cohen regular Michael Moriarty. Tenderly trying to reconnect with the horrified Moriarty, Havoc is definitely given the more significant role here.
But both she and Keyes dive into the lurid circumstances at hand with glee. Tearing into their characters’ victims with malevolence, they also somehow keep their dignity intact. In fact, one of the funniest moments occurs as Havoc’s prim Aunt Clara takes time to adjust her lipstick after a particularly aggressive feeding.
Meanwhile, the film itself, containing dollops of Cohen’s odd sense of humor and strange plot structuring, was not well received by fans upon its release. But lovers of old school Hollywood should be charmed not only by the presence of Havoc and Keyes, but by maverick filmmaker Samuel Fuller (Shock Corridor, White Dog) who puts in a rascally appearance as a vampire hunter. Interestingly, singer-songwriter and A Nightmare on Elm Street star Ronee Blakley also turns in one of her last screen roles (as Moriarty’s ex-wife) while future terror regular and eternal media catastrophe Tara Reid commits to one of her first.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!