Silver Bullet

Director: Daniel Attias
Screenplay: Stephen King (based on his novelette Cycle of the Werewolf)
Stars: Gary Busey (Uncle Red), Corey Haim (Marty Coslaw), Megan Follows (Jane Coslaw), Everett McGill (Reverend Lowe), Robin Groves (Nan Coslaw), Leon Russom (Bob Coslaw), Terry O'Quinn (Sheriff Joe Haller), Bill Smitrovich (Andy Fairton), Joe Wright (Brady Kincaid), Kent Broadhurst (Herb Kincaid)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1985
Country: U.S.
Stephen King 5-Movie Collection Blu-ray
Silver Bullet

Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf was always one of the prolific novelist’s slightest works—a short, readable-in-one-sitting novelette constructed as a series of 12 episodes in which a werewolf terrorizes a small American town, with each one corresponding to a month of the year. With a punchy, present-tense prose style and almost no characterization, the best thing about it were the graphic illustrations by prolific artist Berni Wrightson, who co-created Swamp Thing and also illustrated the comic-book version of King and George A. Romero’s Creepshow (1982) and later King’s The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla (2006).

When it came time to adapt Cycle of the Werewolf into a feature film (because, as we all know, there is a law somewhere on the books stating that everything Stephen King commits to paper must eventually become a movie), King himself wrote the screenplay, discarding the episodic structure and instead attempting to tie all the events together with small-town salt-of-the-earth characters dealing with a sudden outbreak of grisly murders during the bicentennial year of 1976 (although eagle-eye viewers will note that a close-up of a newspaper is dated Sept. 8, 1980, which suggests that either they decided in postproduction to set the story during America’s Bicentennial or a prop person didn’t do their job). Unfortunately, the screenplay sags in the connecting material, and it still feels episodic and slight, little more than a slasher movie in which the slasher is a lycanthrope, rather than a run-of-the-mill psychotic.

The one recurring character in the novelette was an 11-year-old boy paralyzed from the waist down named Marty Coslaw. Played here by Corey Haim right before he became a fleeting teen superstar (he had previously had supporting roles in 1984’s Firstborn and 1985’s Secret Admirer), Marty is turned into the film’s central character, although the softly spoken and terribly banal voice-over narration comes from the grown-up version of Marty’s 14-year-old sister, Jane (Megan Follows). Their relationship is one of the film’s stronger elements, as the film spends an admirable amount of time developing how their typical older sister-younger brother dynamics are complicated by Marty’s disability. Most importantly, though, Marty and Jane are depicted as fundamentally decent kids with good hearts, which was a rarity in the 1980s when so many slasher movies depicted teenagers as little more than shallow horndogs. As with so many horror stories, Marty and Jane are the only ones who believe there is a werewolf, although they manage to enlist the begrudging help of their alcoholic, thrice-divorced, but charmingly gruff Uncle Red (Gary Busey at his Gary Busey-est) to help them.

King tries to build suspense around the werewolf’s identity when in human form, which could have been clever, but he sabotages any suspense by giving it away too early. (Spoiler warning: If you don't want to know who it is, skip to the next paragraph.) It turns out the werewolf is the local pastor, Reverend Lowe, who is played by Everett McGill, a stern, chiseled character actor whose casting is the first tip-off that he may be the one growing body hair and claws every full moon. But, to cap it off, there is an extended sequence in which Lowe dreams that his entire congregation turns into werewolves during a funeral. This makes it absolutely clear that he is the werewolf since no one else in town outside of Marty suspects that a werewolf is behind the murders. Thus, when the movie finally “reveals” who the werewolf is, it is the very epitome of anticlimactic.

On the whole, Silver Bullet fails in more departments than it succeeds, which is not surprising given the generally weak nature of the material. Unfortunately, it is particularly true of the one area that should have been a success: the werewolf effects, which were designed by Carlo Rambaldi, who got his start doing the gore effects for Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein (1974) and was best known at the time for creating the wholly convincing titular alien in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. (1982), for which he won an Oscar. Rambaldi’s work here is shoddy and surprisingly unconvincing. Director Daniel Attias probably sensed this, as he wisely keeps the werewolf off-screen for much of the movie, giving us only fleeting glimpses of yellow eyes or a hairy paw (which, by the way, looks like a rubbery glove). The actual transformation sequences are generally convincing, but otherwise the werewolf looks much too much like an actor in an ill-fitting hairy suit.

Silver Bullet was director Daniel Attias’s feature debut, and even though he never directed another film, he has subsequently built an impressively diverse career in television, working on more than 80 different television and cable series over the past 35 years, including multiple episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210, The Sopranos, Alias, Six Feet Under, The Wire, House, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Homeland. His work here is efficient, but mostly uninventive, particularly in staging the attack sequences, which rely heavily on stock werewolf point-of-view shots and ominous chords supplied by composer Jay Chattaway, a veteran of low-budget exploitation fare like Maniac (1980), The Big Score (1983), and Invasion U.S.A. (1985), who went on to win a Primetime Emmy for his work on Star Trek: Voyager. Even in its best moments, the film mostly fails to translate Wrightson’s effectively lurid illustrations to the big screen. Silver Bullet does have its moments, though, particularly a creepy sequence in which a bunch of fed-up townsfolk take up shotguns and decide to hunt down whoever or whatever it is that is killing their fellow citizens. Tromping through a fog-enshrouded forest, they suddenly come to the horrifying conclusion that the monster is right there with them, but underneath the fog, thus successfully turning the movie into something you never would have expected: a variation of Jaws (1975) that never leaves solid ground.

Silver Bullet Blu-ray (Stephen King 5-Movie Collection)

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
Audio
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 monaural
  • French Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French
    SupplementsNone
    DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    Release DateSeptember 15, 2020

    COMMENTS
    Scream Factory released Silver Bullet on Blu-ray last year, and I suspect that the video and audio transfers included here are the same as we saw on that disc. The high-definition transfer is framed in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and looks to be a solid approximation of a mid-budget mid-’80s studio-produced horror film. Grain is present throughout and fairly heavy at times, but it looks right for the material and doesn’t cause any noticeable blocking. Colors appear natural, although maybe a tad muted. Detail is strong, and there is no sign of age or wear or fading (which was the case with the old DVD). The original monaural soundtrack, which is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio, gets the job done, but not much else. The soundtrack is clean of any ambient hiss, and Jay Chattaway’s heavily synthesized score delivers a bit of punch when needed. Unfortunately, unlike Scream Factory’s disc, which was a fully loaded Collector’s Edition Blu-ray featuring multiple audio commentaries and retrospective featurettes, no supplements are included here.

    Copyright © 2020 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (2)



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