If you name your wheelchair the “Silver Bullet” and you end up having to fight a werewolf, you were basically asking for it. The movie Silver Bullet was based on the Stephen King novella “Cycle of the Werewolf” which itself was originally a calendar illustrated by the late great comic book artist Bernie Wrightson, and with King himself as the screenwriter for the film adaptation, this was guaranteed to be a faithful adaptation, right?
Some of the best Stephen King movie adaptations derive from his shorter works, such as Stand by Me which was based on the novella “The Body” and The Shawshank Redemption based on the novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” but this has also lead to such disasters as The Mangler and Maximum Overdrive, yet the obvious bonus to adapting from a short story or novella is that there is less stuff you have to excise to make it fit into a feature-length running time. In the case of Silver Bullet the biggest changed made was in the condensing of the story’s timeline as in the original calendar form the story followed a series of werewolf kills over the course of a year – on every full moon – which is your standard werewolf mythology, but the movie kind of dances around this notion as its creature attacks on nights that are clearly not during a full moon.
The film does give us a throw-away-line that maybe the killer becomes more “wolfy” as the moon cycle progresses but the film doesn’t seem all that concerned with nailing down its own particular mythology, and as this isn’t the first werewolf film not tied to the full moon we shouldn’t care all that much either, but where the film does work best is in the dynamics of its characters. The three key characters we follow are that of wheelchair-bound Marty (Corey Haim), his much put-upon sister Jane (Megan Follows) and their alcoholic uncle Red (Gary Busey). It’s the sibling dynamic between Marty and Jane that truly holds this film together as both actors have excellent chemistry together, on the other hand, Busey as the “fun uncle” brings a little of his own chaotic energy to the proceedings.
Note: Red builds his handicapped nephew a souped-up wheelchair that can clearly break local speed laws, easily passing your average motorist, but Red doesn’t even give the kid a helmet nor does Marty’s parents seem all that concerned that their son has a vehicle that would clearly need a motorcycle’s license to operate.
Speaking of this film’s idea of parenting we have on hand here one of the worst examples of movie parents, not only do they constantly harp on their eldest daughter for not giving in to her “saintly” crippled brother, taking his side in any argument, but they are outright neglectful to the point of leaving their kids alone during a local murder spree. I don’t care if you “win” an all-expense-paid vacation to the city leaving your children in the hands of their alcoholic uncle, while a serial killer is on loose, is about the dumbest thing I’ve heard and should result in Child Services looking into the matter. Mind you, the kids aren’t all that bright either, when Uncle Red sneaks Marty some fireworks after the 4th of July Celebration had been cancelled, the kid drives his motorized wheelchair into the middle of fucking nowhere to set them off.
This being a werewolf film we must now discuss how this particular movie delivered on this classic movie monster, and by deliver I mean left on the doorstep like a flaming bag of dog shit. The ’80s saw revolutionary changes in physical make-up effects and in particular, the work of Rick Baker in An American Werewolf in London and Rob Bottin for Joe Dante’s The Howling raised the bar on werewolf effects quite high but with Silver Bullet we get Academy Award-winning special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi giving us a costume that could best be described as a Smokey the Were-Bear. What makes this monster even more disappointing is that the character is more frightening while in human form rather than when he is in full-on werewolf mode. The villain of this movie is Reverend Lowe (Everett McGill) a tormented man who attempts to justify his nocturnal murders by saying he is “saving sinners” as his targets consist of a drunk, a woman thinking about abortion and an abusive jerk – his murder of a twelve-year-old kid for being a bit of a dick seems a little harsh – and this is an interesting take on a person and their handling of the werewolf curse, but when he grows fur and claws he not only becomes less interesting but also decidedly less scary.
• The movie is narrated by Jane despite the fact many of the events she talks about were not witnessed by her.
• The werewolf climbs a garden trellis to access a second-story window. Considering the size of the monster that is one sturdy trellis.
• A vigilante mob is formed to hunt for what they assume to be a serial killer, but why do they end up in the fog-shrouded woods? None of the preceding kills happened in the woods so why would the townsfolk think they’d find the killer there?
• None of the survivors of the lynch mob massacre comment on the fact that they were clearly attacked by a creature and not a man.
• The Sheriff goes to confront a possible serial killer alone and at night. He clearly knows that he’s in a horror movie and thus gets what’s coming to him.
• The nightmare church sequence provided dozens of better werewolves than what we got with Carlo Rambaldi’s monster.
As a Stephen King adaptation, Silver Bullet is fairly faithful to the source material, or at least when compared to many of the other Stephen King adaptations out there, but as a horror movie it’s a bit of a mess and the film’s constant tonal shifts can leave some viewers wondering if what they are watching is supposed to be funny or scary. What does work is the dynamic between Corey Haim, Megan Follows and Gary Busey as it is this aspect that grounds the film, and then with Everett McGill’s menacing performance as the self-righteous reverend we have something that more than makes up for a less than convincing werewolf costume.
Silver Bullet (1985)
Movie Rank - 6.5/10
As a human drama there is some great stuff in Silver Bullet but as a monster film it rather drops the ball with its tonal inconsistency and terrible werewolf suit.