Silver Bullet (1985)

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Tarker’s Mills, a small-town community becomes the subject of a series of brutal murders that send the town into a panic, but the culprit is one of their own and he bares the mark of the beast.

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Typically, werewolf films have received mixed reception from audiences since Universal’s The Wolf Man terrified movie-goers throughout the ’50s. The benchmark was set decades after this (at perennial) by John Landis’ horror-comedy An American Werewolf in London (1981), notably giving audiences the definitive, real-time teeth-gritting transformation of man to hell-hound via the design and effects wizardry of the great Rick Baker. The ’80s cashed in on werewolf horror with a myriad of titles, sequels and television shows but none managed to top Landis’ hybrid opus. Latter day werewolf films such as Dog Soldiers (2002) and Late Phases (2014)  manage to transform the screen werewolf into menacing and terrifying monsters that violently shred the pages of the old legends, but the most interesting facet of this complex monster is anchored to its ties to its human character: The duality of the monster; the tortured man and the vicious wolf allow this particular monster to showcase a Jekyll and Hyde syndrome dictated by the lunar cycle. Every person who has ever walked the Earth, has once looked at the very same moon that commands our screen werewolves.

Adapted from Stephen King’s graphic novelette Cycle Of The Werewolf (1983), Silver Bullet is a faithful adaption that brings the wonderfully illustrated pages by Bernie Wrightson to life, with a sprinkling of telemovie aesthetic from director Daniel Attias. With a King-penned screenplay and a charming cast of well known ’80s faces, Silver Bullet knows its worth and relishes its conventions rather than satirically mocking the cliches and familiarity that pervade some of King’s other novels throughout the this particular decade.

The premise of the film centres on a string of unusual deaths in Tarker’s Mills; a quaint, cutesy all American town through the eyes of Jane Coslow (Mega Follows), a responsible girl who is forever lugging around after her wheelchair-bound, younger brother Marty (Corey Haim). As the murders continue, panic disrupts the community and a group vigilantes go missing amidst the town’s declaration of a curfew. Marty receives a motorized wheelchair-friendly bike called ‘Silver Bullet’ from his Uncle Red (Gary Busey), and one night after letting off some fireworks, encounters the town’s killer; a werewolf. Marty lets off a firecracker,  shooting werewolf right in the eye. Jane and Marty then commence a ‘whodunit’ style campaign throughout the town to find the eyesore culprit, eventually convincing a skeptical Uncle Red to jump on-board to stop the werewolf.

As per King standard, community spirit is the name of the game. Tarker’s Mills is a wholesome town with moralistic values and good Sunday morning church intentions, but like the film’s antagonist, each citizen harbours demons of their own. King’s story speaks the universal language of his famous works: hints of the child-fights-back spirit that would later stun readers of 1986’s bestselling It , the domesticity of the secret-filled community of ‘Salems Lot, the family-driven drama of Cujo and the allusion to the biggest Kingism of all; the ability to mould an exciting narrative centralised on children, painting children characters as both unsung heroes and importantly, as gatekeepers of the natural and supernatural worlds of King’s storyverse.

Gary Busey as Uncle Buck’s redneck, heavy drinking doppelgänger Uncle Red is the film’s comic relief. Busey gives a likeable performance as the big hearted man-child that remains a highlight of the film. Child stars Megan Follows and Corey Haim are a welcome addition and work great as on-screen siblings. The film’s furry villain Everett McGill as Reverend Lowe/the werewolf-priest is a mixed bag. Reverend Lowe starts off seemingly passive and innocent, before ramping up the aggression and the evil demeanour once his own monstrous secret is exposed to Jane and Marty. The minute he dons an eye patch, Reverend Lowe means serious villain business by undergoing a severe transformation from empathetic, conscience-tortured priest to badass one-eyed priest, that’s more Scooby Doo and less Stephen King. Everett McGill is much more menacing as an evil priest (and looks great in an eye patch).

The special effects throughout the film are of the glorious practical kind; no CGI here, it’s all hands-on, old school practical effects. The werewolf monsters  is a let down and is more ‘man in a bear suit’ and less ‘ravenous bipedal monster’ however, the disappointment is easily compensated for the genuine charm the film carries through the classic King narrative.

Three key scenes stand out among the video viewing: one of which Marty climbs out of his window (like Pollyanna on steroids), sneaking out to test his bike to let some 4th of July fireworks off at a nearby bridge. The stalking that follows this sequence is unsettling as the shot is from the werewolf’s POV and is genuinely effective building some solid suspense.  Another key scene (an obscure one) is the moment the Marty, Jane and Uncle Red sacrifice the kids’ silver necklaces to an ‘old world craftsman’, who liquifies their jewellery to make a silver bullet. This scene was very charming and builds excitement that leads to the climax and ties King’s monster to its Hollywood lore but more importantly, adds a certain kind of charm that evades modern horror films. Hay Chattaway’s score during this sequence is mesmerising. The added narration from Tovah Feldshuh is something we don’t see a lot of today and for me personally, is the highlight of the film, best exemplified during this sequence. Lastly, the final show down between the Coslaw’s and the werewolf is quite brief, but fulfilling as the dead werewolf transforms back into the eyeless Reverend Lowe with an effective, nifty little last moment scare thrown in for kicks.

Overall Silver Bullet is a fun ride and the video tape viewing was charming but one of the less chilling King tales, think more Murder, She Wrote with werewolves . Silver Bullet is an overlooked werewolf film with a combination of elements that succinctly balance each other. Off topic; why do a lot of King film’s echo telemovie aesthetic? King’s stories are made of nightmares! They deserve uncensored, brutal and beautiful storytelling treatment. Silver Bullet, is a King bullet that firmly deserves its place within the werewolf canon.


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