Silver Bullet (1985)


*. I guess the full title of this one is Stephen King’s Silver Bullet. But you might have guessed that much.
*. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Stephen King, especially his work in the 1980s, but it is very much of a piece. The nuclear family under stress, threatened children, realistic domestic details, small-town drama. He never strays far from his strengths.
*. Even certain structural elements keep repeating. I was reminded of this here as the Sheriff (Terry O’Quinn) figures out what is going on only to suffer immediate termination. This made me think of Scatman Crothers coming to the rescue (not) in The Shining, or Richard Farnsworth (ditto) in Misery. It’s just a way of teasing the audience into thinking that help is on its way and then yanking the rug out from under them.


*. Tarker’s Mills is another one of those idyllic King communities with a dirty secret. It might be next door to Lumberton (the town in Blue Velvet) or Twin Peaks (where Everett McGill also resides). But where Lynch is weird and surreal, King is grounded in the familiar and the everyday. King believes in the essential normality (and, ultimately, goodness) of life. I don’t think Lynch does.
*. I mentioned King as being particularly good in the ’80s, and just as there’s no mistaking Silver Bullet as a Stephen King movie, there’s also no mistaking its date. The soundtrack would be enough of a tip-off, with its poppy electronic score, but the haircuts clinch it. Also noticeable is the way you get to see so much of Marty’s hair, since back in the day you didn’t have to wear a helmet when riding your motorbike.
*. But more than any of this, the killer’s point-of-view shots are the biggest ’80s giveaway. As James Kendrick observes, Silver Bullet is really “little more than a slasher film in which the slasher is a lycanthrope, rather than a run-of-the-mill psychotic.”
*. I’m not sure who directed what. Don Coscarelli was the original director and apparently filmed part of it, but he resigned at some point and was replaced by Dan Attias. Attias went on to have a very prolific career as a television director but I don’t think he ever made another feature film.
*. One of the things there seems to have been some creative disagreement about was the appearance of the werewolf. I don’t think it looks that bad, but it’s nothing special either. I’d say the same for the transformation scenes. In the end, it’s a movie that’s less interested in the werewolf than it is in the Coslaw family (something that is very typical of King). We don’t really learn that much about the Reverend Lowe, which is a bit of a shame since he seems to be a tortured soul. When Uncle Red asks Jane a basic question like how he became a werewolf she just shrugs, and so does the rest of the film.


*. The bit at the end where Marty has to pluck the silver bullet out of the grate had to be borrowed from Strangers on a Train. It’s not in the book. It remains just a throwaway homage here though, as this is never a very suspenseful or scary film in the Hitchcock manner.
*. Roger Ebert thought the comic parts saved an otherwise very bad movie, but he wasn’t sure if they were intentional. I think they were, and I wouldn’t say this was a bad movie. It is, however, a horror film for young people. It has the feel of an after-school special, even with its occasional bursts of gore. That may be why it did so poorly at the box office. It rated as a tweener.
*. Most of the credit for what’s good has to go to the script. It’s not great, but it’s proficient: an effective arrangement of set-piece scenes (based on a novella, Cycle of the Werewolf, that was itself a collection of short stories all set in the same town). The plot builds just as it should, there are well paced reveals, and overall it makes for a nice blend of darkness and humour. Over thirty years later, it’s held up very well.


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