Friday, May 29, 2015

Stephen King Cinema/Werewolf Flicks: Silver Bullet (1985)

Silver bullet poster.jpgI don't remember exactly how old I was, although I do know it was some time from middle-school to early high school, but I do have a pretty vivid memory of the first time I became aware of this little gem of a movie. After spending one Friday evening with my uncle and grandmother, I walked back over to my aunt's house and as I came in, I saw her live-in boyfriend watching some movie where two kids and a guy were in a house and were unknowingly being stalked by someone or something outside. Upon seeing the shot of the "bad guy" watching the house and hearing his deep breathing, I figured it was something like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees but, when I asked my aunt's boyfriend about it, he told me that it was actually a werewolf. I wasn't sure if I believed him at first since I'd never seen a movie where a werewolf methodically stalks someone the way this one apparently was but I quickly realized that he was right when the thing burst through the wall of the living room and attacked. That climax was pretty exciting, and it was quite eerie to see the werewolf slowly change back into who he really was after he was killed, but after that quick glimpse of its ending, I didn't think much about Silver Bullet for a while, even though I did see more pieces of it on TV here and there afterward. The sad truth is that this was before I had learned to form my own opinions and so, since I read that the general critical reaction to the movie was fairly ho-hum, I would always say that I felt the same way about it whenever I was asked. It wasn't until I bought the movie on DVD just on a lark when I was 16, which was after I had learned to stop going by what the masses felt, that I began to really appreciate this movie for what it is. As it stands now, I feel that this is a very well-made, well-acted, entertaining, and unjustly underrated werewolf movie. While there are also certainly many, many better Stephen King adaptations out there as well, I think this movie should get more credit on that score too, especially since King himself wrote the screenplay and nicely streamlined the story of the novella that the film is based on. It may not be a classic but it still deserves a lot more attention than it gets and, to me, is a perfect example of a movie that fares better being a fixture on television where it can more easily reach a wider range of people than at the theater, much like Tremors.

It's 1976 and for the small town of Tarker's Mills, one full moon night in May is about to kick off a long period of absolute terror when railroad worker Arnie Westrum is decapitated by a monstrous creature. Although his death is initially ruled an accident due to his history of chronic drinking, it soon becomes apparent that's not the case when a depressed, pregnant woman who's about to commit suicide due to being unmarried is brutally slaughtered when the beast breaks into her bedroom one stormy night, a murder that is quickly followed up by two more, the latter of which is a young boy. The town is soon gripped with fear and the citizens begin obeying a strict curfew imposed by the sheriff, while a local gun shop owner who's fed up with the authorities' inability to do anything forms a vigilante group to hunt the killer down, which proves disastrous when the monster ambushes them in the woods and manages to kill several of them. In the midst of all this carnage is the story of the Coslaw family, which consists of parents Nan and Bob, teenage daughter Jane, and her 11-year old, disabled brother Marty. Jane and Marty's relationship is quite strained since the former is always being forced to watch and take care of her brother and tires of her parents always taking his side, no matter what he does, because of his disability. Marty, in turn, really looks up to his uncle Red, who is often on thin ice with Nan due to his constant drinking and less than stable lifestyle, which has now resulted in three divorces, with her fearing that Marty is one day going to give up, just as Red has. All of this family drama comes to a head when, one night, Marty sneaks out of the house and uses the Silver Bullet, an engine-powered wheelchair that his uncle built for him, to go into the woods to shoot some fireworks Red also gave him. It's then that Marty, who had suspected that the killings were the work of something inhuman, meets the monster face-to-face and learns that it's indeed a werewolf. He barely manages to escape by shooting a rocket into the monster's left eye and after telling Jane what had happened, she soon discovers the werewolf's true identity when she goes around town, collecting cans and bottles for a church drive. Realizing that no adults will believe them, the two kids must come up with a way to defend themselves before the werewolf, who is aware that they know who he is, hunts them down.

Dan Attias 2011.jpgSilver Bullet was initially meant to be directed by Don Coscarelli, the cult filmmaker behind the Phantasm movies, but after creative differences between him and producer Dino De Laurentiis, he pulled out of the project and was replaced by TV director Dan Attias. However, from what I've read, it seems like material that Coscarelli shot may have ended up in the film since production began without the look of the werewolf having been decided on and, according to Wikipedia, Coscarelli left after shooting the stuff that didn't involve the monster since by that point, he was unsure what was going to happen with the film. That would logically mean that by the time Attias was brought on to replace him, all he had to shoot was the stuff with the werewolf but that's apparently not the case since Attias has talked about working with both Stephen King and Gary Busey on the dialogue scenes involving Uncle Red, where Busey ad-libbed a lot of his dialogue. In the end, I'm not at all clear on what exactly happened behind-the-scenes and since there's no making of documentary on the movie's DVD (there's not even a freaking trailer), all I have to go by is information on sites like Wikipedia and IMDB, which aren't always accurate. For sake of argument, let's just say that Coscarelli was originally meant to direct but was replaced by Attias, savvy? In any case, this remains the only theatrical movie that Attias has ever directed; otherwise, he's stuck to directing a lot of television, having been involved with numerous shows since the 80's like Miami Vice, 21 Jump Street, Beverly Hills, 90210, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Sopranos, and Six Feet Under, just to name a few. I always wondered why he never did another movie after Silver Bullet since I felt he did a really good job both with the character scenes (again, if he did indeed direct the majority of them, as we're assuming) and the stuff involving the werewolf but, after reading up on it, I wonder if the reason is simply because he's more at home doing TV and that he only stepped into this film because he was the only person they could get to replace Coscarelli at the time.

Upon rewatching this film again in order to do this review, I hit upon some interesting things about it that I had never thought of before, aspects that make it rather unique amongst both other werewolf movies and horror movies in general. For one, this is one of the few werewolf stories that I can think of that is actually set in America, let alone rural America. If you think about it, most movies like this are set in Europe, specifically the UK, with the werewolf prowling around the fog-shrouded moors or in the dark, fairy tale-like woods, but here, we have a werewolf story that takes place in a typical, small American hamlet where everybody knows each other and are mostly good old blue collar, working class people. As a result, and this is not at all meant as a knock against those other werewolf movies, Silver Bullet is a bit easier to relate to than other films of this type. For another, usually your main character in these movies is the very person who becomes the werewolf and you're watching them trying to deal with this horrible curse that's been placed upon them but here, your main characters are those who are being terrorized by its actions, with the werewolf's true identity not being revealed until quite a ways into the film. Other than maybe Dog Soldiers, I can't think of another werewolf film that took an approach similar to this. And finally, this movie has a feeling about it that you don't find in a lot of horror movies, especially those made today. While this is certainly a movie you wouldn't want to show to a little kid since it has a fair amount of gory violence, freaky images, and foul language that warrant its R-rating, it also has a sense of innocence about it due to the fact that the main character is a young boy. Amidst all of the blood and carnage are scenes that kind of capture the feeling of childhood, like when Marty is having fun with his friends, zooming down the road on his motorized wheelchair, and sneaking off into the woods to light some fireworks. It also kind of says something that it's a little kid who turns out to be right about the killer's identity while everyone else would scoff at the idea and ultimately has to be the one to confront the monster at the end. In fact, in spite of the gruesome killings, the film's tone never gets too dark and even the werewolf scenes, while certainly filmed to be suspenseful and scary, are not as out and out frightening and horrific as they could be. It's an interesting way of doing a horror movie that you don't see that often, especially nowadays when horror films are often as grim as you can get.

I had never heard of Corey Haim before I saw this movie. I was vaguely aware of Feldman at that point but I had never come across this guy, and certainly had no way of knowing that he became a pretty big kid star in the 80's, especially when he started making movies with Feldman, until I saw his performance here. Looking back on this movie, it is a real shame that Haim was never able to overcome his addiction to drugs, which completely destroyed his career and eventually caused him to die in poverty, because he was a very talented kid. He's extremely likable as Marty, having both the face of an angel and, aside from some mischief he gets into, including taking part in a fairly mean prank on his sister, the heart of one too. Other than being disabled, he's just a typical kid who likes hanging out and having fun with his friends and his Uncle Red but, unlike a lot of kids, though, he has to deal with some heavy stuff in his life, both due to his disability, which makes for less than peaceful interactions with his sister Jane, to whom he's often unintentionally a burden, and the strained relationship that his beloved uncle has with the rest of his family, especially his mother. You do also get the impression in one scene when he watches some kids playing baseball that Marty does miss being able to walk and it's something that he thinks about from time to time. And then, on top of everything else, you have the gruesome murders that begin happening arounds Tarker's Mills, which eventually results in the death of his best friend, his girlfriend leaving town with her family, and the cancellation of the fair and fireworks show that he was looking forward to. Marty, in his innocence, suspects early on that the killer is actually some kind of monster, particularly a werewolf, and soon discovers how right he is when he encounters it face-to-face and just barely manages to escape with his life. Even then, he's far from safe when the werewolf's human form learns of him and becomes determined to kill him, which Marty is smart enough to realize and it forces him to turn to both his sister and his disbelieving uncle for help. And while it's not a surprise that it ultimately happens this way, it is satisfying that Marty is the one who ultimately kills the werewolf with the silver bullet, especially since he's the one who suspected that it was such a monster in the first place and knew that it was going to come for him.

Just as likable and sympathetic is Megan Follows as Marty's sister, Jane, who is often forced by her parents to look after Marty and act as a caregiver to him, much to her irritation. She also tires of her parents never seeming to care about her feelings and always taking Marty's side no matter what happens, even if it does happen to be his fault (although, there is one scene where she's intentionally trying to push Marty's buttons and acts like it's not her fault when her parents scold her for it). She often tells Marty that she hates him as a result and while that is definitely harsh, if you've ever had a younger sibling or relative who, for one reason or another, often does stuff that pisses you off and makes your miserable, you can totally understand where she's coming from. However, her relationship with Marty begins to change when he tells her about encountering the werewolf and she eventually learns that he's telling the truth when he discovers that Reverend Lowe is now missing his left eye, which is where Marty said he shot the werewolf with a rocket. Knowing that they can't rely on adults, although they do tell Uncle Red, they try to come up with ways to take care of the problem themselves, including sending Lowe letters telling him that he must kill himself. When Marty is nearly killed by Lowe in his human form, they get Uncle Red to contact the sheriff to check the reverend out and when that doesn't work, she and Marty give Red to a crucifix and a medallion to be molded into a silver bullet that they can use to kill the werewolf when he does come for them. After they're attacked by and finally kill the werewolf, you see that the experience has brought the two of them closer together, with Jane telling Marty that she loves him after he says so to her, and the movie ends with the voice of the adult Jane, who has been acting as an occasional narrator for the story, confirming that she can now most definitely say that without any hesitation. There's also an added poignancy to it in that she says, "I love you too, Marty. Good night," which makes me wonder if Marty did eventually die, with the fact that Corey Haim himself is gone adding even more to it in retrospect.

I said this back when I reviewed Predator 2 but I'll say it again here: I miss the time when Gary Busey actually acted. Before he went completely nuts after that motorcycle accident and became nothing more than a parody of himself, he was capable of giving some very entertaining, genuine performances and his role of Uncle Red may be my personal favorite role of his. He plays Red as a guy who's very likable but is far from perfect: he's an alcoholic and has had numerous divorces, which has really put him on his sister's bad side, who is afraid that Marty, whom she feels is very impressionable and she knows looks up to Red, is going to be influenced by him and will just give up on life one day like she feels he has. During their argument about it, Red tells Nan that he doesn't feel that way about Marty at all and tells her that she thinks her only responsibility is to tend to Marty's needs when there's a lot more to him than his just not being able to walk. In other words, he doesn't think that Marty is as helpless as she seems to think he is, which is why he built him a motorized wheelchair called the Silver Bullet, which he makes a powerful upgrade to, turning it into pretty much a motorcycle. It's very clear from this and the way he interacts with Marty that he genuinely loves the kid and would do anything he could for him, although he, as expected, scoffs at the idea that a werewolf is what's killing people in Tarker's Mills, let alone that it's Reverend Lowe. He gets rather harsh when he finds out that Marty and Jane have been sending Lowe letters telling him to kill himself, telling Marty that he sometimes thinks that his common sense got paralyzed with his legs and that he would expect something like this from him, although his reaction is understandable given the circumstances, but when he finds evidence on the back of the Silver Bullet that Lowe did try to kill Marty with his car, he does decide to go to the sheriff about it. He still doesn't believe that Lowe is a werewolf at this point but decides to have Marty's medallion and Jane's crucifix molded into a silver bullet nonetheless and, just to be safe, sees to it that their parents are gone on the night of the next full moon. He's just about to give up on the whole thing and call it an elaborate joke on his part when the werewolf bursts into the house and throws him around like a ragdoll when he tries to defend the kids, forcing them to kill the monster themselves. In addition to how he portrays this great character, Busey is also just simply a riot to watch in this film. He ad-libbed a lot of his dialogue and as a result, the way Red talks and interacts with people comes across as very natural, like a genuinely funny guy. He has some hilarious lines like, "Holy jumped up, bald-headed, Jesus palomino!" and, "I'm a little too old to be playing 'The Hardy Boys Meet Reverend Werewolf!'" and the jokes he tells are also pretty damn funny. In short, this movie really benefitted from a little slice of Gary's mad genius.

As Reverend Lowe, Everett McGill has probably the most complex role in the entire film. Unlike the typical portrayal of people afflicted with werewolfism, Lowe knows full well what he did while in his wolf form and justifies it as being part of God's good work, saying that by killing Stella Randolph, the pregnant woman who was going to commit suicide, he saved her soul from damnation, and also gives the same reason for why he can't kill himself. Even more interesting than that, though, is how his affliction appears to affect his sanity and rational thinking as the film progresses. At first, he seems to be absolutely horrified at what's going on and what he's doing, trying to stop the group of vigilantes from going after the killer, knowing what'll happen to them once night falls, and also appears remorseful at what he's done, such as when he presides over young Brady's funeral and tries to assure the townspeople that this will pass, apparently hoping himself that it will. His horror is no more apparent than when he has a nightmare about all of the townspeople turning into werewolves in his church and wakes up screaming, saying, "Let it end, dear God. Let it end." But, after Marty shoots him in the eye with a rocket and then sends letters to him telling that he knows what he is and that he needs to kill himself, Lowe becomes a much more sinister person, terrifying Jane when she learns herself that he's the werewolf and attempting to kill Marty by running him off the road. So enraged is he when Marty manages to get away that he decides to wait until the next full moon, when he will become a full-blown, uninhibited werewolf, to come after the kid and kill him once and for all. That's another interesting thing about this werewolf: his condition appears to hit him every night, full moon or not, with the only difference being that the fuller the moon gets, the more unrestrained and savage he becomes. Again, it's clear that he knows exactly what he's doing when he's the werewolf, probably meaning that his mind is still in there but his instincts and need to kill become harder and harder to keep in check the closer it gets to a full moon, an idea that is further fueled by the fact that he never eats any of his victims but just simply kills them. This could indeed point to some sort of an agenda by Lowe's human mind that drives the werewolf's bloodlust, especially given how he climbs up the trellis at Stella's house to reach her bedroom and how he specifically targets Marty during the climax. There are also some nighttime scenes where we see Lowe in his human form, suggesting that those are during the low ends of the moon's cycle and he doesn't change at all during that time. These continuous cycles of werewolfism probably took a toll on his human mind and led to him gradually losing his sanity over the course of the movie. And finally, the fact that we're never told how Lowe became a werewolf, with Jane and Marty suggesting that he probably doesn't even know himself, adds some creepy mystery to it, especially when you realize that the town never had any trouble before then, suggesting that Lowe, who has been a long-time resident of the town, suddenly began transforming just recently with no explanation.

I didn't even know that Terry O'Quinn was in this movie until I watched it again for this review (I think the reason is the last time I watched it, which was a while ago, I didn't know who he was) but, regardless, he plays the beleaguered Sheriff Joe Haller who does all that he can to maintain order in Tarker's Mills as the body count rises and the townspeople become more and more hysterical but it soon gets out of hand when, after he's unable to prevent the death of young Brady Kincaid, a vigilante group is formed that Haller is unable to stop. Haller, like everyone else, scoffs at the idea that Reverend Lowe is a werewolf but he soon afterward learns the hard way when he sneaks into Lowe's garage and he turns into the monster right in front of him and kills him. In addition to Haller, you have his deputy, Pete Maxwell (David Hart), who, like his superior, does what he can to help maintain order and often gets into arguments with Andy Fairton (Bill Smitrovich), a loud-mouth gun store owner who is constantly talking crap about Haller's inability to do anything to catch the killer. He and Maxwell almost come to blows at one point over the issue and Andy is also the one who forms the vigilante posse, determined to do Haller's job for him. Normally, Andy would be that really unlikable character whom you can't wait to get killed but, personally, he's in so little of the movie and doesn't do anything worse than run his mouth that I can easily overlook him. He's hardly the most despicable character that Stephen King has ever conjured up. In any case, what ultimately prevents Haller from breaking up the lynch mob is a really strong berating he gets from Brady's grief-stricken father, Herb (Kent Broadhurst). This guy doesn't have a lot of screentime but his performance is so emotionally gut-wrenching that he doesn't need anymore. The scene where he sees his son's mutilated body and screams at the top of his lungs is very powerful and so is the scene where he angrily tells Haller that he has no idea what the words "grief stricken" and "upset" mean, going on to blast him for lecturing them about "private justice", suggesting that he go out to the cemetery, dig up what's left of Brady, and tell him about it. This immediately stops Haller from breaking up the lynch mob and he just stands there, unable to speak, as everyone heads out. Some other notable characters in the film include Owen Knopfler (Lawrence Tierney), the local bar owner who uses a baseball bat called the Peacemaker whenever things get out of hand at his bar and is ultimately beaten to death with it by the werewolf; veteran actor James Gammon as Arnie Westrum, the werewolf's first victim who gets decapitated by him while working on the train tracks; Brady (Joe Wright), Marty's prank-pulling friend who gets torn apart by the werewolf; Tammy (Heather Simmons), Marty's young girlfriend and her mean, beer-drinking father (James A. Baffico) who gets killed by the werewolf in his shed; and Nan (Robin Groves), Marty and Jane's mother who is perhaps a little overprotective of Marty due to his disability and often treats Jane unfairly as a result.

One of my personal favorite aspects of Silver Bullet is the setting of Tarker's Mills itself, mainly because the place reminds me of where I live. I live in a very rural area with a lot of woods around and where the biggest nearby town probably isn't much larger than Tarker's Mills (it might actually be just a bit bigger). Like Tarker's Mills, it's one of those small places in the south where everybody knows each other and where there are plenty of rednecks to be found (unfortunately, it's not nearly as tight nit of a place as Tarker's Mills). Whenever I see a pair of deer antlers on the wall in someone's house, as you see in that scene in his house right before Tammy's dad goes out and gets himself killed, I always feel like this is something that could be happening in the same general area where I live. In fact, the woods around Tarker's Mills look a lot like what you see around here, which makes sense given how this film was shot in North Carolina and I live Tennessee, which look virtually the same. However, it makes me wonder whether or not this is meant to take place in Maine, like a lot of King's stories. I'm sure that the novella takes place in Maine but I'm not entirely positive if this film is meant to since, even in the context of the film, this place looks and sounds a lot further south. Granted, I've never been to Maine myself but I've seen a lot of films shot there and I don't remember one where it looked like this. Plus, maybe I just suck at geography, but I can't imagine a place that borders Canada looking like North Carolina. But, again, what do I know? In any case, I really love the locations in this film since they feel very authentic and real and the fact that it's small town America help it to, again, stand out from other werewolf movies. The only time where the location goes along with some of the tropes you typically see in these types of movies is when the werewolf stalks the lynch mob in the middle of some fog-shrouded woods that are straight out of The Wolf Man but they help add so much to the mood and atmosphere of that scene that I'm not going to complain.

As he usually did for any movie that Dino De Laurentiis was involved with, Carlo Rambaldi handled the special effects. The transformation scenes are pretty much what you expect from a werewolf movie made around this time: they make use of the same bladders and "change-o-head" techniques that Rob Bottin and Rick Baker had used on The Howling and An American Werewolf in London to make it look like human faces are stretching forward into snouts, human ears are becoming long and pointy, hair is sprouting everywhere, and so on. The transformations you see up close are when Lowe changes in front of Sheriff Haller in his garage and when he slowly turns back into a human after being killed at the end of the movie and while they do look cool, as these types of effects always do, there are moments where they do look a bit dodgy. I'm mainly talking about a shot in the former transformation where you see Lowe's face beginning to bulge outward: that looks more than a little artificial and fake, mainly because the camera lingers on it for too long and it's not lit as well as it could be, but the follow-up shot of his head turning as he just about becomes the full-blown werewolf looks pretty impressive. The reverse transformation at the end, though, is pretty much flawless and is actually downright eerie due to how quiet it is except for the sounds of the flesh scrunching and pushing back in and the freaky music that plays as well. You get to see a lot of people in various stages of werewolf transformation during this dream that Lowe has where his entire church congregation changes right in front of him, although none of them come out looking like the ultimate werewolf since we only see snips of their transformations, where they look like the classic werewolf designs from the 40's (there's one that reminds me a little bit of the way Oliver Reed looked in The Curse of the Werewolf), and the scene eventually goes dark. While that is a very cool, freakish scene, with a lot of good makeup effects happening all at once and the nightmarish image of a werewolf banging on an organ in the dark, there's a shot of one guy's arm stretching outward and becoming progressively hairier that I've never thought looked good. Granted, we don't get to see all of it but still, the bit we do get to see makes it look the guy's turning into an ape rather than a werewolf. That said, though, I'll take these types of effects, perfect or not, over bad CGI any day.

That'll bring us to the ultimate werewolf himself, who they keep mostly off-camera for the majority of the movie, save for some quick glimpses that are often obscured either by the lighting or by the framing, until the end when you do see him in all his glory, especially his face. I always thought this werewolf looked really cool, like a more bulked up version of the bipedal wolves seen in The Howling, although I also did feel that there was something odd about his design that I could never put my finger on until I read up on the production. Stephen King wanted the werewolf to have a very "plain" and "ambiguous" look to him, which Rambaldi and his crew accomplished by making him look less like a wolf and more like a bear, which was what I unconsciously hit upon all those times I watched the movie: he does indeed look like a bear, especially in the face when you see it up close at the end. This design was what ultimately led to Don Coscarelli leaving the film because Dino De Laurentiis hated it and demanded that it be changed to something more traditional, which both Rambaldi and King refused, resulting in the production getting behind schedule. As I said before, since there was a long period where they weren't sure whether or not they were going to use this design, Coscarelli decided to leave and was replaced by Daniel Attias, although after he was brought onboard, De Laurentiis reluctantly agreed to let them use this werewolf design. But De Laurentiis still wasn't done complicating things because he then criticized the movements of the dancer that they originally hired to play the werewolf, leading to him being replaced by none other than Everett McGill himself. I don't know if this was really something McGill wanted to do or if he was just forced into it but, regardless, this made for something that doesn't happen a lot in the making of these types of movies: a monster being played by an actual actor rather than a stuntman or a circus performer and the like. While I'm sure it was uncomfortable performing in that suit, I think McGill did a capable job and the suit, for the most part, looks really good. I say for the most part because the close-ups of the face do sometimes look a little artificial and when you get big close-ups of the eyes staring down, the fur around them looks like what you see on a stuffed animal to me (I've read it was supposed to be real bear fur, though). But, overall, he's a cool-looking werewolf and I think he's used and filmed well, especially in the scenes where he's stalking his prey and we hear him breathing heavily while doing so, although I wish he howled more than he does.

While hardly the goriest movie ever made, Silver Bullet is no slouch in the blood and guts department. The werewolf often leaves quite a gruesome mess when he kills people, with movie opening with him slicing off Arnie Westrum's head with one swipe of his claws, sending it flying through the air and landing by the tracks, where it still is the next day when a train comes through. His second victim is Stella Randolph, who he kills by bursting through her bedroom window and slicing her to pieces, with us getting a nasty close-up of his claws running down her back before the scene ends with the housekeeper finding her mutilated body laying on the bed. Milt Sturmfuller gets it when he goes outside to check on a racket in his shed, thinking that it's some kids messing around, and ultimately gets pulled through the floor in a way that causes him to get impaled on a splintered board before getting pulled down completely. We don't see Brady's murder but the image of his yellow, smiley-face kite splattered with blood and what little we do of see his remains are enough. The gore quotient drops down after this scene. We do get some makeup effects, like a really painful one of one of the members of the lynch mob stepping into a bear trap (I'm not kidding when I say that actually hurts to look at) and a shot of a guy's head getting gored by the werewolf's claws when he ambushes the mob in the fog, although that doesn't look the best, but the other people in the mob get killed off-camera, such as Owen Knopfler, where we only see the baseball bat going up and down in the fog and the werewolf's hand holding it as he beats him with it. The shot of the werewolf getting a rocket right in the eye and then pulling it out to reveal a bloody socket does make me wince but other than that, there aren't many other gore effects save for some blood when Haller gets bashed on the head with the bat and when the werewolf's other eye gets shot out at the end, making for a nice image of the dead Reverend Lowe with both of his eyes hollowed out.

On top of everything else, it doesn't hurt that this is a very well-made movie technically as well. Not only are the locations very well shot, especially at night and during the fog-shrouded scene where the lynch mob gets ambushed, but so are the scenes where the werewolf is stalking his prey, which we often see through his POV as he creeps through the brush or what have you, waiting for the perfect time to strike. His attack scenes are also well-handled in that, like I said, they're shot in such a way that you only get a vague sense of what he looks like, with quick cuts, dark lighting (helped by his dark-colored fur), and framing helping to give you small glimpses of him while it mostly focuses on the carnage he causes, which is more than enough to satisfy you until the climax when you finally do see him. Said climax is also very well orchestrated, with a nice build-up to it where you see the werewolf stalking the outside of the house, Jane panicking upon seeing him looking through the window, Uncle Red creeping to the window and looking outside but seeing nothing, the werewolf cutting the power, and finally a moment where Red draws his gun on the front door when the werewolf bursts through the wall behind him. The climax is short but it's exciting, with Red doing his best to fight the werewolf off but gets thrown around the room and into pieces of furniture instead (Gary Busey apparently did his own stunts) as the monster closes in on Marty and Jane. There's an added bit of tension because Red had taken the silver bullet out of the gun before the werewolf burst in and dropped it through a heating vent when he did and now Marty is trying to get the bullet back, which he manages to do but not before the werewolf is almost on top of them. The movie ends when he shoots the werewolf in the right eye, killing him instantly and causing his body to turn back into Reverend Lowe. One other sequence that's very well done is when Reverend Lowe tries to kill Marty on the road with his car, which is not something you usually get in a werewolf movie. It goes on for a while and is quite suspenseful, with Marty doing his best to avoid Lowe's car and pushing the Silver Bullet to its limits until he crashes into a condemned, covered bridge where the Bullet runs out of gas. Lowe corners him in there and slowly closes in for the kill, preparing to throw him into the river and justifies his actions as being part of God's plan as well as telling Marty that he actually doesn't want to kill him but he must. Fortunately for Marty, a local farmer drives by on his tractor and he manages to get his attention, forcing Lowe to retreat.

Back when I said that this film, despite how gory it does get, has a feeling of innocence and of childhood about it, one of the aspects that contributes to that feeling is the music score by Ray Chattaway. While he certainly writes a lot of creepy, suspenseful music for the horror scenes, including a menacing theme for when Jane discovers that Reverend Lowe is the werewolf and a very eerie piece for when the werewolf is turning back into Lowe after being killed that has the sound of soft wolf howls accompanying it, a lot of the music is stuff you'd expect to hear in a family-oriented movie. The film has an upbeat theme song called Joyride that's written by Chattaway and plays over the ending credits but is also used as an instrumental theme for the movie, played in a whimsical way over the opening credits or faster and more exciting when Marty takes off in the new, pumped up version of the Silver Bullet that Uncle Red builds for him. The song itself is, admitted, a little schmaltzy and when I first heard it, I wasn't crazy about it since I didn't think that horror movies should have this kind of music, but I've warmed up to it over time and I think it helps make the movie distinctive. Even the music that plays during the climactic battle with the werewolf is more exciting than it is scary and it reinforces something that you already knew: these kids, despite what's going on, are going to make it and kill this monster. But, again, this score does help the movie stand out amongst its peers.

While I don't think that Silver Bullet is a classic or anything of that nature, I do think it's an unjustly overlooked little gem of a werewolf movie and a Stephen King adaptation that deserves a lot more credit. It has some really good actors, including a very likable kid as the lead (which is hard to come by), a nice setting that sets it apart from other werewolf movies, good cinematography of the location as well as some great atmosphere, a well-told story that keeps going at a great pace at just 94 minutes, good special effects that, despite occasional bits of artificiality, are better than any bad CGI, a cool-looking werewolf, a fair amount of gore, well-done and orchestrated setpieces like the car chase and the climax, and a surprisingly whimsical but nonetheless fitting music score. Other werewolf movies of the time like The Howling and An American Werewolf in London may have more of a place in the history books due to the new types of special effects they introduced and whatnot but Silver Bullet doesn't deserve to be completely ignored either. As an example of the type of, "Tell me a scary story," material that you expect from King, it works very, very well.


  1. One of my favorite werewolf movies. Thanks for the comprehensive review!