Written by: Stephen King
Directed by: Daniel Attias
Executive Producer: Dino De Laurentiis
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"The face of the beast always becomes known; the time of the beast always passes."
Stephen King can be considered a veritable master of horror even in the cinematic realm due to all of the film adaptations that have been based on his books. Never was this trend stronger than it was in the 80s, where it seemed like there was a new film based off of Kingís work every week. Arriving in 1985, Silver Bullet was one such offering. From legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis, Silver Bullet is an adaptation of Kingís novelette "Cycle of the Werewolf." I should note that Iíve never read Kingís original story, so this review will strictly focus on the film itself and its place within the canon and King adaptations and the werewolf genre.
Though released in 1985, the story occurs in 1976 in Tarkerís Mills, a small town in Maine. The story opens on a dark night, where we find Arnie Westrum, a railroad worker, milling about. He is soon dispatched by a large, wolf-like creature; the town coroner, however, wrongly concludes that Arnie passed out on the railroad tracks and was run over by a train. After this opening, we then meet our main characters: Jane and Marty Coslaw, a brother and sister whose relationship is strained due to the latterís paralysis. We also learn that Marty has a special relationship with his alcoholic uncle, Red, who, despite his crass exterior, obviously cares deeply for his nephew, as he is responsible for designing Martyís special, gas-fueled wheelchairs in the film.
As the story progresses, there are more mysterious murders in the town, including a young woman on the verge of suicide, a drunken redneck, and, finally, Martyís young friend Brady. It is this last brutal slaying that finally spurs the towns citizens to action in an attempt to exact ďprivate justice.Ē Of course, several members of this vigilante mob meet a grisly demise at the hands of the werewolf; the story then takes a twist as we learn the terrifying secret behind the creatureís identity. Furthermore, Marty and Jane also learn this very secret and are left to desperately convince their Uncle Red. The rest of the film is then a bit of a cat and mouse game as the werewolf tries to kill those who know his dark secret.
As a werewolf film, Silver Bullet is somewhat of a different take on the genre. While itís not groundbreaking in any way, itís a bit different because the werewolf is an antagonist more than a tortured protagonist. Instead of seeing the creature as a victim of an uncontrollable urge (which is the case in the Universal Wolf Man films), the creature here is just a nasty, irredeemable villain who will stop at nothing to keep his secret hidden. I wonít spoil the identity, but I will say that the actor playing the creature gives a sinister performance that deserves more screen time than it gets. Also, the creature design itself is nothing revolutionaryódonít expect anything on the level of Rick Bakerís designs from An American Werewolf in London. Carlo Rambaldiís design here gets the job done, but itís not exactly terrifying; in fact, you rarely see the creature in full.
If anything keeps the film afloat, itís the performances. Gary Busey is the perfect choice for a character like Uncle Red, as he retains a gruff exterior without compromising his sincere concern for his niece and nephew. Marty is played by Corey Haim, who is without a doubt one of the greatest child actors of all time, and you find it hard not to care for Marty when he is in peril throughout the film. His on-screen sister, portrayed by Megan Follows, is also believable as the frustrated sibling. Heck, even Lawrence Tierney gets a bit role as a bartender who brandishes a baseball bat that he refers to as ďThe Peacemaker.Ē The cast is solid all the way around, as you really get a sense that the entire town is completely terrified of the mysterious murders.
Despite the strong performances, however, Silver Bullet seems to fall a bit short somewhere. The film loses focus around the middle of the film when the mob sets out to exact vengeance; thereís a good stretch of the film where none of the Coslaws appear at all, and then suddenly, the film refocuses itself. As such, the film feels a bit uneven, and the narrative isnít very tight. Furthermore, the filmís climax and resolution feel a bit rushed, as the final confrontation between man and beast isnít as riveting as it could be, but it does feature some nice special effects. As a result, the film just doesnít feel as polished or complete despite the fact that itís competently directed and shot. In fact, there are some great shots strewn throughout the film, and some of the more riveting sequences are very suspenseful; unfortunately, the filmís story and narrative structure undermine it a bit.
Donít let me steer you wrong, however: Silver Bullet is still a pretty effective horror film. As far as King adaptations go, itís probably somewhere in the middle of the road. Itís no Pet Sematary or The Shining, but itís better than stuff like The Mangler. Itís pretty much your standard werewolf flick thatís full of jump scares and a moderate amount of gore. It attempts to be somewhat of a morality tale about a strengthened brother-sister relationship, but, at its core, Silver Bullet sets out to entertain and scare you. I doubt it will do the latter for many people, but it will probably entertain you once or twice. I used to rent this one all the time as a kid, but I imagine most people will enjoy it once. Paramount has released the film on DVD, and any horror fan knows what to expect from them: a high quality video transfer and soundtrack with very little to no extras. In this case, there are absolutely no extras, so thereís really no reason to rush out and buy it unless youíre already a hardcore fan of the film. If not, simply go out and Rent it!
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