Stephen King’s Silver Bullet (1985)

8 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

We can point out all the clichés in Stephen King’s supernatural stories mainly because they’re kind of fun. And a screenplay by King, based on his own “novelette,” is no exception. Indeed, we have the King-penned “Silver Bullet,” based on the novelette “Cycle of the Werewolf.” Thankfully, it’s not as awful as other film adaptations of King’s writing (see “Children of the Corn,” for example). Sure, it’s nothing special (like “Carrie” or “The Dead Zone,” for example) and at times it can get pretty stupid, but there’s a certain charm to it that makes it tolerable. You just have to suspend your disbelief.

There are many Stephen King clichés put at work here, and I suppose I shall start by counting them down:

1. A supernatural being that is never fully explained in origin (at least in the movies). In this case, it’s a werewolf—a man who becomes a vicious beast when the moon is full and invades a small town called Tarker’s Mills. Who is the man? No one knows (but you will, very soon into the movie).

2. The dumb townsfolk who are broadly developed to make the wrong, stupid decisions and get inevitably slaughtered by the monster. Some of these people are just annoying stereotypes, but others (including the local sheriff, played by Terry O’Quinn) are quite amusing, especially when they venture into the woods at night to search for the beast—one asks the other, “Are you gonna make lemonade in your pants?”

3. Alcoholic. In this case, however, the alcoholic is one of the film’s heroes. He’s Red—you know, when you name your child “Red,” are you asking for them to become drunken bums? Played with comic appeal by Gary Busey, Red is the uncle of 11-year-old Marty (Corey Haim), who is the only one who knows that a werewolf is the thing that has caused all the mayhem in town. While Red doesn’t believe that Marty was almost attacked by the werewolf, he does ask that the sheriff look more into it, now that he has a clue. And when all else fails, Red eventually goes to a local gunsmith and asking him to create a silver bullet to stop the werewolf.

Oh, and the first victim of the monster in an early scene might as well hear a sign that reads “alcoholic.” He sings the Rheingold Beer song to himself, staggers as he works the railroad, and you just know he hasn’t got a prayer. Nor does…

4. Abusive jackasses. In particular, Marty’s girlfriend has a mean-spirited father whose sole purpose is to yell and be savaged by the werewolf. No other reason whatsoever.

The only things missing here are flashback sequences and I’m not sure if Tarker’s Mills is in Maine, but I’m not ruling out the possibility.

The werewolf creature effects range from effective (when seen in glimpses in the shadows) to silly (when seen in full view). In particular, when the werewolf goes for Marty while he’s shooting off fireworks, the effect of the werewolf taking Marty’s rocket to the eye is so sloppily done, I couldn’t help but laugh. Was I supposed to laugh? I know I’m supposed to laugh because some elements are intentionally funny—like the townsfolk, the character of Uncle Red, and the neat motorcycle-like design of his new motorized wheelchair (dubbed the Silver Bullet). But what about the narration? Apparently, while the story takes place in 1976 and the film was released in 1985, we get a voiceover narration from Marty’s older sister Jane (Megan Follows), who resents her brother getting all the attention because he’s in a wheelchair—Jane is about 15, and so we should hear from her narrating as a 24-year-old woman, right? Not here—the actress they got to provide the voiceover work is obviously too proper and mature to sound that way.

There are certainly some silly moments in “Stephen King’s Silver Bullet,” but that also makes it kind of fun. Everything leads to an obligatory climax in which Marty, Jane, and Uncle Red are forced to square off against the werewolf. By this time, I was surprised to find myself caring for these three. Corey Haim and Megan Follows are convincing as a squabbling brother and sister who now have to protect each other, and Gary Busey is a riot as Uncle Red. Actually, Busey is possibly the sole character to be fully-developed—at times, he’s a drunken rascal, but he’s a good guy at heart and would never hurt his nephew who idolizes him. Uncle Red’s actions serve purpose.

Also, I should also add that Busey delivers my favorite line in the film with brilliant comedic timing—“I’m a little too old to be playing the Hardy Boys meet Reverend Werewolf!”

And while I’ve given that away, I’ve already stated that you’ll know very soon who the werewolf is before the supposed “reveal” midway through the movie, as Jane searches the town for a man or woman with one eye (because Marty fired at a rocket at the werewolf’s eye). It turns out to be Reverend Lowe (Everett McGill), who knows that Marty knows who he is, and in one scene that I’m sure is supposed to be a sick joke, actually chases down the kid in his wheelchair and attempts to run him down. As if to say even the clergyman is out to get you, kid! You don’t have a prayer!

I really shouldn’t rate “Stephen King’s Silver Bullet” three stars out of four. It is silly and sometimes pretty stupid, but also has a certain charm that makes it fun to watch. Consider it the least bad of the lesser Stephen King film adaptations and take it for what it’s worth.

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