Silver Bullet (1985)


“Holy Jumped-up Baldheaded Jesus Palomino!”

Main Cast: Corey Haim, Gary Busey

Director: Daniel Attias

Back in the mid-1980s, it wasn’t enough that Stephen King flooded the bookstore shelves with his novels, but it seemed every other month a new movie was coming out based on one of those books.  People couldn’t get enough.  FIRESTARTER, THE DEAD ZONE, CHRISTINE, CUJO, CREEPSHOW, CHILDREN OF THE CORN, he was everywhere.  In October 1985, a little movie was released called SILVER BULLET.  At first I was taken aback.  I thought I had a pretty workable knowledge of Stephen King novels back then.  My aunt had most, if not all of them, and when we went to her house, I’d just sit and stare at them, but I’d never heard of SILVER BULLET.  It wasn’t long before I learned this new movie was based on a little-known novella he had published called CYCLE OF THE WEREWOLF.  Looking back, I can’t remember if I saw the movie or read the book first, but I do recall CYCLE OF THE WEREWOLF was the first novel (novella) I ever read in one day.

And while I know it’s no big deal to see a great book altered when it’s adapted to a movie, holy crap the differences between the original story and SILVER BULLET are more numerous than the similarities.

The story in both versions takes place in Tarker’s Mills, MN where folks are turning up dead in some pretty gruesome ways.  Railway man Arnie Westrum is decapitated near the train tracks.  Stella Randolph is murdered in her bedroom.  11-year-old Brady is torn to pieces.  Young paraplegic Marty Coslaw gets the idea in his head that these killings are the work of a werewolf and late one night, while shooting fireworks, he’s almost attacked.  He escapes by shooting a rocket into his attacker’s eye.  Later, he manages to discover the identity of the beast by finding the person in town who is suddenly wearing an eye patch.

When Marty discovers the werewolf’s true identity, he and his sister and their uncle decide the only thing they can do is put a stop to the killings, no matter what.

That’s about where the similarities end.  While the book takes place over one full year, the movie covers only a few months, from some time in May to Halloween night.  And while the book only features one killing per month, in the movie, the werewolf seems to attack every few nights.  I could be wrong in my perception of the passage of time in the movie, but if so, that’s the fault of the movie, which does nothing at all to help show it other than mention, briefly, on occasion, when a scene is taking place.  In one, Marty’s sister Jane mentions school is almost out, in another Uncle Red tells Marty he’s going to have 4th of July in September.  But nothing is done during the course of the movie to help fill those gaps.  In fact, we get the cancellation of the 4th of July fireworks in one scene and almost immediately in the next, Uncle Red mentions September.  Did we just skip 2 whole months?

Maybe it’s just me, but the passage of time from one month to another seems like it should be a pretty big detail in a movie about werewolves.

While there are a couple of scenes that manage a great deal of suspense, overall SILVER BULLET is the horror equivalent of a fast food restaurant’s low calorie menu.  It’ll get the job done, but you know it’s not going to be as satisfying as a #1 with cheese, fries and a shake.  For me, most of the problems this movie has in maintaining any amount of horror movie integrity are due to King’s screenplay, which treats the adults as if they were being played by teenagers, and was set in the 1950s.  In one scene, when the townsfolk all decide to rifle up and head into the woods in search of the killer, one woman asks a man–both of whom have to be in their 50s–if he’s going to make lemonade in his pants.  People really say that? 

In another scene, Jane calls Marty a booger, twice.  Yes, Jane is supposed to be 14 (played by then-17-year-old Megan Follows) and Marty 11 (Corey Haim was 14), but my brother and I have 3 years between us and, even at 14, I would never have called him anything so tame as a booger.  Not if I expected to maintain my street cred.

I know the Tarker’s Mills of the movie is a small town set in 1976, but the dialogue just comes across as entirely too false and simple.  They talk like they’re trying not to offend.  This is a horror movie, written by Stephen King, whose first novel and first movie adapted from a novel both opened with a 17-year-old girl getting her first period.  And NOW he’s trying not to offend?

Maybe the thinking was, considering the identity of the werewolf (which I won’t give away here; it’s the ONE secret the movie tries to hold onto until the right moment and if I hadn’t already known it ahead of time, I may have been shocked.  Either way I’m not going to give it away here just in case there’s someone out there who honestly doesn’t know yet), they had already used up their shock quota, so they had to water down the rest of the movie to make it more suitable for the wimpy movie audiences of 1985?  Who knows?

Whatever the rationale, it weakens the movie and diminishes the terror.

The special effects are passable, but nothing special.  There’s little gore, even though we see a decapitation and a werewolf transformation.  I think the success or failure of a werewolf movie hinges on the awesomeness of its werewolf and the one here looks pretty plain.  It’s obviously a man in a suit, and that suit bears little resemblance to a wolf in the first place.  The transformation scene is, again, nothing special.  Considering what both THE HOWLING and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON had given us 4 years earlier, I’d hoped the transformation scene would have tried to at least equal those, if not top them.  Wrong on both counts.  It was more exciting than the stop motion change in the original WOLFMAN, but that’s about it.

Dan Attias replaced Don Coscarelli as director, which is probably a bad thing.  Attias got the job done, but he definitely seemed to be going through the motions.  Aside from one scene on a bridge, there was little or no suspense and everything else felt pretty by the numbers.  Don Coscarelli, on the other hand, gave us PHANTASM, one of the coolest and scariest movies of its time.

It’s a sad day when a Stephen King adaptation, with a screenplay actually written by Stephen King himself, pales in comparison to the adaptations written by someone else.  I don’t know what went wrong here, other than a number of unnecessary changes to the plot and its characters (even minor details like names were changed).  I feel if the movie had been written to follow the book as closely as possible, the plot would have felt more cohesive and there would have been many more opportunities for suspense and terror.  Instead, what we got was a cheaply made movie that LOOKS cheap, and a quickly made movie that LOOKS quick.

SILVER BULLET has little to none of the heart of what makes a Stephen King story work.  The end result here is something that was obviously made for as little as possible in an attempt at making back as much as possible.  Sure, there are lightning strikes every so often, but for every SAW or BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, there are a dozen WATERWORLDS.  The potential was here, and if they’d just spent a little more time and money on it, SILVER BULLET could have struck gold.

King on Film

Carrie (1976)

‘Salem’s Lot (1979)

The Shining (1980)

Creepshow (1982)

Cujo (1983)

Disciples of the Crow (1983)

The Woman in the Room (1983)

The Dead Zone (1983)

Christine (1983)

Children of the Corn (1984)

Firestarter (1984)

Word Processor of the Gods (1984)

Cat’s Eye (1985)

The Dark Half (1993)

The Tommyknockers (1993)

Needful Things (1993)

The Stand (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

The Mangler (1995)

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

The Langoliers (1995)

Sometimes They Comes Back … Again (1996)

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)

Thinner (1996)

The Shining (1997)

Ghosts (1997)

Chattery Teeth (1997)

The Revelations of ‘Becka Paulson (1997)

Trucks (1997)

The Night Flier (1997)

Chinga (1997)

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)

Gerald’s Game (2017)

1922 (2017)

The Stand (2021)

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