Director: Daniel Attias
Cast: Corey Haim, Gary Busey, Everett McGill
Silver Bullet is a werewolf film that was released a few years after the success of two far superior werewolf films, An American Werewolf in London (1981) and The Howling (1981), the two films that all other werewolf films must look up to. And while Joe Dante’s The Howling is a nifty werewolf flick with great effects by the always amazing Rob Bottin, I have to say that as far as I’m concerned, no werewolf movie out there has been able to surpass what John Landis and crew achieved in An American Werewolf in London; the challenge to beat An American Werewolf in London in terms of makeup effects work is still up and running. The film is a great amalgamation of comedy, great effects, horrifying moments and a great story; it’s simply too good of a movie. It’s incredible that with the advancement of technology in the world of special effects, no computer generated images have been able to top the genius that make up effects guru Rick Baker achieved in An American Werewolf in London; which is why the werewolves in Silver Bullet pale so brightly when compared to Baker’s creations. Still, a werewolf movie does not run on special effects alone, so how was Silver Bullet as a whole, especially when we take in consideration that it’s a Stephen King adaptation?
The world of cinematic Stephen King adaptations is an uneven one. Some are amazing like The Shining (1980) and Pet Sematary (1989), while others are mediocre, like Maximum Overdrive (1986) and The Lawnmower Man (1992), to name just a few examples. Is Silver Bullet one of the good ones? Well, it’s a strange sort of film in the sense that it seems to been aimed at kids, but it’s a hard ‘R’ filled with lots of gore. It feels like it’s aimed at kids because number one, it has a kid in the starring role in the form of a pre-teen Corey Haim, who plays Marty Coslaw, a kid bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Marty knows there’s a werewolf prowling about killing his neighbors in grizzly ways, but of course, same as in every single horror film of the 80’s, nobody believes the kid. The film even feels like it’s a family film, because at its core it’s about a kid’s relationship with his crazy, yet lovable, drunkard uncle. The whole film is tinged with that gee-whiz 12 year old mentality that so many of Stephen King’s novels are known for. King loves to center his horror stories around children. He did it in Silver Bullet (1985), It (1990) and again in Dreamcatcher (2003). King connects horror with childhood, which makes sense. It’s at that age that we are most susceptible to being scared; we know so little of the world. The problem with mixing children and horror on films is that your target audience becomes children, but then if you’re making a horror movie for kids it can’t be too scary or you risk getting an ‘R’ rating and losing your target audience…and then the film becomes a marketing nightmare. Who do you sell the movie to, kids or adults? This is probably the reason why Silver Bullet died a quick death at the box office.
I haven’t read The Cycle of the Werewolf, the novel on which Silver Bullet is based on, but I have seen the illustrations that accompany the novel, namely, Bernie Wrightson’s amazing art work. The sad part is that the werewolves in the film pale in comparison even when compared to Wrightson’s illustrations! Who’s to blame for the underwhelming werewolves on this film? Well, none other than Carlo Rambaldi, the Italian special effect guru best known for creating E.T. for Spielberg’s E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982). He also created the creatures seen in David Lynch’s Dune (1984). Rambaldi’s creature work has always been a bit uneven, on some films it can be amazing, like for example the Alien in Alien (1979), while on others not so great, like for example, his work on King Kong Lives (1986) is actually laugh inducing! For some reason, this is one of the films where his work was lackluster, the werewolf’s head looks as big as a refrigerator. If the filmmakers had employed the likes of Stan Winston, Rick Baker or Rob Bottin, this film might have turned out a bit better in terms of the werewolf effects.
Werewolf effects aside, it’s not the worst werewolf movie I’ve ever seen; that would be Wes Craven’s Cursed (2005). No, Silver Bullet is actually watchable. Corey Haim and Gary Busey play likable characters who live in their own little world. Busey’s Uncle Red is always saying one liners and silly jokes to keep Marty’s spirits up and Marty, even though he is disabled, hasn’t given up on life and is actually very gung-ho about living it. The whole film, like many of King’s stories takes place in small town U.S.A., with a whole slew of townsfolk archetypes like the town asshole, the nice Sheriff who is lenient with the people he’s known his whole life, the violent macho man, the old lady, the unfaithful wife, the natural leader, all these archetypes that tend to inhabit Kings stories. So you definitely feel like you are watching a Stephen King movie. In terms of themes, well, the film does have a thing or two to say about catholic priests who like to chase little boys. Ultimately, I think what hurts this movie the most is the lack of direction. It has that television show feel to it, there’s nothing spectacular or eye catching about the way it was filmed, the direction is actually very banal. This was director Daniel Attias first and only cinematic effort, the rest of his career has been spent directing television, so I guess that explains a lot. Not one of King’s worst adaptations, it certainly deserves a watch if you’re a werewolf or Stephen King fan.
Above Bernie Wrightson's illustrations for King's Cycle of the Werewolf, below, Carlo Rambaldi's werewolf for Silver Bullet (1985)