This gem comes from my high school years, which means it qualifies, big time, as a ‘memory movie,’ and if you follow my reviews you know how much I love reviewing ‘memory movies.’ I have three for this one, but only two have stayed relatively vivid in my memory banks. I had to check the release date first on IMDB to put my first “memory” in perspective, looks like it came out October of ’85, making me sixteen. I was hanging out with my best friend, Gerry, at his house, and I have this feeling it was night time, and we were in his room. I believe I was thumbing through his collection of Fangorias when I came across a Silver Bullet article and he told me he saw it last night. I remember being instantly disappointed he didn’t ask me to go with him. Truth be told I was also now a tad jealous he had seen it before I did. You know, it’s funny, because that’s how it was, when you’re a kid and a movie comes to town you want to see, you absolutely have to see it opening night, if you couldn’t, you prayed none of your friends saw it before you. Thankfully that rarely happened. Most movies we all wanted to see, we saw together. That’s probably why I remember this memory, because of the ‘emotional component’ of disappointment and envy. Incidentally, Gerry didn’t care for it.
I saw it a year later on cable and while I enjoyed it for the most part it was the ending that eventually destroyed all that for me. The final confrontation at the end where we see the “werewolf” in all its glory—holy shit, it was a goddamn bear?! Yes, that’s what it looked like to me. I thought, oh, look, they’re being attacked by a werebear. Carlo Rambaldi’s werewolf suit was a bust in every conceivable way. And so for decades afterwards I detested this flick.
It wasn’t until the DVD came out that I was reminded of its existence and decided to do a revisit to see if I still hated it. I’m not surprised I had a change of heart, most, I’d say, due to the “nostalgia factor” these 80s flicks have on me. With so much time gone by I watched it with through the eyes of a 33-year-old back then and it just worked for me. The werewolf at the end still looks like a goddamn bear, but that’s all right. So, that’s how I went from hating the Bullet to loving the Bullet.
Based on the 1983 Stephen King novella, Cycle Of The Werewolf, Silver Bullet deviates somewhat from the “Cycle” in that in the novella the tale chronicles a full year of the werewolf’s rampage, in the movie the killings begin in Spring, 1976 and end right on Halloween Night close to 3 in the morning. The movie version is a kind of a flashback where a grown Jane Coslaw recounts those seven months, or so, but we never see grown Jane, she only narrates the beginning, a small moment later in the film, and at the very end.
King’s soft-cover 1985 printing had some great art by Bernie Wrightson that showed a werewolf that was clearly more in line with the beasts from Joe Dante’s The Howling film. You can buy this version on Amazon, but it’s kind of pricey.
Teenage Jane (Megan Follows) has a brother, Marty (Cory Haim), who’s the center of the tale for a good portion of the film, along with their Uncle Red (Gary Busey). Marty’s a parapalegic and Red’s a heavy drinker and a “serial marrier,” he’s on his third wife, or something close to that. Red has a dysfunctional relationship with his sister/Marty and Jane’s mother, Nan (Robin Groves). On the other hand there’s an inherent level of dysfunction within the Coslaw family to begin with since Nan seems to favor Marty over Jane. Red, however, loves the two kids and built Marty a motorized wheelchair, he gives him a much better supped-up version later in the movie, both versions Red has dubbed the “Silver Bullet.”
Our werewolf is Reverend Lester Lowe (Everett McGill), and we never learn how he became infected. I can’t remember if that origin was broached in the novella, but a theory put forth in the movie suggests, maybe, even Lowe doesn’t even know how he became one. The first murder is deemed a possible accident, for the guy who lost his head may have gotten it taken off by being drunk and passing out on the train tracks, but the second death of a pregnant woman is clearly deemed murder by Sherriff Joe Haller (Terry O’Quinn), and all the subsequent ones afterwards are clearly too.
There’s a subplot of the townsfolk being so incensed by Haller unable to locate the killer, they take it upon themselves to go out one night and see if they can take this jackhole down themselves, never aware it’s a monster and not a man. In one of the movie’s more noteworthy sequences we see a group in the foggy woods realizing a growling animal, or monster, is around them somewhere, but the moment one of them says its right here with them, lurking under the fog, does the werewolf take that as a cue to start ripping off faces!
The most affecting death in the whole movie, however, is that of Marty’s friend, Brady Kincaid (Joe Wright). Everyone who’s seen this film will know what I’m talking about. Brady stays out too late one night flying his kite and the werewolf takes him apart. That’s not the part I’m taking about though, since they never show his actual death, but his father, Herb (Kent Broadhurst), comes to the crime scene at the park, pulls away the sheet covering his body and totally loses his shit in a way that kind of unnerved me when I first saw it, still does come to think of it. Actor Broadhurst has only two other scenes in the film, and he’s a damn fine actor when it comes to portraying angered grief. He confronts Haller in a bar as the half-drunk, and probably fully-drunk men make plans to go out that night. Haller tries to dissuade them but Herb puts in his rightful two cents and it’s another affecting scene that made me almost tear up. He’s in one more scene, but it’s a dream sequence Lowe is having of one of his sermons and everyone changes into a werewolf.
The next pivotal moment in Marty’s life happens when he’s out one night shooting off fireworks and the werewolf decides to try and take him out. Marty gets away by using one of his fireworks as a weapon and nails the beast right in the eye. This also the moment in the movie where the boy who cries werewolf, specifically to his sister and his uncle, is actually believed. Well, Red at first doesn’t, but Jane somehow feels there’s truth to what he says and begins to look for a person under the guise of a bottle drive who is now lacking an eye. This is when she discovers Reverend Lowe sporting gauze on his left eye, and evidence in his garage linking him to at least one of the deaths of those men that went all vigilante that night in the woods.
Red never fully believes Lowe is a werewolf until that Halloween night, but there’s evidence on Marty’s supped-up wheelchair linking an encounter Marty said he had with Lowe in his car. Lowe tried to run him down. Lowe’s car is blue. Blue paint is on Marty’s chair. Red doesn’t believe in monsters, but he does think Lowe needs to be checked out. Now, had Marty not sent some anonymous letters to Lowe telling him he knows what he is and it’d be best if he just killed himself, well, that attempt on his life wouldn’t have been made and that Halloween Night encounter may never have happened. On the other hand that Halloween Night encounter ended the reign of the werewolf, so, maybe, that all needed to happen. Fate’s a funny thing, isn’t it?
Sheriff Haller even ends up a victim of the werewolf after he hears what Red has to say and decides to have a look around the Lowe property one night. He stumbles upon the man in the garage and this leads to Lowe bashing Haller’s brains out with a baseball bat as he transforms. Red must believe somewhere deep down because he does what Mary and Jane ask him to do and takes their silver pendants to a gunsmith who melts them down into a silver bullet.
Halloween Night is a full moon, and Marty’s pretty sure Lowe is going to come for him. Red agrees to stay up with the kids with his gun and silver bullet at the ready, and just when they think it’s not going to happen, Lowe strikes, literally crashing through the wall. Marty’s the one who finally kills the werewolf, shooting it right in its other eye. We then get to see Lowe transform back into the dead guy he now is.
This is one of those movies where a primary character just suddenly suggests out of the blue it’s a monster doing all the killings. Driving with Red after Brady’s funeral Marty just blurts out maybe it’s a werewolf. That kind of jump to certain insane conclusions always makes me wince, since where is the proof where he would think that? And then there’s a scene where the werewolf kills this guy in a greenhouse behind his home. The man’s daughter telling Marty earlier she hears weird sounds from it every night. So, what’s in that greenhouse that would warrant repeated visits by the werewolf? We never find out.
The werewolf/transformations aren’t as polished as, say, Rob Bottin’s in The Howling (1981) or Rick Baker’s in An American Werewolf In London (1981), but the movie is well made, well acted, especially by Haim, Busey and Follows, and has some well staged werewolf attacks even though the damn beast still looks like a bipedal bear to me. There is a decent level of gore with a face ripping, a decapitation, a baseball bat bashing, and a general fatal mauling, this is a 80s King adaptation so a certain level of gore is expected and welcomed. Interesting to note, King actually wrote the screenplay for this, which I always tend to forget. According the commentary he loved what the filmmakers did at the time.
I’m also torn when I first became a Busey fan, whether it was from this movie or D.C. Cab (1983). It might have been D.C. Cab.
Fangoria covered the movie in issues 42, 43, 44, 48 and 49. Here’s the article from issue 49. Click photos to enlarge.
Paramount released Silver Bullet on DVD back in 2002, then re-released it a couple of other times changing the cover art for one release and doubling it up on a disc with another King adaptation, the underrated Graveyard Shift (1990). Since this is Paramount it should be no surprise neither King movie has ever been converted to blu-ray, and I’m not sure you’ll ever see it happen either. Thank God for the existence of Australia’s Umbrella Entertainment, who’ve been making a name for themselves in the last few years as being a distributor of much desired cult flicks. The best part being their releases are region free, making it doubly easy for us here in the U.S. to enjoy them. Most notable among their previous releases has been Night Of The Living Dead (1990), and The Punisher (1990), the former being the original “color palette” version, and the latter being the simple fact Dolph Lundgren’s movie has still not reached blu here in the States. You can buy Silver Bullet on their own website or here on Amazon U.S.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 2.35:1 high definition widescreen—2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio—English subs only
There’s a couple of night scenes that have a weird kind of grain the U.S. DVD doesn’t have on it, but overall I was pleased with this transfer. Colors are vivid! It’s definitely an upgrade over the old DVD.
Extras included . . .
- Audio Commentary With Director Daniel Attias, Moderated By Michael Felsher
- Isolated Score Selections And Audio Interview With Composer Jay Chattaway, Moderated By Michael Felsher
- The Wolf Within – An Interview With Actor Everett McGill (16:16)
- Full Moon Fever – Interviews With Special Effects Artists Michael McCracken, Jr. And Matthew Mungle (21:04)
- Dino’s Angel Takes On Lycanthropy: Martha De Laurentis Remembers Silver Bullet (25:33)
- Still Gallery (73 photos/6:20)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD)
- TV Spot
- Radio Spot
Some random things I learned from the extras: I never knew Don Coscarelli was briefly connected to the movie, but creative differences about the werewolf ended that. And Stan Winston was asked to do the FX, but he declined. Dino De Laurentis also thought the werewolf looked like a werebear and told Carla Rambaldi to go back and fix that. Guess he didn’t fix it enough, It still looked like a werebear. And there was some actor, they never name, who during that dream sequence never had his werewolf make-up removed, when asked why, he told the FX artists he routinely attended these sex parties and the chicks there loved it when he showed up in his werewolf make-up.
There’s currently a German blu in existence, but I believe it’s region locked and doesn’t come with as many extras (trailer, audio commentary with the director, picture gallery with rare advertising material). I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know how its transfer compares to Umbrella’s, but just in the extras department Umbrella’s wins hands down. Keep that in mind when debating on which one you want to buy.