There is no denying the phenomena that is Stephen King, but his adaptions range for Oscar-winning to, well, The Tommyknockers. And the 80s was a pot-pourri of King adaptions. But most fall into the ‘so-bad-they’re-good’ category. But let’s start with Gary Busey, a motorised wheelchair and werewolf congregation. This film is 1985’s Silver Bullet.
Silver Bullet is seen as either the worst adaption or the funniest. Some people view it as just bad, but I like to think of it as being self-aware of the formulaic horror, when it visits a quiet American town. And it is meant to be funny.
I laughed more throughout this film than I do when watching a comedy, and I think this makes it a good film, or at least fun.
Silver Bullet is set in 1976 in one of the typical King-esque American towns, this one being Taker’s Mills in (where else) but Maine.
We open on a night were we met Arnie Westrum who is milling around, before being quickly dispatched, and as we pan over the town we see a decapitated body.
We are then introduced to the Colslaw family and the fact that one of the children is a wheelchair user. Silver Bullet centres around the Colslaws, but more importantly Marty (Corey Haim).
He is paralysed from the waist down, hence the wheelchair, but he’s still able to use his arms to climb trees and climb out of his bedroom window.
Jane (Megan Follows), his sister, is always a second person, in the shadow of her brother’s paralysis, and that seemingly causes tension.
This town is plagued by a series of murders, including that of a suicidal woman and the local drunk. But it is the death of a young boy Brady (Marty’s friend) that causes the scared and angry locals to take their frustration out on the police, as they feel that the police are not doing enough to prevent these crimes.
It is this crime that turns them into vigilantes. Thankfully the townsfolk have the local preacher to watch over them, but nobody believes the formerly bickering siblings who suggest that the killer isn’t human. That is until a visit of Uncle Red (Gary Busey) gives them an ally — someone who will at least entertain the idea that a werewolf is committing the murders.
For us, the audience, there is no great surprise about who is the werewolf. From here on in we are playing cat and mouse where the werewolf is killing those that they believe know their secret.
As usual, it is the charm that King embeds in the town that carries the film, and makes you care about the inhabitants — especially the main cast. Their performances are the strength of Silver Bullet. Corey Haim continues to show why he was such a strong child actor, and you can’t help but care for Marty whenever he is in trouble. Busey is given all the best lines, excellent as the “black sheep”.
Busey maintains his abrupt manner while still caring for his niece and nephew, and gives us a family unit that we are invested in and want to survive. Even the side characters feel fleshed out and well acted.
There is a sentimentality to Silver Bullet born from the fact that so much time is spent on the family unit, which is great because you can’t help but feel that two different films are trying to shine through: a teen adventure or a film of horror and gore.
As a result, it fails at both — it doesn’t scare you or tug at the heartstrings. Silver Bullet even loses its focus halfway through the film. It feels uneven, and its narrative is loose. In fact, you can’t help but feel the film is not complete, even though the photography is pretty solid. There are many beautiful shots peppered through the film, even adding suspense to the film.
The story and narrative take away some of its impact. There is nothing really new here other than it being another showcase for King’s knack of creating lovable characters and compelling storylines.
However, it is nice that the werewolf is an antagonist rather than a tortured protagonist. We are not watching a victim of uncontrollable urges, but a villain who is just nasty, who will do everything to keep his dark secret hidden. As I mentioned, the identity of the werewolf is apparent, but I won’t spoil that here.
Safe to say, the individual who plays the werewolf does so menacingly, which makes it is a shame that it does not get more screen time. The reason might be because the creature design pales in comparison to Rick Baker’s work in An American Werewolf in London, as many films following it did.
We don’t see the number of killings that are happening, we instead spend more of the time focusing on characters. And as a result I feel we are not getting the full depth of what this film could have been. The kills that are actually shown are bloody, and a bit of fun to watch.
However, some are so over the top that it is difficult to tell if the kills are being played for laughs or not.
Silver Bullet, combined with the overacting and silly dialogue, turns this into a B-Movie without a doubt. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
For me, this is a great and successful horror film. For King fans, it certainly feels like a King film, which does not always happen with his adaptions. Therefore I make it a recommendation for not only King fans, but for those that like their horror from the 80s, dripping in cheese.
Silver Bullet will leave you howling.
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