Silver Bullet (1985) isn’t a bad werewolf movie, but it suffers from coming near the end of a series of much better ones. After The Howling (1981), An American Werewolf in London (1981), and The Company of Wolves (1984), it’s kind of hard to compete. This was my first time watching it since its original release and I’m glad to say I liked it much more than I remembered.
It runs at a brisk pace for all its 95 minutes; it keeps moving and I was never bored. One of Stephen King’s first screenplays (based on his novella, Cycle of the Werewolf), it’s remarkably concise and lacks the excess of some of his others. It features some terrific actors who are familiar, yet look younger than I remembered almost 36 years later.
The cast includes top-billed Gary Busey, only seven years after The Buddy Holly Story, Everett McGill (Twin Peaks), Terry O’Quinn (The Stepfather, Lost), Bill Smitrovich (you name it; he’s probably been in it), and a young-young-young Corey Haim in only his third theatrical film. The women aren’t as recognizable, but then, they don’t have very big parts.
This is odd because the narrator of the story is Jane Coslaw (voice of Tovah Feldshuh), played as a child by Megan Follows. She starts the tale of the long nightmare that began in the town of Tarker’s Mill when “the killing had begun, but no one knew.” She’s really telling her 11-year-old brother Marty’s (Haim) story; he’s the lead in every way.
Marty must use a wheelchair; however, he’s anything but confined by it, climbing up trees and down trellises as any child would. When the town realizes people are being murdered, Marty jumps to a conclusion:
What if it’s not a guy? What if it’s some kind of monster, like a werewolf or something?
Coincidentally, it is. It’s one of the leaps of faith you take in a monster movie, like when a character assumes facts about it that turn out to be true. For example, this werewolf prowls even when the moon isn’t full, causing Marty to speculate:
I think he’s that way all the time. As the moon gets fuller, he becomes “wolfier.”
The gimmick of Silver Bullet is that for a good, long time, we don’t know the werewolf’s human alter ego. This is where the movie fails for me a little bit. Something about the way it’s handled doesn’t carry the impact you’d expect with such a revelation. It’s clever to think about, and you reflect on the clues, but it could have been a more dramatic twist.
From there, it’s a straightforward adventure with the adults not believing the kids and them saving the day. The formula would be perfected two years later with The Lost Boys. Uncle Red (Busey) gives it a good try, but ultimately, it’s his disbelief that sets the stage for the mostly implausible, yet completely suspenseful, climax.
There are two possible reasons I don't like Silver Bullet more than I do. One is the direction by Daniel Attias. He’s an accomplished and award-winning television director (Alias, The Wire, Homeland) but this is his only feature film. The other is the werewolf. It’s not horrible, but compared to the ones mentioned above, it pales.
On one hand, you have to credit Silver Bullet for not wasting time with werewolf lore and physical transformations and just getting to the action. But on the other hand, it’s a werewolf movie; you want to see physical transformations. They aren’t completely absent, but they’re uninspired. With a few tweaks, this could have been the fourth great werewolf film of the 80s.
Written by Stephen King
From the novel by Stephen King
Directed by Daniel Attias
Starring Gary Busey, Everett McGill, Corey Haim, Megan Follows, Robin Groves, Leon Russom, Terry O’Quinn, Bill Smitrovich
RT 95 min.
Released Oct. 11, 1985
Home Video Shout Factory (Blu-ray)