1/17/11

The King of Wilmington - Silver Bullet (1985): Busey vs. Werewolf, 'Nuff Said.

When I hear the words silver bullet, one thing comes to mind immediately, Coors. Strangely, it’s also the first thing that comes to mind if you say those words to Gary Busey as well, even though he starred in a movie of that name. Being a horror fan, the first thing that should come to my mind is werewolves, and that’s the topic of tonight’s non-beer related film Silver Bullet. The basis for the film, the King’s Cycle of the Werewolf, was originally conceived as a short story cycle that would accompany a werewolf themed calendar. However, King, never one to turn down a few thousand words, ballooned the project far beyond its original scope and it came to life first as limited edition 1983 novella with illustrations by Swamp Thing artist Bernie Wrightson. (The same year the movie was released it finally made its way to trade paperback courtesy of Signet books.) King adapted his novella for the screen, and it became Silver Bullet, the third King story filmed in the Wilmington area and the third entry into my feature The King of Wilmington.li.

There seems to be a killer on the loose in Tarker’s Mill. A vicious brutal murderer capable of tearing people apart from limb to limb, but only Marty (Corey Haim), a young wheelchair bound kid, suspects the truth that the killer is a werewolf. After finally seeing the monster in the flesh, he convinces his sister Jane (Megan Follows) that what he saw was real. Now all they have to do is convince an adult to help them, and the only place to turn is to Uncle Red (Gary Busey), their mother’s oft-divorced frequently drunk brother, who fashioned Marty’s custom wheelchair, the Silver Bullet. However now they need a real silver bullet, the only thing that will put a stop to the murders in Tarker’s Mill.

This was the feature debut of director Daniel Attias, but it’s not as if he didn’t come with some heavy hitting recommendations. Having been assistant director for Sam Fuller (White Dog), Stephen Spielberg (E.T.), Joe Dante (Twilight Zone: The Movie), Francis Ford Coppola (One from the Heart), and Wim Wenders (Hammett), Attias was no slouch. It seems clear that Attias took some inspiration from Spielberg trying to channel same kind of Middle American family sentiment. Marty’s parents (not to mention his Uncle) are flawed average people who understandably keep a close eye on their paraplegic son even at the expense of Marty’s older sister. While objectively the story is about a supernatural menace, when it comes down to it the main theme is family and the trials and secrets in life that bind brothers and sisters together.

This was the first movie that Cory Haim took on a lead role (his previous two films Firstborn and Secret Admirer found him in a supporting role), and the young actor shows here much more promise and range than one would imagine from the future star of Snowboard Academy. Haim plays his part perfectly including a very nuanced portrayal of a paraplegic, something I’ve often seen many older actors play unconvincingly. Haim also has great chemistry with Megan Follows (best known as the title character in the Anne of Green Gables TV movies) which totally makes the arc of their brother/sister relationship to be the grounding force in the film. There is also a good performance by future Lost star Terry O’Quinn as the local sheriff, and I’m always happy to see Lawrence Tierney in anything and he steals a couple of scenes here as the hard-ass bartender Owen.

There are two characters that I haven’t talked about yet, and though Haim might be the star of the show, Silver Bullet couldn’t have been the same without them. First off, there’s Gary Busey. Even though this was a few years before Busey was absolute bats hit crazy, he gives an incredibly inspired performance here mugging for the camera in that way that only Busey can. Everyone has that nutty Uncle that people say isn’t quite right, and Gary rolls up all the not “quite right” of every uncle everywhere for his character. Also he throws down with the other interregnal character, the werewolf. If there’s a place that Silver Bullet falls short and becomes a shadow of what might have been, it’s when the wolf takes the screen. Looking a far cry from something Rick “American Werewolf” Baker might have cooked up, there werewolf looks more akin to a Big Bad Wolf who might have appeared on Fairy Tale Theater.

The less than scary wolf is indicative of Silver Bullet’s biggest problem. While it landed a ‘R’ rating by the MPAA for “intense, graphic horror violence/gore, some language and alcohol/smoking used”, I think most horror fans, King readers, and general older folk will find the ”intense graphic horror violence” more than a little tame. When I was young and saw this flick, it was perfect for me, but now some fifteen or twenty years later, I found myself chuckling at Busey being thrown around a room by Big Bad more than being tense. With just a few trims, Silver Bullet could have perfectly fit in with Gremlins and Goonies as a movie that could have become an ‘80’s classic for folks like me who are now in their thirties. I still found the film enjoyable, but I did feel like it needed to make a movement into either youth or adult territory to have really been a success.

That wraps it up for The King of Wilmington for this week. Next week I’m going to look at the last of King’s films made in the area with The Night Flyer, and then the following week I’ll wrap it up with the first, Cat’s Eye. Until then I’ll see you folks Wednesday for another edition of Hitch on the Hump

Bugg Rating
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4 comments:

  1. There is so much going on in the film, and the book, that it makes Stephen King so under rated, at least in this film's regard

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  2. This will always be one of my favorite King adaptations. It is subtle in ways that many of his others aren't.
    The wolf doesn't stand the test of time. Which is a shame because I was terrified of it when I was younger.
    Looking forward to next time!

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  3. I often forget that Cycle of the Werewolf was the first Stephen King book I bought with my own money; I saved up to buy that hardcover limited edition when I was only 12! For ages I was obsessed with the simple storyline and of course with Wrightson's artwork. It was only after that book that I moved on to 'Salem's Lot and the rest... And like many King movie adaptations, I recall being fairly disappointed with it - but I don't think I've seen the film since '85! Still, Cycle has a special place in my horror-struck heart. Thanks for the reminder!

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  4. When I first saw it, the "dream sequence" scared the hell out of me...which was funny when I got older and saw it again. The film was still kinda cool, but the effects were not as menacing anymore.

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