Me and Lil’ Stevie Make the Rounds with a SILVER BULLET (1985)
ME AND LIL’ STEVIE
Make the Rounds With A
SILVER BULLET (1985)
(Exterior, Night…Establishing shot of an old wooden bridge under the light of the full moon. Camera slowly approaches the bridge, and as we round the corner, we see a figure on the bridge. The figure is a hunched-over silhouette in the moon’s light. Camera moves closer still, and we begin to hear the grunting, panting, and snarling of some kind of beast. The silhouette rises and turns to face the camera, and suddenly the night air is filled with the howl of a werewolf. The figure begins moving toward us, and we see that it is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)
Lil’ Stevie: Better hurry up…Sounds like L.L. Soares is pissed at you again.
Peter: That wasn’t L.L., that was a WEREWOLF. Not to worry, though. We’ll be safe on this side of the bridge. I purposely rigged the bridge to collapse if anybody tries to cross it.
Lil’ Stevie: That’s brilliant. What if the werewolf is on THIS side of the bridge, and we need to escape. Hmm, genius?
Peter: I could always leave you on the bridge and use you as bait…
Lil’ Stevie: (grumbles a moment). Good evening, Constant Viewer, and welcome to our little column. Today we’ll be taking a look back at the 1985 Danial Attias film SILVER BULLET, based on my comic book-style novelette, CYCLE OF THE WEREWOLF, which was released in 1983 and illustrated by legendary artist Bernie Wrightson. Now, my book started out as a neat little calendar project, which…
Peter: Which has little to do with the movie we’re here to critique. It does bear mentioning, though, that the REAL Stephen King wrote the screenplay (and noticeably made changes to a LOT of his original source material), and that PHANTASM (1979) director Don Coscarelli was originally tapped to direct, but disputes between him and King (and special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi) led him to pass the job on to then-newcomer Attias.
Lil’ Stevie: Well, my novelette takes place over the course of an entire year, so I had to alter the time frame for the sake of continuity.
Peter: Yeah, so why’d you change character names? The narrator of the movie is the protagonist’s sister Jane, but in your book it was Kate…
Lil’ Stevie: Um…I…
Peter: I thought so. Let’s get started, shall we? The story centers around young paraplegic Marty Coslaw (the late Corey Haim, THE LOST BOYS, 1987), and his sister Jane (Megan Follows, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, 1985), who live in the sleepy little fictional town of Tarker’s Mills, Maine (which King fans know has appeared in other works, most recently UNDER THE DOME, 2009). In the summer of 1976, this town fell hostage to what at first was believed to be a psycho killer, but is soon discovered by Marty to be a werewolf.
Lil’ Stevie: And that’s the key to this movie…being held hostage. The town is held hostage to a murderous beast, the same way that young Marty is a hostage to his handicap and Jane is a hostage in reluctantly having to care for her “booger” of a brother.
Peter: That’s an interesting point. The film begins with Jane’s narration of the town’s plight, setting the stage with the death of the first victim, Arnie Westrum (James Gammon, the gravel-voiced coach from MAJOR LEAGUE, 1989). Arnie’s death is quickly written off as an accident, that he’d fallen asleep on the railroad tracks and got hit by a train. Life in Tarker’s Mills goes on, and as Lil’ Stevie pointed out already, because of maintaining continuity, although this death happens in January in the book, in the movie it occurs at the beginning of summer.
Lil’ Stevie: Can you imagine how long this movie would be if it had to cover the whole year?
Peter: Yeah, it’d be about as long as it took me to read your last novel.
(In the background we hear a long, howl, as if some wild beast was laughing in approval).
Lil’ Stevie: Grrrr.
Peter: The Coslaw siblings are introduced properly, and we see the plight they are both in, in terms of Marty’s disability. The name Silver Bullet has two meanings here: Foremost is the natural defense against werewolves, and the second is the given name to Marty’s motorized wheelchair. Marty is constantly portrayed as the “helpless victim” by his parents, and Jane is constantly burdened with having to watch out for him, and that her own feelings and desires are secondary to his needs. We feel badly for her immediately, particularly in the opening of the film where Marty and his pal Brady play a very mean trick on her, that causes her to fall down in a mud puddle and ruin the outfit she wore to the summer festival.
Lil’ Stevie: They scared her with a garden snake! Hyuk hyuk hyuk.
(Peter turns to Lil’ Stevie, pulls a mouse out of his pocket and drops it on Lil’ Stevie’s lap).
Lil’ Stevie: (Screaming) Gak! Get it off me…get it off me!
Peter: OMG, you’re a sissy.
(Werewolf howls in laughter in the background.)
Lil’ Steve: Keep it up, buddy…Your time is coming.
Peter: After running away from her little incident, Jane happens to eavesdrop on another Tarker’s Mills resident having an argument with the presumed father of her “bun in the oven”. The dude leaves her, sending her into hysterics, and we see the set-up for the second victim. Only, this time, it’s not going to look like an accident. With her death comes the dark days of the town, where people begin to not trust each other. Kids playing in the front yard are whisked inside their homes. Streets normally filled with people and cars become vacant avenues after dark. And, most noticeable, is the dissent among some of the residents, who are frustrated that Sheriff Haller (Terry O’Quinn, THE STEPFATHER, 1987) has been unsuccessful at finding any leads.
Lil’ Stevie: Things come to a head at the local watering hole when gun-store owner Andy Fairton (Bill Smitrovich, IRON MAN, 2008) tries to stir up group-justice mentality by ridiculing one of Haller’s deputies, which is quickly quelled by bar owner Owen (Lawrence Tierney, RESERVOIR DOGS, 1992) and his baseball bat, aptly named “The Peace Maker.” I named Owen after my son, by the way…
Peter: How generous of you. Where was I? Oh, yeah…so the pregnant girl, who is in the process of committing suicide by overdose, (“Suicides go straight to hell, and I don’t even care,” she announces to nobody in particular), is torn to pieces in her own bedroom by the werewolf, thus opening a whole religious can of worms that actually adds some weight to the storyline.
Lil’ Stevie: I’m glad you picked up on that. I did that on purpose. The whole plight of Larry Talbot in THE WOLF-MAN always struck a chord with me. The duality of the werewolf is very much akin to the Jekyll and Hyde story. If you hate what you’ve become, then the only real option is to end it by taking your own life. But if your beliefs tell you that that road will send you straight to hell, you’re stuck with what you are. It’s kind of like…being held hostage.
Peter: Wow, that’s really deep.
Lil’ Stevie: You think so?
Peter: Not really. Teaspoons are deeper than you.
(The werewolf once again howls out in laughter).
Peter: Thank you, thank you…I’m here all week. Two shows nightly at the Tarker’s Mills Hotel. Anyway, by this point of the movie, Marty is hip to the fact that the killer is a werewolf, and has begun trying to convince his Uncle Red…
Lil’ Stevie: In CYCLE OF THE WEREWOLF, his name is Uncle Al!
Peter: …convince his Uncle Red (America’s Favorite Train-Wreck, Gary Busey, LETHAL WEAPON, 1987) that the murders going on in Tarker’s Mills are at the paws of a mythological beast. Busey’s performance in this movie is, to me, what makes this film worth watching. He plays a “Druncle” (props to J. Bove for coining the term). A “Druncle” is the alcoholic uncle that shows up for family events and has a little too much fun. He’s basically someone that has given up on life, and thinks that staying high is about the best chance for happiness that you’re going to find. Uncle Red is in the process of divorcing his third wife and hits the sauce pretty hard during the first night of his stay at his sister’s house (Marty and Jane’s mom). We’re led to believe that the relationship that Marty and Uncle Red share is pretty special, that he loves the boy as if he was his own son. And as the werewolf claims more victims (particularly Marty’s pal Brady), Uncle Red seems to be the only grown-up Marty can possibly trust to tell about the wolf.
Lil’ Stevie: Brady’s death is the final straw for the town’s sanity. Andy finally rallies the town’s citizens into going out and hunting down the beast, and the murders increase exponentially over the course of one bad night. Including Owen, the bar-keep, who had taken “The Peace Maker” out with him, and was ironically clubbed to death with it.
Peter: We’re also introduced to the character of Reverend Lester Lowe (Everett McGill, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, 1991). Lowe tries to talk the townspeople out of forming a lynch mob, and yet they go out looking for the beast anyway.
Lil’ Stevie: I wonder why he would do THAT…
Peter: After the lynch mob falls to the claws of the beast, the town cancels the summer fair and fireworks show. Marty continues to pester Uncle Red into believing him about the werewolf. Uncle Red, however, is busy with building a newer, faster Silver Bullet. And again, we’re treated to some really great characterization. Uncle Red is, after all, a hostage to himself and has already given up. But he doesn’t want that for his favorite nephew. He builds Marty this super-fast wheelchair so that Marty can find some freedom. “Do you have a pilot’s license? You’re gonna need one cuz this thing can fly!” This scene really is a beautiful moment, as Marty goes flying down the highway, feeling the elation one can only feel when truly free. When he returns, Uncle Red tells him, “I built this for you because I love you. But be careful on it. If you got hurt it would kill ME!”
Lil’ Stevie: That’s some brilliant writing, isn’t it? I do amaze myself sometimes.
Peter: Uncle Red also gives Marty a bag of fireworks to make up for the town cancelling that night’s display. Marty sneaks out late at night and zips off in the Silver Bullet. He comes here, to this very bridge to light them off, and behold, he comes face to face with the werewolf.
Lil’ Stevie: Marty takes the rocket, lights it, and shoots the beast right in the eye!
Peter: The rocket doesn’t kill the beast…but it does forever mark the human that has been murdering the town’s residents. And with Jane’s help, the two are able to uncover the identity of the beast. The werewolf is actually…
Lil’ Stevie: DON’T TELL THEM. You’ll spoil everything.
Peter: It’s not like they’re idiots that can’t figure it out. We’ve already discussed the deep religious implications of the story, and how the wolf-man can’t kill himself. It’s pretty obvious. But if you insist…
Lil’ Stevie: They’ll thank us for not ruining it.
Peter: The werewolf is REVEREND LOWE!
Lil’ Stevie: You really stink. You know that?
Peter: Here’s the whole enchilada of this movie: It’s a far cry from being a bad movie, but it really offers nothing new to the legacy of the werewolf. Everything we see here we’ve seen before. Rambaldi’s special effects are okay at best but never capture the sheer impressiveness of Rick Baker’s work on AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981). And, except for Busey, none of the actors here are very well known. Even Attias will have his career relegated to television programs and made-for-TV movies after this release. SILVER BULLET is geared toward a target audience of teenagers. It’s King’s “Werewolf Movie”. This movie has some merit in being a cult 80s flick…particularly one starring Tiger Beat heartthrob Corey Haim. And, to be honest, I can’t even sell his performance short. Haim is actually one of the best actors in this movie. He portrays a disabled person extremely well, and he does capture an honest, believable American teen. Like I said earlier, what makes this film worth examining is the relationship between him and Busey. It made me nostalgic for my own youth and some of the grown-ups that were important to me in my own life.
(The Werewolf howls out loud, and we see that he’s beginning to make his way across the bridge).
Werewolf: Pete! Pete! Wolf…wolf…Right here and now! Wait for me! Peter, I am YOUR DRUNCLE! (Crosses bridge, holding out a bottle of Patron).
Peter: L.L.? Is that you?
(The wolf makes it to the middle of the bridge when their trap kicks in and the wooden planks quickly give way. The werewolf plunges out of sight and into the river below).
Lil’ Stevie: Holy crap! I think we just killed the boss.
Peter: Ooops. Thank you for joining us. We’ll see you next time.
(Camera fades out as Peter and Lil’ Stevie rush down to the riverbank)
© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar