As many of you know, when I’m not consuming massive quantities of cinema, I’m finding opportunities to meet those responsible for same-said movies. A horror convention is coming to my neck of the woods, and I’ve only got a few weeks to brush up on the filmographies of those must-meet celebrities. Topping my list is Gary Busey who’s no stranger to my home state of North Carolina since this very project was filmed here back in 1985. NC Represent!
It’s the spring of ’76 and, even being wheelchair-bound, young Marty Coslaw (Corey Haim) is looking forward to a summer full of mischief and terrorizing his older sister Janey (Megan Follows). But this year, death hangs it hat in Marty’s hometown of Tarker’s Mills. The decapitation of railroad worker, Arnie (James Gammon), down by the tracks is chalked up as accidental due to his drinking. As the bodies pile up, local shop owner, Andy Fairton (Bill Smitrovich), stirs the townsfolk into a frenzy over the inability of Sheriff Haller (Terry O’Quinn) to catch the killer while Reverend Lowe (Everett McGill) tries to quell their fury. With a shiny new motorized wheelchair and a bagful of fireworks from his Uncle Red (Gary Busey), Marty sneaks out past curfew and comes face to maw with the monstrous killer and barely escapes. Marty knows who, and what, the killer is, but he’s got to get someone to believe him before he comes back for him!
Silver Bullet is based on Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King, and it’s title is in reference to both of Marty’s go-cart-wheelchair hybrids and the weapon needed to rid the town of its menace. King adapted his novella for the screen, and although Silver Bullet is credited as the directorial debut of Daniel Attias, Don Coscarelli directed portions of the film before production problems led him to resign.
Of all the classic monsters, I’m a sucker for werewolves. As werewolf movies go, Silver Bullet is entertaining fare, but not in the conventional sense. Unlike most tales, the story does nothing to explain or explore the how or why the killer became a werewolf and what motivates the killings; i.e. full moon, etc. A single conversation between Marty, Janey, and Uncle Red near the end quickly sums it up by saying who knows anything about werewolves, except that a silver bullet will kill it.
The beast’s transformation is only captured twice on camera and is only rarely seen on camera until the end, although a nightmarish vision includes a disturbingly wicked sequence in which all the townsfolk transform. Producer Dino de Laurentiis was apparently displeased with the monster’s look, and viewers who find the hulking menaces from films like Underworld, Dog Soldiers, and The Howling appealing may agree. The transformation into werewolf is choppy and less than spectacular, especially by today’s standards, but its reversion is quite impressive. The beast’s fierceness isn’t in its look, but how it rips its victims to shreds. Thew werewolf sends heads flying, scrapes flesh from faces, and, on occasion, beats them to death with a broken baseball bat. Weird as it sounds, the latter is so hilariously awesome, it makes the film worth the watch.
Aside from being weak in the wolf lore, Silver Bullet is light on other details. The story plays fast and loose with its timeline. Supposedly spanning from late spring through Halloween, the murders seem to happen on consecutive nights due to the film’s pacing. It’s unclear why the werewolf chose this particular summer to hunt in Tarker’s Mills. Marty’s encounter with the werewolf seems to happen around the Fourth of July, but the werewolf waits nearly until Halloween to eliminate his only witness.
With so many problems, it’s a wonder Silver Bullet is even worth watching, but it totally is. Gary Busey, who ad libbed most of his scenes, resonates as the thrice-divorced, alcoholic uncle. As Reverend Lowe, Everett McGill is creepier and more menacing than the werewolf. The wide-eyed innocence of a young Haim compels you to root for the poor boy despite his recklessness.
Solid performances and a smattering of laughable moments shape Silver Bullet into an enjoyable watch. Mostly though, Silver Bullet makes viewers like me wish we could spend a summer ripping and rearing along the back roads of eastern North Carolina in a suped-up wheelchair-bike.