Silver Bullet (aka Stephen King's Silver Bullet), the 1985 adaptation of Stephen King's novella Cycle of the Werewolf, is often lumped onto the junk pile of "bad" King movies. It's a reputation I suspect the movie earned early on because it felt to critics of the time like a cheap and gory knock-off of the more "respectable" King films of the early '80s like The Dead Zone or The Shining. The years have been good to it, though, and while it's certainly steeped in many of the conventions of '80s horror movies it has seen its legacy improve in the last 30 years. That makes me happy, because I really love it.
It's 1976 in the quiet town of Tarker's Mill. Marty and Jane Coslaw (Corey Haim and Megan Follows) are kid brother and sister, he a paraplegic and she irritated by a younger brother who she feels is spoiled and bratty. When a rash of violent murders breaks out in town, the police are left with no suspects and the townspeople turn to mob justice. While riding home in his custom wheelchair (nicknamed "Silver Bullet") built for him by his alcoholic fuckup uncle Red (Gary Busey), Marty comes face to face with the killer -- a werewolf. Only he and Jane believe that there's a monster in Tarker's Mill, so it's up to them to convince Uncle Red and put a stop to the werewolf before they become its next victims.
Attias does a good job. I'd be crazy not to dream of a world in which we got to actually see Coscarelli's version, but I can't fault Attias for being second choice, especially when he blends schmaltzy sentimentality and classic fog-on-the-moors horror in a way that very few horror movies of the decade do. This is a movie that ends with a freeze frame and a character telling her brother she loves him in narration. It's the kind of thing that probably gets a laugh nowadays, but I love its naked sincerity. I love the relationships between the characters just as much as I love the horror sequences that pull few punches. Like in a lot of Stephen King adaptations, a young kid is killed off. Call it cynically sensationalistic, but Silver Bullet then takes the time to show the boy's grieving father -- the death has impact and isn't just for shocks. That leads into another of the movie's highlight set pieces, in which the town priest (Everett McGill) has a nightmare that his entire congregation is turning into werewolves. It's a great reveal for what was previously a kind of whodunit, and I love that it gives Rev. Lowe an added dimension of being haunted without turning him into the usual tortured wolf man.
And then there is Gary Busey as Uncle Red, a wonderful character played wonderfully by an actor who is now little more than a reality show punchline. The story goes that Busey ad-libbed most of his own dialogue in Silver Bullet and that both King and Attias liked it more than what was scripted so it wound up in the finished film (which also explains how he ends up using the expression "faster than a virgin on prom night" both here and in Point Break). Given the brain-damaged kook that Busey has become, it's easy to forget that he was once a terrific actor. And because I've gotten so used to seeing him play villains and heavies and the voice of killer cookies, I can lose sight of the fact that he's capable of real warmth -- think The Buddy Holly Story or his work as Uncle Red. His relationship with Marty is the heart of the movie. It's a big heart.
This might have been a mistake.
The werewolf that ends up on screen -- not a lot, though whether that's a function of the filmmakers sticking to King's original intent or a workaround to compensate for the terrible suit I cannot say -- is bad enough when viewed in full that I would argue it damages the legacy of the film. You cannot make a porn film and mess up the sex scenes, just as you should not make a werewolf movie and mess up the werewolf. It's a crime that was probably even less forgivable in 1985, coming as it did just a few years removed from both Rob Bottin's work on The Howling and (especially) Rick Baker's groundbreaking effects on An American Werewolf in London. Werewolves had been done too well and too recently for this garage sale bear suit to pass as anything but a blight on an otherwise terrific film.
Silver Bullet is the kind of horror movie I think a lot of horror fans would categorize as a "guilty pleasure." I don't buy into that idea because I don't feel guilty for loving it. Bad werewolf or not, this movie is something special.