Silver Bullet (1985)

Huh?

I think that's the appropriate response to this movie. It seems I'm not alone in this as the only other review on one of the sites I frequent bears the same sentiment.

It's based on the Stephen King novellette Cycle of the Werewolf, which I recall excitedly flipping through at age 8 or 10, because, hey, Stephen King was a huge name and this book was ILLUSTRATED! Werewolves and gory deaths, even in black and white, were great fun at that age. Well, they still are, but there was a newness then. I can't say anything from it stuck enough for me to recall, well, any of it while watching this, but I imagine it's pretty accurate, at least on a script level since King wrote the screenplay. Perhaps he deviated, but who knows? Someone, I'm sure, but that someone is not me. It DOES bear the odious clunk of King dialogue, with phrases I have heard in passing–but never really used–throughout my years rolling out of the mouths of characters of all ages, despite the fact that these are usually immature phrases, for all their "colloquial" nature. When a woman asks her husband–and they look like they're at least in their fifties–"Are you going to make lemonade in your pants?" I'm instantly taken back to when I actually read King and one preteen character would say that to another in some sort of situation that supposedly made people go, "Wow, he's captured boyhood and the hidden terror these characters are feeling being stalked by Monster X!" Meh. It sounds ridiculous to me, especially when you end up actually HEARING it. That's the most blatant example, but by no means the only one.

Of course, the reason I come at this as "Huh?" is the reason I probably shouldn't shovel all of that blame onto King. It seems that there is a lack of cohesion between Daniel Attias' direction and King's script, somewhere they are not meeting. It doesn't feel like the performances are wrong or bad, nor like (most of) the words are too bad to be capable of working in *any* performance, yet something seems to be wrong in a number of scenes. It's a very disjointed feeling, but not the kind where you feel that scenes are not fitting with each other, or like characters are not acting along a fluid path of motivation. It seems like the words coming out of mouths are not matching with the physicalities of characters. Attias went on to direct some pretty stellar television shows (such as The Wire and Six Feet Under, to name the easy "targets" for quality) so I feel like that shouldn't be the fault, but perhaps it was his inexperienced state when directing this movie. Still, it somehow works despite this. My compatriot in confusion notes the lack of clarity on the film's tone–is it a bit of a spoof or is it totally straight? It really isn't ever clear. Yet it somehow works anyway, in a way I can't easily explain.

Noting the details of plot is almost pointless, at least beyond the narration by a grown-up Jane Coslaw (played as a girl in the film by Megan Follows) who speaks of a year in her youth during which a werewolf terrorizes her hometown, and her wheelchair-bound brother Marty (Corey Haim), with their only relative (sorry) ally coming in the form of "Uncle Red" (Gary Busey). Follows didn't have an exciting film career after this (she has mostly appeared sporadically on television shows) and her performance does not make me bemoan this, but isn't bad either. Corey Haim turns in, well, a Corey Haim performance. Very energetic and honest and good for the squeaky younger brother role that we saw so perfected two years later in The Lost Boys. Gary Busey is actually quite fun as the slightly drunken and a bit estranged but very loving uncle, who cares a lot about his nephew Marty and builds him a motorized, motorcycle-like wheelchair. This is worth noting because it leads to the most insane moment of all–Marty tearing down the highway in said chair to an awfully dated and cheesy synth score. I'm normally a fan of overtly sentimental, heart-tugging moments, especially from the 80s with synth scores, but this was too much for even my near-boundless tolerance. But it wasn't grating, so it worked out all right. Actually, though, the score in general was pretty awful and seemed wholly inappropriate. A lot of it sounded like it was from On Golden Pond, of all things, and made no real sense. And when energy was needed, they just turned to the old synth and cranked something generic out.

Still, there's a dearth of good werewolf films (one need only watch any sequel to The Howling to realize this sad fact) and an even greater dearth of those that have good werewolf designs (the last decade or so has seen them missing at least half of their fur, a look with which I refuse to have anything to do) or decent effects. I'm not hesitant to call those bad movies on their badness, even as it's so disappointing to a fan of werewolves like myself (my screenname "FangsFirst" is derived from a werewolf, through a long story) but I'll do it anyway. But this one worked for me, in that sort of bizarre afternoon special inflected way it has. The design was my favourite kind–I love that An American Werewolf in London (certainly the best werewolf movie I've ever seen) is "accurate" as legends go and uses a full-fledged quadrupedal wolf, but I've always loved the bipedal wolf-man with a muzzle most. And that's what we have here, with an actual partly-animatronic head, and a fair bit of detail in a good sculpt. That's often enough to sucker me in, and it works here, especially with people like Busey around to hold together the awkward script and direction–and hey, Terry O'Quinn (aka Peter Watts on Millennium and Locke on Lost) as the sheriff, and a fun performance by someone named Everett McGill as a preacher struggling to control the town's rage (who has a rather nicely memorable dream sequence). The guy reminded me of some kind of dark, evil doppelgänger of David Byrne–a very clean, smooth, expressionless wide face, but with a slight downward turn.

Still, glad to know there's another decent werewolf movie out there (and in my collection).

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