Silver Bullet, about a werewolf terrorizing a small New England town, is about as quintessential a mid-'80s Stephen King movie as one can imagine. Featuring an uneven tone, cheap special effects, corn-pone characterizations, and Gary Busey, Silver Bullet never had a chance to overcome its weaknesses on its way to becoming a mildly amusing Saturday afternoon time-waster.
The year was 1985, a time ripe for this movie. Stephen King was (then and now) the world's biggest author, and despite discouraging degrees of success in cinema adaptation, about 172 movies based on King's works were released between 1984 and 1986, all of which were produced by Dino Di Laurentiis, a man who, back then, (in truth) had 5 movies in production at any given time. But if for the viewer, the concept of turning King movies into product churned out by a factory weren't strong enough a warning sign, then the fact that King is unfilmable should have been reason enough for anyone to give up on watching the results. But, inasmuch as King (then and now) was basically a giant reservoir spewing money, the movies kept coming.
Silver Bullet starts with a dopey drunk rail-yard worker losing his head over the appearance of a werewolf. The werewolf in this movie departs dramatically from lycanthropes of old, acting like a devious serial killer, stalking and slashing victims for no particular reason. It was just for the joy of killin' I guess. But the wolf gets too close to young Marty Coslaw, (Corey Haim) a spirited boy confined to a wheelchair, tormented by his jerk friends, snippy older sister, (Megan Follows) and lovably insane Uncle Red (Gary Busey). I reckon it's up to Marty to set things right, because the ad hoc mob of drunken townsfolk out to deliver a little vigilante justice on what they think is a garden-variety kid killer sure can't do it.
If you dial your expectations down, (or up, depending on what you're expecting) you may find Silver Bullet worth a watch; a crappy, boneheaded, pretty fun watch. King is notoriously difficult to film. What on the page is gripping and insidious ends up on screen as clunky, gee-whiz Americana. Maybe people don't focus on the right aspects of the author's work? There has to be a reason why the most critically acclaimed of his movie adaptations is The Shining, a story wrestled into submission by Stanley Kubrick.
However, Di Laurentiis, screenwriter King himself (too in love with rigorous adherence to his stuff to know better) and director Daniel Attias do the material no favors. (Director Don Coscarelli was originally attached to direct, but was bumped when Di Laurentiis found out he wanted to make a subtle, scary movie.) Here sketched in mostly cartoon-fashion are King's small-town stock players: the ineffectual constable, the angry drunk, the overwrought grieving parent, and more, all swirling around in a town full of pie-eating carnivals, waterwheels, and pious parishioners. A bunch of idealized hokum, in other words.
Further pushing the critics away while drawing in the crap-hounds is the awkward tone. Director Attias himself admits he was at odds with Di Laurentiis. Attias wanted a wholesome, PG-13 movie kids could watch and have a good time with, while the famous producer kept pushing for a gory, R-rated thriller. Dino won, leading to some nice gratuitous gore and, in the producer's words "shredding skin", butting up against scenes of quaint pre-teen hi-jinx. Then there are those notorious incidents, such as: the werewolf doing the belly crawl under a ground fog to avoid detection, beating a victim to death with a baseball bat, and walking around looking like a dude in an emaciated bear costume. I'd love to go on, but why spoil the fun?
Silver Bullet, the wooly tale of a werewolf stalking a small New England town, isn't the nadir of Stephen King adaptations, it's too much fun, but it's a pretty bad movie anyway; adolescent goofiness mixes poorly with the gore, the special effects are woeful, and King's heartfelt Americana just seems naive on screen. Coming hot on the heels of a 2018 Blu-ray release, Shout Factory brings us a few new extras, and what represents a nice upgrade from watching Silver Bullet on the TV on a rainy Saturday afternoon, which somehow seems to miss the point. Cautiously Recommended.