Based on Stephen King’s novella “Cycle Of The Werewolf” – a title that’s too on the nose even for a werewolf movie, I guess – Silver Bullet tells the tale of a small town under a year long siege by a lycanthrope in 1976. As the body count steadily mounts with victims including the town drunk and pregnant woman considering suicide, the town starts to descend into into vigilante justice which only succeeds in keeping the werewolf’s diet rich in drunken assholes. The only thing standing between the creature and it’s secret identity (less a werewolf and more of a “who-wolf”, then) is a young paraplegic boy, his sister and their drunken uncle, Red who manage to blind the wolf in one eye with a firework and therefore are able to determine who the monster is when the bad moon isn’t rising.
Silver Bullet is one of those Stephen King adaptations that was scooped up and hurled into cinemas in the early 80’s – regardless of quality – thanks to the high popularity of the author’s work and is generally lumped in with lesser attempts like Firestarter and Children Of The Corn.
Now, while Silver Bullet admittedly ain’t exactly in the same league as Stand By Me or Misery, it still has enough going for it to make it worth the while for King completists. The deaths for example, are satisfyingly gory and staged with a decent, campy verve with a severed head flying this-a-way and arterial blood spraying that-a-way keeping things moving nicely. The performances, however, vary all over the shop with the majority of the adult performers veering wildly into melodrama which then wildly zigzags across the line into hysterical overacting. A scene where a group of vigilantes drunk on small town justice and their bodyweight of alcohol are dispatched in what appears to be woodland clearing coated in more dry ice than a Michael Jackson concert is as unsubtle as something you’d get in a community theatre production. I guess at this point then it shouldn’t surprise you too much to find out Gary Busey appears in this film, baring his gnashers at everyone and everything (“Sometimes I think your common sense got paralyzed along with your LEGS!” is one such Busey-esque line barked at his co-stars with all the subtlety of a shotgun enema) as drunken but kindly Uncle Red, but it’s an impossibly young Corey Haim and his bitchin’, yet unbelievably dangerous looking wheelchair/motorbike that barely holds everything together.
If there’s another thing that Silver Bullet suffers from is that maybe it’s following King novel TOO closely. One of King’s greatest talents as an author is taking utterly out-there and sometimes absurd concepts and making them utterly work on the page, which is why most of his work is so tough to translate to film so scenes like the nightmare where the poor were-bastard suffering from this hairy curse, dreams that the entire town transforms into slathering monsters to tear him apart seem – well, a bit silly.
What also doesn’t help is that the werewolf itself looks fucking awful, like someone put on an unconvincing bear costume and then injected themselves with rabies (bare in mind this movie was made AFTER both The Howling and An American Werewolf In London).
You get the feeling that in our current wave of modern King reboots, this is one of those movies that would decidedly benefit from a 21st century do-over as the central themes of a small town community crumbling from within could play pretty well in the right hands, especially since the film barely touches on the novella’s awesome illustrations but cult artist Bernie Wrightson.
There are surprisingly precious few werewolf movies that make the grade, and honestly, this isn’t one of them either, and while it’s fine in a goofy throwback kind of way, it hardly excels as either a werewolf movie OR a Stephen King flick.
So less a werewolf OR a whowolf… A whywolf, then?