Silver Bullet may be based on King’s Cycle of the Werewolf, but there are so many deviations and changes from the story, one could say that they’re both stories about a werewolf in a small town and get away with it. It’s probably best to experience both of them, as they cover some of the same story but differ in so many ways. Perhaps you can pretend that it’s the werewolf version of Rashomon.
Tarker’s Mill, Maine. 1976. The Coslaw family is a mess, to be perfectly honest. Jane wants to get away. Marty (Corey Ham, The Lost Boys) fights with her and is dealing with being a paraplegic. And the parents, Nan and Bob, are always at odds.
Things change once murder tears apart their town, starting with a railroad worker (James Gammon, the coach from Major League). Then, a depressed pregnant woman and Milt Sturmfuller are both killed and people start to worry. Once Billy Kinkaid is killed flying his kite (PS never fly a kite in a Stephen King story, witness Pet Semetary), the townspeople lose their minds.
Despite Sheriff Joe Haller (Terry O’Quinn, The Stepfather!) and Reverend Lester Lowe (Big Ed Hurley from Twin Peaks) trying to calm everyone down, a mob goes into the woods to stop the killer. That said — the tables get turned and many of them die, including Owen the bartender (Laurence Tierney, a noted real-life maniac who was in Reservoir Dogs and Film Threat’s filmed version of the Tube Bar Red tapes).
That Reverend isn’t on the level though, as he dreams of a mass funeral where everyone turns into a wolf. He wakes up and begs God to stop the pain.
The town may cancel the fireworks, but when Uncle Red (also another real-life manic, Gary Busey) visits, he gives Marty a wheelchair/motorcycle he calls the “Silver Bullet” that can shoot rockets. The werewolf almost kills him later that evening, but he blasts it in the left eye. He soon realizes that the werewolf and the Reverend are the same person, so he begins mailing him anonymous notes saying that he should kill himself.
The priest learns that Marty wrote the letters and he repeatedly tries to kill the kid. Even after convincing Sheriff Haller, the cop gets killed by Lowe.
Out of options, Red helps Marty make a silver bullet to kill the werewolf with (we all need a completely crazy uncle in our lives, right?) and sends the parents away on a trip. Of course, the werewolf attacks them, tossing Red like a ragdoll and nearly killing Jane before Marty blows it away, revealing the form of the Reverend.
The film didn’t even have a werewolf suit before shooting began, which led to plenty of battles between King and producer Dino De Laurentiis, who had already caused original director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm) to quit. The replacement, Daniel Attias, has gone on to direct much of today’s top television — The Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under and Homeland.
Busey did his own stunts — you can see him get launched really hard in one scene. He also ad libbed most of his own dialogue, which makes me stand by my belief that people just tell him that he isn’t in a movie and that everything around him is real. That’s how you capture pure Busey. To wit — he claims that “his reaction to the werewolf breaking through the wall was genuine as there was no rehearsal of that scene and it was completed in a single take.”
You can do worse than Silver Bullet. I mean, you can do better, too. But when it comes to Stephen King films, it’s a pulpy, gory film that’s fun pretty much the whole way through. The scene with the churchgoers turning into werewolves has seventy werewolves it it, so it’s pretty awesome.
BONUS! You can hear the podcast we did about this movie, too!
UPDATE: This is streaming on Shudder.