After 1981, the other big year for werewolf movies in the ’80s was 1985 since it saw the release of Ladyhawke (a werewolf film in all but name), Fright Night (which I’ll be covering in a few months), the comedic Teen Wolf, the laughable Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf, and Silver Bullet, which isn’t strictly speaking a horror comedy, but it’s a creature feature that opens with the legend “Dino De Laurentiis Presents,” which all but guarantees there will be plenty of unintentional laughter before the closing credits roll.
Directed by Daniel Attias, who made only one feature before jumping to the small screen, Silver Bullet was written by Stephen King and based on his own novelette Cycle of the Werewolf, which covered a whole year of werewolf attacks in a small town. For the film version, he compressed the timeline to just a few months (from late spring to Halloween night) and did away with the conceit of having each attack fall on a different holiday (which was patently unrealistic, but King would be the first to cop to that). And the film wastes no time getting to its first laugh-inducing moment, which comes 3:27 in when a drunken railroad worker’s head rolls in a hysterically funny fashion. The requisite opening jump scare thus taken care of, King then gets down to the business of introducing his characters.
Top-billed is Gary Busey, who plays Red, the frequently drunk and unrepentantly vulgar uncle of crippled pre-teen Marty (Corey Haim) and his resentful older sister Jane (Megan Follows, who intrusively narrates the film, which takes place in 1976, from the present day). In a fantastical touch that must have seemed like a good idea on paper, Marty is equipped with a gasoline-powered motorized wheelchair called the Silver Bullet, which Uncle Red upgrades to a zippier model about halfway through the film — all the better to outrun the marauding werewolf in their midst. Since he’s the “cool uncle,” Red is the one adult Marty is able to confide in after he has a run-in with the hairy beast, although Red is understandably skeptical until the moment he’s face to face with it himself. The film also features Everett McGill as the local reverend, who quickly runs out of words of comfort as the bodies start piling up, Terry O’Quinn as the harried sheriff trying to get to the bottom of things, and Lawrence Tierney as a bartender with a baseball bat called “The Peace Maker” (which gets commandeered by the werewolf in one of the few moments where the filmmakers deliberately set out to get a laugh and succeed).
Of course, the real star of a werewolf movie should be its werewolf and the one in this film — which was created by Oscar winner Carlo Rambaldi — is a pretty sad specimen. It’s not a good sign that the second big laugh in the film comes when the werewolf reaches into the frame (12:02 in) and its hand looks more like it belongs to a hairy ape. Other unintentionally comic moments are the greenhouse grab (24:50), the posse of werewolf hunters that is suddenly revealed to be in waist-deep fog (40:15), the multiple-casket funeral service (41:56), the confusion (“Is that a bear?” I initially thought) when the creature is seen reflected in the water (54:19), the shot that I like to call “Reverend Five O’clock Shadow” (1:08:00), and — last but not least — the werewolf’s Kool Aid Man entrance at the climax (1:28:36). (Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t have it growl out an “Oh, yeah!”) Maybe I would be more forgiving had I seen this when it first came out, but coming to it later in life, I’m afraid I can only shake my head in unabashed bemusement.
[Silver Bullet is now available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory in a collector’s edition with two commentaries (one by Attias, the other by producer Martha De Laurentiis), and interviews with some of the actors and technicians who worked on the film. Notably absent is King, who had a busy year filmwise in 1985 between scripting this film and Lewis Teague’s Cat’s Eye and prepping his directorial debut, the infamous Maximum Overdrive.]