Thursday, October 4, 2012

Silver Bullet

Silver Bullet (1985)
Dir. Dan Attias, Don Coscarelli (uncredited)
Written by Stephen King
Starring Corey Haim, Gary Busey, Everett McGill, Megan Follows, Lawrence Tierney

Believe it or not, a werewolf wielding a baseball bat does actually appear in this film. Usually these posters mislead with promises of awesomeness they know they can't deliver on, but not this time.

Who’s going to argue with a Stephen King-scripted Gary Busey-starring werewolf enhanced Corey Haim-in-wheelchair extravaganza from the 80s? Nobody I’d ever want to talk to or have as the leader of the free world, that much is for sure. As surely as alcohol + any other ingredient is a surefire recipe for success, so too does this particular combination of cinematic flavors virtually guarantee that the movie is worth your time. And indeed it is, if only at the minimum level necessary from that pedigree.

Yes, Corey Haim is an adorable paralyzed youngster who somehow gets involved in a werewolf hunt somewhere in (you guessed it) an isolated township in the Northeast (in this case, Tarker’s Mill, Maine). Gary Busey is his fuckup loveable alcoholic uncle, who demonstrates his Busey-esque awesomeness by building Haim a gas-powered Mad-Max style offroad wheelchair which they dub the Silver Bullet, which means the title of the movie is pretty deep. Haim also has a sister (Megan Follows*) with whom he has a believably loving but antagonistic relationship , and who eventually gets roped into helping him with this werewolf issue.
The S.S. Haim Game

As far as I can discern, although his novels have been adapted for literally dozens of films, King only wrote the screenplays for a handful, perhaps four or five. This one (adapted from his own novella of the same name) kind of makes it clear why; one of King’s strengths as a novelist is his meandering, episodic depictions of small town life, but in a screenplay this proves something of a liability. The film is stuffed full of characters who seem to have had most of their development expunged, instead existing to fulfill their one important plot point and then disappearing. It feels like a miniseries cut down to a slim 95 minutes with a few key sections desperately crying out for either expansion of excision.

Still, the most important part --which is to say the Gary Busey part-- they got right. It’s kind of surprising to remember that at one point Busey was actually an actor, but he turns in a surprisingly human and almost sweet version of his usual crazy performance here, apparently ad-libbing most or all of his best lines. The script doesn’t leave him with a ton to add to the plot, but his relationship with Haim and Follows is the heart of the film and serves as a center around which the rest of the vaguer plot elements rotate. Plus, you have the lingering possibility of a Gary Busey werewolf hanging over the whole film, and if that ain’t a fuckin carrot on a stick I don’t know what one would be.

Probably a loveable wink, but can't rule out a stroke.

The werewolf, when he does show, is nothing amazing but nothing embarrassing either. There’s a nice cat-and-mouse game between the kids and the werewolf in his human form, as they drift towards their inevitable communion with a silver bullet (a literal bullet this time, not the Busey-built racing wheelchair. Sorry if that was confusing). It’s not as well fleshed-out as it could be, but the human scenes are surprisingly well-acted and engaging and there's a pretty good cast throughout (including a pre-Twin Peaks Everett McGill). I thought that was strange from this TV director who only did this one movie (although he did shoot episodes of The Wire, The Sopranos, House and 21 Jump Street) until I discovered that it was none other than the Beastmaster himself, Don Coscarelli, who shot all the non-werewolf scenes in the film while they were waiting for producer Dino De Laurentiis to settle with King on a good werewolf design. When the couldn’t agree and the production stalled without a werewolf suit to shoot, Coscarelli resigned and got replaced by Attias who directed the three or four werewolf scenes and then got his name on the finished project. That may explain why there are a bunch of tense, well-constructed scenes of the kids facing off against the human antagonist, but things get noticeably blander when the werewolf shows (the suit, despite what De Laurentiis may have thought, looks fine, if confusingly sort of more bear-like than wolf-like. Oh well, at least it’s unique).

All things considered, probably not the werewolf classic it ought to have been with all the advantages it has in terms of timing and talent, but still a worthwhile and enjoyable effort. Like its main characters, it’s a little bit crippled, a little unfocused, a little irresponsible. But in the end, it gets the job done. Bam. Silver bullet.

 *A pretty good porno name in my opinion. Her most recent role was “supermarket cashier” [uncredited] in I AM NUMBER 4 so I think it’s safe to say her career went downhill a little after co-starring with Gary Busey, but to be fair she also appeared in basically every TV show in the history of the world including The X-Files and House, which puts her one Wire appearance away from a congressional medal of honor. Also, in an unrelated note, I learned there was a TV series in the early 80’s called The Littlest Hobo, starring a dog. Ah Wha?



BOOBIES: Don't think so.
> or = HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS LEVEL GORE: A beheading, but most of the violence is off-screen.
OBSCURITY LEVEL: Low to Mid. Probably not all that well-known to mainstream audiences, but to horror buffs (and especially werewolf/bear aficionados, pretty inescapable.
MONSTERS: Werewolf/bear.
CURSES: well, the werewolf's curse would count I guess.

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