Thursday, October 11, 2012

Silver Bullet (1985)

I was flipping through the television channels on Direct TV this morning when I was delighted to see that AMC was showing this entry in the Stephen King film series. Though it’s been a really long time since I’ve sat down in front of it – try about eleven years or so – I was tickled pink to see that it was being broadcast, albeit in a slightly truncated form. I didn’t care, though because my favorite time of year has just kicked off. I just adore October – all the cool channels on cable start busting out classic slasher films and it’s fantastic to see which channels show which films. Everything from the endless Friday the 13th and Halloween movies to the more random cult favorites peppered out amongst the other networks (Sleepaway Camp 2 on Logo tonight, anyone?)

I was first introduced to this film in late 1985 while I was in the seventh grade, but first in the form of Stephen King’s novella, Cycle of the Werewolf. During those years, my family did not even remotely entertain the idea of going to the movie theater for any reason whatsoever, and from the first moment I’d seen the television spot, I had this obsession with wanting to watch it. Primarily because I wanted to be on the same level as the cool kids whose parents had taken them to the local cinema or drive in to give it a gander, but at the same time there was something about the storyline that intrigued me. My grade-school best friend had been subjected to hearing the ranting and the raving about not being able to go to the theater to watch it like everyone else so he went as far as to keep it from me that he’d gone to the theater with his father to watch it the weekend it was released which, of course, devastated me.  But, he went out of his way,  as only a childhood best friend knows how, to hunt down the book and presented it to me the week the film was released so I could keep up with the cool kids and be able to join in on the ‘playground talk’. I mean, I believe every kid who was a horror nut during the 80’s was at one point a Stephen King fanatic. King at that time was the epitome of everything horror, everything definitive when it came to the phantasmagorical.  There wasn’t anyone like him in the world at the time and everything he released in the 80’s still has yet to be matched. Though I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed to see that not only was Cycle of the Werewolf a very short book, it was illustrated as well, something I wasn’t expecting. I took me one night to read it and I can tell you it wasn’t enough. I would stay up late at night and see the TV spots on the local affiliates and silently act out this little fit of anger within me as I had to surrender to the idea that being able to sit in front of this film was completely out of my reach.

I got a nice surprise two years later during one winter as the eighth grade was about to let out for the Christmas Break of 1987, though, as Mrs. Glasgow, the eighth grade American history teacher wasn’t up to putting up with us on the last day of classes. When we got to class on that day’s period, I was pink with barely controlled glee when I saw the school’s TV and VCR sitting at the front of the room with the rental box for Silver Bullet was lying on the tape deck. Boy, did I love the advent of VHS! This was the moment I’d been waiting for. So I pushed through everyone to make my way to the front of the class that was already seated on the floor in front of the television. As excited as I was, and as I sat down, I’d become oblivious to the fact that period only lasted for fifty-five minutes…which meant that I was only able to get just over half-way done with the film before the bell rang to let us out. I was heartbroken. I actually didn’t get to sit in front of this film again until after I graduated from high school and secured my first video rental membership at the local H-E-B Video Central. The first two movies I ever rented on my own at the age of eighteen were Friday the 13th and Silver Bullet. I rented them both that same day; on a weekend my folks were out of town and knowing that I would have the house to myself. I was ready to finally sit in front of this in its entirety.

The film opens up with a narration by Jane Coslaw, the eldest of a family living in Tarker’s Mills, Maine. She is the eldest of two children, the other being her younger brother, Marty (played by 80’s cutie Corey Haim) who happens to be a paraplegic. Their relationship has its ups and down and is very strained but soon begins to change after a bizarre series of murders rock their sleepy town. After several murders, including a railroad worker, and pregnant woman (who’d planned to commit suicide), the father of Marty’s girlfriend and Marty’s best friend, the town decides to take matters into their own hands before more murders occur? But who’s the one responsible for killing off the townspeople? Being led by the town’s gun shop owner, the townsfolk form a local vigilante justice group in order to find the killer. As the local sheriff (the always hot daddy that is Terry O’Quinn) and his only deputy attempt to stop the mob from carrying on its mission, the father of Marty’s best friend who was mutilated by the killer changes their minds and they set off. But not before Reverend Lowe – who has been presiding over the funerals of the slain victims – tries to stop them and prevent any other bloodshed. As the group enters the forest to search for the assailant, they are brutally attacked including Owen, the owner of a local bar who carries around a baseball bat engraved with the words “The Peacemaker”. Those who survive keep the incident to themselves and deny seeing anything out of the ordinary. But then the film gets going when we see the funeral taking place for the victims and as the reverend gives the service, everyone in attendance including the dead victims, begin transforming into werewolves right before him. He wakes up in a sweat-filled terror and asks God to “let it end”. Does he know more than he lets on?

The local authorities put a strict curfew in place in order to protect the town and when the local carnival’s fireworks show is cancelled due to the unsolved murders, the family decides to have their own celebration in their backyard and here is where we get to meet the kids’ charismatic, alcoholic and family outcast uncle Red (brilliantly played by Gary Busey). Having a deep love for his nephew, he builds Marty a brand new motorized wheelchair dubbing it the “Silver Bullet”. Knowing how much the fireworks show had meant to Marty, as well, Red brings him a bag of fireworks to have his own private show and has him keep it under wraps from everyone else. So when Marty goes out to have his own fun on a small bridge quite away from his home, the fireworks his Uncle gave him light up the night sky. But little does Marty know that he’s being watched. Something is looking at his every move and slowly begins to approach the wheelchair. And before the next set of roman candles could be lit, Marty is confronted face to face with the perpetrator: a werewolf. Frightened, he takes a bottle rocket and lights it, having it go off directly into the eye of the monster. He flees and leaves the creature behind. This part of the film is a now-classic scene in werewolf cinema.

Scared beyond belief, Marty enlists the help of his sister to go around the town to collect bottles and cans while looking for anyone in town with an injured eye as this would immediately pinpoint the identity of mysterious killer. As she carefully looks for any signs of eye trauma in every member of the neighborhood, she comes across Reverend Lowe at the church to turn her bottles in and as she goes into the garage to put the bottles with the others that have already been collected, she sees an object under a stack of cans. As she slowly pushes the cans aside, she reveals Owen’s baseball bat, the one labeled “The Peace Keeper”! In sheer fright she stumbles back in horror to be confronted by the Reverend himself. And what do you know? His eye is missing! I love how this scene is executed. This part always makes me scream and giggle in pure glee. Now that both siblings know the identity of the creature, Marty begins to send anonymous notes to the poor eyeless reverend, teasing him and letting him know that they know who he really is and suggesting that [Reverend Lowe] commit suicide so that the killings can cease. So one day as Marty is out with the “Silver Bullet”, he suddenly and frighteningly becomes involved in a terrifying cat-and-mouse chase with Reverend Lowe hot on his tail and determined to make him pay. He manages to drive the wheelchair off the road and into a condemned covered bridge. Here is where we hear the truth for the very first time: the Reverend states that he is clueless to when he turns into the world, that it isn’t his fault, and that he’d killed the others to preserve their souls.  He also states that he would never carry out Marty’s wishes of him committing suicide, stating that would be the greatest sin of all. So when he tells the boy that he’s next, he looks out into the distance and sees a farmer who he screams out to for help. Reverend Lowe then disappears.

Here is where the siblings confess to their uncle about their letter-writing and that Lowe is the werewolf and that it tried to kill Marty at both bridges. So Red does a little investigating of his own and discovers paint from Reverend Lowe’s car on the wheelchair. He then goes to the Sheriff and persuades him to do his own investigation as Red is slowly starting to believe that Marty’s story could possibly be true. Skeptical, but desperate to find the killer, the Sheriff goes to the Reverend’s home to investigate and see just really what is going on. But before he can arrest him, the Reverend turns into the monster and kills him. With the sheriff now dead and out of the way, the siblings are now convinced that they are next. They give their uncle their silver necklaces and ask him to have a real silver bullet made as, according to the folklore Marty had been researching, this would be only way to dispatch of the creature once and for all. Red grants them their request and enlists the help of a local gunsmith to make them one shiny silver bullet, and they plan to take the Reverend out.

That night, it being Halloween with a full moon, the creature comes to their home with a mission to murder them all. Having fallen asleep in front of the television whose channel has just signed off, Red burns himself with the cigarette that was in hand and the threesome see the wolf outside hunting them in which now Red believes everything the children had ever said to them. Leaving them in complete darkness by cutting the electricity off outside, the monster smashes his way into the house and terrorizes them. The silver bullet falls out of the gun and into a furnace grill, leaving the siblings to try and retrieve it as Red fights off the werewolf. Just as it seems all hope is lost, Marty grabs hold of the bullet, places it in the gun and shoots the monster in the other eye, killing him instantly. The three of them hover over the body in horror as they watch the corpse morph back into Reverend Lowe. The siblings then profess their feelings for each other, realizing that what they’ve gone through together has made them stronger.

There is warmth to this film that isn’t felt in many conventional horror films. There’s a sense of community and a sense of family that makes me love this film in the manner that I do. I have to admit that I’m not a fan of Busey at all, but I really like his character in this film. There’s an esteem that he has for his niece and nephew and a devotion to them that makes the viewer believe that he really does love them. The way he surprises Marty with the new wheelchair and bag of fireworks, the way he pays attention to them – though up until the end he doesn’t believe anything they’re telling him – he sticks by them until the very end. The siblings look up their uncle, as well, knowing that though what they have to say is absolutely absurd, they can trust him. Haim plays the perfect Marty and he becomes the character so well that you can’t help but love the guy and his plight of wanting to be normal like the other kids, and his plight to win the love of his older sister. The film does a great job of setting up the small little town of Tarker’s Mills and you feel the sense of small-town sensibility among its inhabitants and a great job of setting up and presenting us the Coslaw family and their own relationships with one another. The murder scenes are set up and executed well and though not overtly gory, they are presented in a very terrifying manner. And though the film doesn’t exactly follow the original novella, it is worth multiple viewings.

I really need to find this DVD and get it into my collection. It’s been on my “Saved” Netflix list for the last year and half so I’m not sure if it’s out of print or just hard to locate. I have to admit thought that I’m not a fan of the whole werewolf genre. I’ve seen Wolfen, The Howling, An American Werewolf in London but I will say that this one is probably my favorite entry in this type of film. Maybe because there isn’t a whole lot of screen time given to the beast? Maybe because there’s more of a story that drives this film that just creature make up? Or is possibly because the characters in this film are so relatable and likeable that you root for them for the duration of the movie? Hands down, I love this film. If you don’t already have it/seen it, you need to. This is back when horror films were actually memorable, not like these modern-day PG-13 shit fests. Enough said. 

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