Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The Silver Bullet (1985) - a review

As part of a 80’s horror revival I am currently working through, I ordered Silver Bullet on DVD. I found it on Amazon, and it was only available on PAL as a Dutch import, so although the sound was in English, there were annoying subtitles but I tried to ignore them.

My husband, Pablocheesecake to his viewers, regularly reviews our cinema viewings and while I don’t often blog, never mind review, he urged me to give it a go this time.

In case you are unfamiliar, the basic premise of the story is as follows. The small town of Tarker’s Mill in Maine is plagued by increasingly gruesome murders. The films opens to the narration of Jane Coslow, and only her wheelchair bound younger brother Marty Coslow (Corey Haim) has figured out that the culprit is a werewolf. His hero and Uncle, Red (Gary Busey), makes him a super fast petrol powered chair, named The Silver Bullet. Despite the fact Sheriff Haller ( – Terry O’QuinnLost’s John Locke) has imposed a curfew, Marty sneaks out late one night on his new chair to let off some fireworks, as the town’s 4th July celebrations were cancelled due to the troubles. He is confronted by the werewolf, but narrowly escapes on his hi-speed chair after firing a rocket into the creature’s eye. The next day he manages to convince his older sister to search the town for someone with an injured left eye as proof of his story. She is reluctant to believe him but is convinced when she runs into Revered Lowe (Everett McGill) sporting a bandage over his eye. The two of them then work together to convince Uncle Red that the werewolf is real. He makes them a silver bullet out of their jewellery, and arranges for Marty’s parents to be out of the house on the night of the next full moon, where the 3 of them lay in wait to confront the werewolf.

The story itself was based on a Steven King novella "Cycle Of The Werewolf". I can’t say how closely this film resembles the novel as I cannot recall if I have ever read it. I imagine I have, but it would have been some time ago. I had a voracious appetite for horror books as a youngster, and was particularly fond of Mr King’s work and still am to this day. Despite a few novels that kinda strayed from the path, I still count some of his works amongst my all time favourite horror novels.

When compared to more modern werewolf films such as Dog Soldiers or Underworld, the makeup and special effects of the werewolf appear quite hammy. I think there is only one scene in the film where you get to see the entire werewolf. The rest of the time, it is partial shots - a hairy clawed arm as it swipes at a victim, or a hint of a beastial head with a light spot on a malevolent yellow eye. In its defence, it was made in 1985, but I can’t help wishing that they had perhaps hired the god-like special effects guy, Rick Baker (The Howling, American Werewolf In London) as this would have given the film a much needed boost.

The relationship between Marty and his sister is not untypical of millions of young girls who are burgeoning into womanhood, yet feel embarrassed and held back having to care for a younger sibling. She makes it clear that she feels that Marty is given preferential treatment by his parents due to his disability, even claiming quite openly that “you always take his side because he is crippled”. Even Red, who basically acts as a father figure to Marty despite there being a father present, criticises his sister for molly codling the boy too much. She seems very much fixed on the fact that he is disabled, and considers her drunken brother a bad influence on Marty, yet Red is the one that seems to fire Mary’s self confidence and encourage his independence. In the closing narration, after their showdown with the werewolf, the viewer is made aware that the bond between brother and sister strengthens.

Ultimately, this film tries to be a horror film, but doesn’t quite pull it off. For instance, I find the character of Reverend Lowe more sinister as a man, than as a wolf. Rated 18 at the cinemas in the UK (cert 15 for DVD) there are a few moments where the tension builds nicely but one thing that stuck out for me, was the odd choice of language. For instance, there is the occasional ‘Fuck!’ but most of the time, they seem to substitute expletives with less offensive curse words which just don’t quite fit the mood of the scene. It is obviously highly censored and suffers for it. I think this is probably due to the fact that the US has always been more sensitive about swearwords on film and TV than in Britain. For example, Marty’s sister, Jane, after being scared by him and his friend Brady, calls him a ‘little booger’. I can’t help thinking that in the UK, they would have gone with ‘little bastard’.

The acting in this film, particularly from Haim and Busey,  is spot on. A 14 year old Corey Haim displays the promise that made him one of the go to child actors throughout the 80's. Busey is a legend as always, playing that slightly manic red kneck that he does so well.

Despite my very few criticisms, it is still a highly enjoyable film, and if you have not seen it then I recommend that you hunt out a copy. It is still one of my top 5 werewolf movies of all time.

One of my favourite scenes is where a mob goes looking for the killer after the brutal murder of a young boy, Marty’s best friend Brady. In creepy moonlit woods, with the mist swirling around their waists’ a small posse of the vigilantes are attacked and picked off by the werewolf. Local bar owner Owen (Lawrence Tierney) brings along his baseball bat with the words The Peacekeeper carved into it as his weapon of choice. When he is attacked by the werewolf, you see his arm rise from the mist with the Peacekeeper in hand, and valiantly proceed to batter his opponent. The fight pauses for a second, a small scream, and then a hairy clawed arm appears out of the mist holding the Peacekeeper which is then used to bludgeon poor Owen. Dark humour… tis my favourite kind of humour.

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