For our next stop on Halloween Week, we have the fabulous paranormal romance/urban fantasy author Meljean Brook over for a guest post!
We are unabashed Meljean fangirls – so when we were inviting folks over for Halloween, she was one of the first names that came to mind. And, we were ecstatic when she agreed to put something together for our Halloween Celebration! Today, Meljean will be talking about Silver Bullet – the ’80s horror flick, starring Corey Haim and Gary Busey.
Without futher ado, please give it up for Meljean Brook!
Thanks to Ana and Thea for inviting me over for Halloween week! This is one of my favorite events at The Book Smugglers, so I’m thrilled to take part.
When Thea asked me what I wanted to do, the first thing that came to mind was writing a pseudo-review of Stephen King’s Silver Bullet, a 1985 werewolf movie produced by Dino De Laurentiis (Flash Gordon, Conan the Barbarian, Army of Darkness, and a bunch of other Stephen King-based movies) and directed by Daniel Attias (usually a TV director, including Buffy, Alias, House, and a gazillion other episodes of various shows.) I’d been thinking about Silver Bullet a lot lately, and how, when I was nine years old, I used to scare the crap out of myself walking home. We lived out in the boonies, and the driveway from the main road where the school bus dropped me off to our house wound through the woods (the Oregon kind, which are tons of tall fir trees surrounded by leafy underbrush that is very, very easy to hide in (I know this, because I used to hide in it and scare the crap out of my sisters and cousins when they had to walk the road at night)).
Anyway, I used to sprint down that drive in record time, certain that either a wendigo or the werewolf from Silver Bullet would leap out and kill me. Maybe I shouldn’t have watched it that young. But the truth is, there wasn’t any way I couldn’t watch it. If a movie was scary and I could sneak it past my parents, there was no holding me back.
The Basic Premise: Over the course of a summer, a werewolf terrorizes a small town in Maine (this is Stephen King, so of course it is.) One eleven-year-old boy, Marty Coslaw (played by the Corey of the Haim variety) and his sister, Jane (played by Megan Follows, best known for Anne of Green Gables) discover who the werewolf is and, with the help of their Uncle Red (Gary Busey, in what might be the perfect role), plan to kill it.
And I loved the movie. Sure, it scared the crap out of me, but I loved it. When I was 13, I read the novella it was based on – Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King – and aside from being intrigued by the structure of that novella, I don’t remember a single thing about it … but I remembered (quite fondly) many, many elements of the movie.
Would it hold up after twenty-three years, though? When I was nine, I didn’t make jokes about Corey Haim. When I was nine, the image of Gary Busey’s teeth weren’t yet burned in my brain. The two main characters – Marty and Uncle Red – are both played by actors whose Hollywood history and pop culture status is much, much bigger than their roles here. So, watching it now, would it just be crackalicious fun with one of the Coreys and crazy Gary Busey, but not worth watching for the movie itself?
The answer? Yes, it is crackalicious fun with Corey and Gary. And I still love it. There’s a lot that just works in this movie, and it thankfully outweighs the stuff that doesn’t.
(Everything until the end involves minor spoilers.)
The characters are hands-down the best part of this movie. Wheelchair-bound Marty is at the center of the action, and his disability plays an enormous part in the both the suspense and illuminating the other characters, yet the movie avoids making him precious, avoids making statements, or falling into any cloying sentiments that could have easily bogged down both the plot and characters.
Gary Busey just might have been made to play Uncle Red. He’s a twice-divorced alcoholic who dotes on Marty and whose sister (Marty’s mother, in a small but well-played role by Robin Groves) disapproves of his lifestyle. He’s the uncle who comes over to his sister’s house, gets drunk and plays poker with Marty, tells the naughty jokes, shouts obscenities, and builds Marty’s motorized wheelchair-bike (the Silver Bullet).
Early on, there’s this great conversation between Red and Marty’s mother, Nan, after Red has come over for one of those drinking nights. She asks him not to drink in front of Marty, Red yells at her not to boss him around (ah, those big sisters.)
NAN: Red, I don’t care how you live. But he is a very impressionable little boy.
RED: You know, you think your only responsibility is getting his butt out of the chair and into the tub and out of the chair and onto the toilet. And you oughta realize there’s more to Marty than him not being able to walk.
NAN: It’s so easy for you, isn’t it?
RED: Yeah, it is!
NAN: You blow in here once a month, and you tell a few jokes, and you have a few beers, and you want to lecture me about how to raise my son. Well, I am the one responsible for how he feels when he sees you like this, and how he feels when you leave! Red, Marty has enough strikes against him as it is—
RED: (interrupting) He doesn’t have any strikes against him!
NAN: —that I am scared to death that some day he is just going to give up.
RED: He’s not going to give up!
NAN: Well he doesn’t need you showing him how to do it!
And this is the kind of dynamic that I really love in this movie. Yes, the mother is over-protective, and yes, Red is a bad role model. But both of them are understandable and believable, and yes, both of them are right. What I also find impressive is that, despite this blowup and the echoes of it in their later conversations, Red and Nan still get along later. There’s no making either one of them into the bad guy or the good guy. And Red, whose view of Marty seems to sit somewhere in the realm between Denial and Eternal Optimism, is the one who eventually puts Marty in a position where he’s in the most danger – yet even that action isn’t ever given a ‘bad’ label (because the ‘bad’ is obviously the werewolf, no matter how recklessly-indulgent-cuz-he-loves-Marty Red can be.)
Then there’s Jane, who is perfect (and more importantly, also believable) as the sensible older sister who is resentful of the burden Marty’s disability places on her and of how much slack their mother gives Marty, but who isn’t Teh Eveeel. She forgives him when he’s a twerp without martyring herself, and apologizes when she’s been overly impatient with him. She also plays the necessary straight man against Marty and Uncle Red. Her mixture of practicality and acceptance becomes essential to the plot – as close as Uncle Red and Marty are, it is Jane who is able to convince the skeptical Uncle Red that a) Marty is in danger, and b) the killer might be more than just a psycho human.
Silver Bullet isn’t a character-driven movie, though – it’s werewolf-driven. Between the scenes where we get to know Marty and family, we get to see the werewolf killing people: the drunk railroad maintenance man who he beheads with a swipe of his paw (when I was nine, that flying head was the most awesome shot ever), the pregnant single woman who is about to kill herself.
The first two murders only touch Marty peripherally, but the third victim is his almost-girlfriend’s drunk slob of a father, and the fourth victim is Marty’s best friend (and kind of a jerk) Brady.
Are you sensing a theme about the victims here?
The small town is essentially another character in this movie, and is described at the beginning (before the terror) as “A town where people cared about each other as much as they cared about themselves.” Which is, I think, a fantastic description – it first gives the impression that everything is on-the-surface perfect, but really … how many people care about themselves and take care of themselves as well as they should?
The townspeople aren’t as nicely drawn as the Coslaw family – they definitely run more to stereotypes: The hunter at the bar with the loud mouth, the gentle giant bartender who carries a baseball bat called ‘The Peacemaker,’ the in-over-his-head but competent sheriff, and the minister who tries to comfort everyone when everything starts going apeshit and the bodies start piling up.
And this is another point where I love this movie. Horror so often takes an apparently-perfect situation and peels back the layers to reveal the rot hidden underneath: the drunks, the molestations, the secret pregnancies. Silver Bullet doesn’t do that. Those things aren’t hidden in this town; everyone knows that the first victim was a drunk, and Jane sees the pregnant woman being rejected by the father of the baby. At one of the early gatherings of the townspeople in their favorite bar, we learn that everyone knows who is behind on their taxes. This isn’t a town of secrets; it’s a town where people are just people, for good or bad, and everyone recognizes that.
So when even the ‘bad’ people in the town are shown to be normal, it highlights the werewolf’s wrongness even more. A town that has a few drunks? That’s normal. Ripping them apart? It’s unnatural.
This is another point where the movie really works: It doesn’t try to explain the werewolf. There’s no mystic force behind it, no ancient curse, we don’t know how [spoiler] became a werewolf, and it’s even suggested that he doesn’t even know how he became one.
One thing that often kills horror movies is digging too deep into the reasons WHY? and then coming up with a crappy explanation. How many times have you sat in a movie (or read a book) that, although it was going along great, suddenly became really, really stupid as soon as you found out why it was all happening?
Silver Bullet avoids that by … well, avoiding it. I imagine that some viewers will be disappointed that there’s not more explanation behind the werewolf, but it really worked for me.
Was the werewolf scary, though? … hmm, maybe not so much. Although some of the suspenseful parts where the werewolf is stalking someone out of sight were well done, Silver Bullet suffers from the same problems that many similar movies do: Once you show the monster, he’s not quite as scary. (This is also the scene that I’m talking about when I say that Uncle Red, though acting out of love, doesn’t exactly help Marty and is reckless – he gives Marty some fireworks to go shoot at night, even though there’s a mass murderer on the loose that has already killed his best friend. In romance, we call that TSTL, and I’m not sure who is dumber here: Marty or his uncle.)
There is a transformation scene, too – though not bad by 1985 standards, it’s also not An American Werewolf in London or The Howling.
Then there are a couple of missteps, and the biggest one comes right in the middle of the movie. A little humor is all well and good in horror (and I think necessary), but there is a scene after Brady has been killed when the townspeople form a mob to go after the killer. There’s some great tension between the people, the sheriff, and the boy’s father. There’s a lovely setting in the woods where the fog is thick and creeping over the ground, and visibility is low, and the townspeople realize they are being hunted beneath the fog.
And it all becomes a joke. I’ll admit I laughed out loud when the werewolf started beating the people with The Peacemaker (the bartender’s bat) because it was campy and funny … but it also throws off the tone of the movie, and it doesn’t make sense. The whole point of the werewolf is that he’s ripping people apart, he’s unnatural, he’s terrifying … he shouldn’t be funny. And yet that scene skews him in that direction. And even though it’s only for a short time, it makes everything feel off, and something that should have been horrifying (Brady’s death, and the townspeople’s mob-like reaction) is played for a laugh.
But despite that misstep, and a few other “Oh, come on!” moments, this is a fun, solid little film, perfect for Halloween (or any other time when you have friends over, and shouting OMG, IT’S ONE OF THE COREYS! seems like it might be just as entertaining as the movie itself).
Or, you know, just play this fan-made tribute to Corey Haim.
Thank you Meljean for the fabulous post! And holy crap, that Corey Haim tribute video is something else.