HomeEntertainmentStephen King's Silver Bullet 38 Years Later, Revisited and Reviewed

Stephen King’s Silver Bullet 38 Years Later, Revisited and Reviewed

Silver Bullet is a 1985 horror movie starring Gary Busey, Everett McGill, Corey Haim, and Megan Follows. The plot concerns a werewolf stalking the streets of Tarker’s Mills when the moon is getting big and bright. The script for the film was written by Stephen King, adapting one of his own stories — the 1984 novella Cycle of the Werewolf.

An excellent movie tie-in consists of Cycle of the Werewolf, the Silver Bullet script, stills from the movie, and a new forward by the author. If you’re a fan of King and/or are interested in how films are made, then we at MovieWeb highly recommend it. The only problem is the cost, which is a little pricey. Even getting it secondhand is usually at least $60 or $70.


How Stephen King Came to Write Silver Bullet

Paramount Pictures

In the forward, King recounts how Cycle of the Werewolf began at the 1979 World Fantasy Convention, where Christopher Zavisa approached him about doing a “story calendar.” Each month of the year would contain a vignette that added up to a complete story, accompanied by an illustration done by Berni Wrightson, co-creator of the Swamp Thing character.

Zavisa caught King at the right time because he was one, drunk, and two, looking to do something small. Something that would prove he was just a regular guy who wasn’t in it for the money. Except, here’s the thing. King likes to write. He writes six pages a day every day for the entire year. It wasn’t long before he started chafing under the 500 words per installment requirement that he had set.

After various roadblocks and hurdles towards completing the calendar, King sat down to write the July section, which would be about a kid who uses a wheelchair named Marty Coslaw (played by Haim in the movie), who would be heavily dismayed about the Fourth of July fireworks show being canceled, so much so that he would shoot off his own, supplied to him by his uncle.

Once he had that, King describes the sensation as being like stumbling around in the dark and finally finding a light switch. He had gone past 500 words, but he didn’t care. He could see how the rest of the story would go, plus the things he would need to go back and change. He just needed to tell Zavisa that there had been a slight change of plans.

Corey Haim in Silver Bullet
Paramount Pictures

Of course, one has to wonder why someone would approach the author of The Stand, whose original edition is over 800 pages (over 1,000 in the uncut version), about writing vignettes in the first place. Well, after King called Zavisa up to say, ‘Hey man, there’s been a slight change of plan,’ his enthusiastic response made King think Zavisa wanted a “slim novel” all along; he just might have been too shy to ask.

Later, enter Dino De Laurentiis, a movie producer who had bought the rights to several of King’s works, such as The Dead Zone (1983), “a pretty damned good picture” in King’s opinion, and Firestarter (1984), which King was “not wild about.” Upon being asked if he had anything else for him, King gave De Laurentiis a copy of Cycle of the Werewolf. Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep) was set to direct, but De Laurentiis hated his script and Coscarelli quit.

The thing you also need to understand about De Laurentiis is that he was a very charming guy. King was only supposed to write an original story for the anthology film Cat’s Eye, for instance, but De Laurentiis somehow talked him into writing the whole dang script. However, when the producer asked King to write the script for this project, he initially refused until the author rewatched To Kill A Mockingbird and became entranced by the narration of adult Scout (Kim Stanley), which he describes as another light-switch moment.

Differences From Cycle of the Werewolf

Silver Bullet sister
Paramount Pictures

Silver Bullet is now narrated by Marty’s sister, who loves her brother, even if the extra attention he receives because of his condition makes her jealous. As such, the character named Kate in the source material and Jane (Follows, Tovah Feldshuh) plays a considerably larger role in the movie than in the novella, assisting Marty in his search for the werewolf’s human identity.

There are several other changes between the two mediums, like how Stella Randolph (Wendy Walker)’s characterization is almost the polar opposite of her literary version. In the interest of saving time, we’re only going to look at the ones that stand out (at least to this reporter), like the film’s structure.

Cycle of the Werewolf is very episodic, with Marty, the protagonist, not being introduced until a little over halfway through. Silver Bullet is much more serialized, with Marty and his family being front and center from almost the movie’s beginning. Silver Bullet also takes place over a much shorter timeframe. Instead of spanning an entire year, the film starts in May and ends in October. Halloween, to be exact. That creates a plot hole.

RELATED: The Story of Stephen King’s Disastrous Attempt at Directing

In Cycle of the Werewolf, Marty’s uncle has fireworks in his car because it’s the Fourth of July. In the film, where the celebration has been changed to an October carnival, the uncle has them because … well, he’s as eccentric as any character played by Busey, so maybe he drives around with fireworks on him at all times.

Marty’s uncle, Al in Cycle, Red in Silver Bullet, has also undergone a significant change. In both versions, he appears to be an irresponsible layabout with hidden depth, but in different ways. Al is mentioned to have won “a couple” medals serving in Vietnam, while in the movie, Red can build Marty these tricked-out, go-kart wheelchairs seemingly from scratch.

Werewolf Spoilers

One eyed werewolf in Silver Bullet
Paramount Pictures

Who is the werewolf anyway? The two top-billed actors are Busey and McGill, both of whom usually play villains, so that’s a major clue. While the werewolf being Marty’s beloved cool uncle certainly would have been an interesting plot development, the real villain is McGill, who plays Reverend Lester Lowe.

After being found out, Lowe, in hammy glory, explains that everything serves the will of God, even killing people as a literal monster. A religious nutjob exposing morality in a Stephen King story — stop me if you’ve heard that one before. Of course, Lowe is a downplayed example as, by all indications, he was a genuinely good person before getting cursed.

In Cycle of the Werewolf, Lowe has no memory of what he does while transformed and is able to remain in denial about it until Marty takes one of his eyes out using a firework. In the film version, whether Lowe figures it out is more ambiguous, especially in the original script. There, how oblivious he is to what he does in his beast state is called into question when Lowe says “real slow,” which his werewolf form repeatedly says.

Differences From the Script

Silver Bullet werewolf church scene
Paramount Pictures

Yes, the werewolf speaks in the Silver Bullet script, going a step further than Cycle, where its snarls are described as sounding “terribly like human words.” Not only that, but the opening scene even has it singing the beer jingle it heard from its recent victim. It’s described as “funny-horrible,” a recurring element with King, like “Oz the Gweat and Tewwible” in Pet Sematary.

The script also states that the change begins with a partial transformation around the second quarter before gradually reaching “full wolfiness” as the moon continues its cycle. The final film doesn’t convey that subtlety very clearly, but Marty and Jane still offer up the theory in the dialogue about how the werewolf gets more monstrous closer to the full moon.

RELATED: Stephen King’s Best Villains and Monsters, Ranked

Besides Stella, another character almost entirely different from their literary counterpart is Sheriff Joe Haller (Terry O’Quinn), who takes the place of Constable Lander Neary (weirdly, Haller is also identified as a constable within the script). Neary is a know-nothing know-it-all who loudly goes on about “good police work” solving the case, before being taken by surprise while drinking in his car.

Haller lacks Neary’s arrogance and overt stupidity but is still shown to be rather ineffectual. He’s unable to talk down the hunting posse/borderline lynch mob (though it’d be hard for anyone to argue with a man who just came from his son’s funeral). He also seemingly doesn’t inform anyone that he will investigate the werewolf’s human identity, which is ill-advised in any murder investigation.

Gary Busey in Stephen King's Silver Bullet
Paramount Pictures

Haller also has a subplot that got deleted within the finished film. After finding the body of Brady Kincaid (Joe Wright), the werewolf’s youngest victim at 11, he goes through a crisis of faith. That’s not explored much. The script outright says this is “a horror movie, not a John Cassavetes film.” That might be why it was taken out.

Another subplot deleted from the script was Grandpa Coslaw. In Cycle of the Werewolf, he lives with the rest of the family. In the script, he’s presumably in a hospice since Voiceover Jane says he’d been dying of cancer for the past seven years. His death gets the parents out of the house for the big showdown. In the finished film, Red gives them a couple’s vacation he had “won.”

Is Silver Bullet Any Good?

Silver Bullet
Paramount Pictures

Silver Bullet is a film that manages to be sweet, scary, funny, and entertaining. Haim, Follows, and Busey’s performances in particular deserve praise. As does the musical score. Sure, it’s totally ‘80s, which some may look at as being dated, though others might see it as part of the movie’s charm.

At the time of its release, reviews for Silver Bullet were mostly negative, and today, they remain mostly negative. On Rotten Tomatoes, it currently has a 41% Tomatometer and 56% Audience Score. However, there are those out there who find it to be an underrated werewolf movie. Modern audiences also have an excellent opportunity to judge the film for themselves.

As previously reported by MovieWeb, Silver Bullet will be playing in theaters across America to promote the physical release of Rob Saucedo’s graphic novel Where Wolf. It recently finished playing at the Alamo Drafhouse Wrigleyville in Chicago, IL. You can refer back to the earlier news story to find when and where it’ll be playing next, or search Alamo Drafthouse. Or you could watch the movie, streaming on HBO Max or through a premium subscription on other platforms, available to rent digitally, or on DVD and Blu-ray.




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