AUGUST 5, 2008
For the most part, there isn’t a lot of Stephen King material I am completely unfamiliar with. With a few exceptions, I have either read the book, and/or saw the movie, and/or read the "Dark Tower" book in which characters from that otherwise unfamiliar book showed up and pissed off a lot of folks (I, for the record, thought that this concept, introduced in the later DT novels, was fucking awesome). One such “blank” was "Cycle of the Werewolf", filmed as Silver Bullet. I knew it was about werewolves, and little else. Not really a surprise, considering my general dislike of werewolf movies/stories, so I was surprised to find I actually pretty much dug the movie.
The only other thing I knew about it was that it had Gary Busey and Corey Haim. And I knew this from, of all people, Quentin Tarantino. In a Fango interview (probably back for Dusk Til Dawn) he explained how in the movie he didn’t get scared for Corey Haim, because you knew he’d be safe; however, he DID fear for the life of Gary Busey’s character, because there was a chance he would die (I assume he means strictly based on the character himself, because as we all know, Gary Busey pretty much ALWAYS dies in his movies). It’s a belief I have always held myself, which is why I don’t often get scared at horror movies; I’ve seen so many that it’s almost impossible to be surprised when someone dies.
But this is Stephen King, and if there’s one thing he can always be counted on, it’s killing off people you don’t expect to die. And he does it twice in the first 20 minutes here! First a pregnant woman who is trying to kill herself (the wolf beats her to the chase), and then a little kid (Haim’s best friend). Nice! It’s also nice to see that the movie retained these elements from the novel (according to what I’ve read online) rather than change it for happy Hollywood audiences, a la Cujo.
Their inclusion also helps drive forward the movie’s idea that everyone in this town is a degenerate scumbag. Seriously, just about every character we meet is a selfish prick, or a drunk, or an uptight broad, etc. Even Haim is kind of an asshole; at one point he is bemoaning how bad his life is recently, and his wording suggests that the cancellation of the town fair is more of a burden than the death of his best pal. Oddly enough, Busey, despite being a drunk, is pretty much the only positive role model in the film. He may be a bit of a loser, but encourages his nephew to have a good life, builds him a motorcycle/wheelchair, makes up an idiotic story to get the kids’ parents out of town so he can help them fight the werewolf, etc. Nice work, Busey.
One strange element of the script (adapted by King himself) is that both Busey and the kid’s mother act like his dad isn’t around and she has to take care of Haim herself, with Busey not being much of a help. But the dad IS there, he’s just like a glorified extra. We see him at the dinner table and driving the car, but damned if I can recall the guy ever actually doing or even saying anything. It’s almost like King didn’t have him in the script but director Daniel Attias threw a “dad” actor in these scenes anyway. “There should be a dad in there... you! You’re the dad!”
I also like how many people in the cast are now known for their cult television series work. Terry O’Quinn (X-Files, Millenium, Lost) plays the sheriff, Twin Peaks’ Everett McGill plays the town priest, Bill Smitrovich (Corky’s dad!) is one of the many drunks, and Busey played a caricature of himself in the fakest reality series of all time, I’m With Busey (well, fakest until Haim’s The Two Coreys came along, oddly enough). Attias himself has gone on to direct lots of genre television, including Lost.
I must talk about McGill a bit. The movie is kind of presented as a mystery, as in “Who is the werewolf in human form?”, but honestly, if you think it’s anyone BUT McGill, you’re kind of dumb. Not only is he Everett McGill, but he also plays a priest who wants to weed out the wrongdoers (again, everyone we meet is a scumbag, though I can’t really figure out what Haim’s friend did wrong). His sermon during one of the deceased’s funerals is nothing short of amazing, as he offers “words of comfort” that are mainly warnings about beasts and such coming to kill you.
Carlo Rambaldi, who also did ET and King Kong 76, did the werewolf effects, and they aren’t too bad. I don’t think we ever quite get a full look at it, but what we do see is pretty good, and the brief portions of transformation are also decent, if pretty much ripped off from Baker’s American Werewolf work. Since nowadays we only get CG abominations, I’ll take a fairly generic design over something rendered in 3DSmax any day of the week and twice on Sunday. The only real blemishes are the fake heads, which are god awful (and little is done to even hide this fact; it’s like the DP didn’t realize they looked like mannequin heads with paint on them). The best fake head bit is right at the beginning, when the police claim that the drunk who was decapitated by the wolf was actually hit by the train. Pretty precise train, to sever a guy’s head clean off and not crush the head or the body in the process.
Apparently the Region 2 DVD has a commentary track. Our version doesn’t have a goddamn thing. We may have won the World War, but Europe is clearly the victor in DVD editions.
What say you?