There’s quite a few Stephen King movie adaptations that bear little resemblance to the books they’re based on. Stephen King’s Silver Bullet, based loosely on King’s novella The Cycle of the Werewolf, may be one of the more hilariously entertaining deviations from its source material. Whether that was internal or not remains to be seen.
The Cycle of the Werewolf
The Cycle of the Werewolf is unique in King’s repertoire in that it was released as a fully illustrated short novel with each month of the year being a chapter in the story of a werewolf terrorizing the fictional town of Tarker’s Mills, Maine. The chapter format of the book was in part because it was originally supposed to be a calendar, but King found the format too constraining for his storytelling style and it was expanded into a novella.
There aren’t any real main characters in the book. Instead it focuses on the events of the month from the point of view of various townspeople. The plot doesn’t really start until around July and even then it doesn’t bring some relevant characters back together until the last chapter December.
The story itself is a pretty basic werewolf tale with a few notable twists. It’s really illustrator Bernie Wrightson’s gorgeous drawings that help bring the story to life. They complement the story beautifully and can tell the entire story almost on their own.
In general, it’s a short but fun little novella that doesn’t break any boundaries but tells a solid gothic horror story nonetheless.
Stephen King’s Silver Bullet (major spoilers here because, boy, do we have a lot to talk about)
The movie adaptation of the book takes almost a 360 in terms of tone and atmosphere from the book. Where the book had an almost grotesque feel to it, the movie goes full out 80s B-movie horror, and to great effect I might add. It’s become something of a cult classic and was the perfect fodder for those pre-teen late night slumber parties huddled up together under your blanket fort.
Our main character is now Marty Coslaw (whose last name I will never get over); a wheelchair bound pre-pubescent who really has a darkly sadistic side, more on that later. Marty’s sister Jane, who didn’t really play much of a part in the book, hates him and constantly calls him a booger for all the things he seems to get away with due to his disability (she’s right by the way). Gary Busey is also there playing basically himself. Seriously, he was allowed to ad lib most of his lines because he related to the character of Uncle Red so much.
There are some werewolf kills early on, but the movie mostly forgoes the month to month format entirely and kills off half the town over the course of a few full moons when a vigilante group is formed and decides to go out into the woods at night with no flashlights and zero planning. It ends about as well as you would expect.
One thing that did carry over to the movie from the book is a scene where the town priest, Reverend Lowe, played by Everett McGill, has a dream sequence of his entire congregation turning into werewolves. It kind of lets the cat out of the bag who the werewolf is at that point, but it’s also one of the most memorable scenes in the movie due to the novelty of a whole room full of people just werewolfing out.
It’s around the half point mark in the movie where things start to veer even more wildly from the book. Now you would think the silver bullet in the title of werewolf movie would refer to an actual silver bullet, right? Not in the case of this movie. It’s actually the name of a diesel powered motorcycle wheelchair that Uncle Gary Busey gives Marty on the Fourth of July. That sucker gets up to at least 80mph, can be in no way shape or form street legal, and, as we see later, isn’t very effective against werewolves.
Uncle Gary Busey also gives Marty some fireworks to shoot off once everyone else is asleep since the town’s were canceled due to random werewolf serial killer on the loose, but probably not for COVID if this last year is anything to go by.
Since Marty is such a self-serving little bugger, he of course goes out and shoots off his fireworks and almost gets killed by the werewolf. He only just manages to get away by shooting the werewolf in the eye with a bottle rocket, which is really just unfair when the werewolf doesn’t get any projectiles to defend itself with.
After that mess, Marty recruits his sister to track down his victim under the guise of collecting cans for school (that was an actual thing in the 80s, you just had to be there). In the book Marty gets sent away for the summer and doesn’t run into the werewolf in human form until Halloween. Here it takes them about 12 hours tops to find him. Or more accurately, to find that bat from the picture up above when Jane discovers it in the werewolf’s garage, although where and when she saw the bat before remains a mystery since it was the local bar owner’s.
Marty then proceeds to be a troll and mails the werewolf some seriously bad takes.
Like any good 80s movie, there proceeds a wheelchair car chase scene, after which, Marty somehow convinces his Uncle Gary Busey that his life is in danger (even though he’s the one sending death threat mail) and he needs a real silver bullet to protect himself. After a very odd conversation with a gun dealer about what good presents bullets are for kids, Uncle Gary Busey gets the silver bullet for Marty and stays over to babysit Marty and Jane after sending their parents away on vacation (less witnesses).
The werewolf does show up at Marty’s that night, and very nicely announces himself by busting straight through the wall like the Kool-Aid man.
Remorselessly, Marty grabs the gun and the bullet and shoots the poor creature in its head before it can even begin to explain why it’s there. He and Jane then proceed to reenact that creepy Folgers Coffee Christmas commercial with the brother and sister that are a little too close to each other for comfort. End of movie.
Final Girl Thoughts
Whether or not you consider the movie or the book a classic, or even a cult classic, Cycle of the Werewolf and Stephen King’s Silver Bullet does make for some entertaining camp. It’s interesting to see what’s essentially the same story told in two very different styles. Roger Ebet even called the movie a parody of the book, and while I wouldn’t go quite that far, it definitely deserves an award for stretching the source material to a new limit. 4 out of 5 Cthulhu for an all around good time.(4 / 5)