Silver Bullet (1985) Retrospective

 

 

Cycle of the Werewolf (The Novella)

Author  Stephen King/Illustrator Bernie Wrightson

Cycle of the Werewolf is a short horror novel by American writer Stephen King, featuring illustrations by comic-book artist Bernie Wrightson. Each chapter is a short story unto itself. It tells the story of a werewolf haunting a small town as the moon turns full once every month. It was published as a limited-edition hardcover in 1983 by Land of Enchantment, and in 1985 as a mass-market trade paperback by Signet. King also wrote the screenplay for its film adaptation, Silver Bullet (1985).

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 Cycle of the Werewolf Bernie Wrightson Art

Characters

The Coslaw family

Marty Coslaw is a 10-year-old paraplegic, he serves as the novella’s protagonist. He hears the werewolf howling in March and is attacked by the beast in July, where he blinds it in one eye with a package of Black Cat firecrackers. He discovers the identity of the creature to be Reverend Lester Lowe in October and kills him with a silver bullet in December.

Nan Coslaw/Marty’s mother, she tries to treat him as if he were no different from any other 10-year-old boy.

Herman Coslaw/Marty’s father, he is uncomfortable interacting with his disabled son, speaking to him in a patronizing voice (called the Big Pal voice by Marty). He is the coach at Tarker’s Mills High School.

Kate Coslaw/Marty’s 14-year-old sister, she seems jealous of all the attention Marty gets throughout much of the novella.

Grandpa Coslaw/Marty’s paternal grandfather, he lives with the family. Marty has a good relationship with his grandfather, who is described as being the typical grandfather. He is noted for being a heavy sleeper.

Uncle Al/Marty’s wild-living maternal uncle, he always seems to be in the doghouse with his sister. Al treats Marty better than anyone else in the story, and buys him the fireworks Marty uses to blind the werewolf in one eye after the Fourth of July fireworks are cancelled. He also supplies Marty with the silver bullets and the gun he uses to kill the beast in December.

The werewolf/Reverend Lester Lowe, the werewolf, is first mentioned in the story in April, preaching a sermon about the coming of spring. Around May, he has a dream in which his entire congregation—and then himself—transforms into werewolves before he awakens. The next morning, he finds Clyde Corliss, a custodian, dead on the pulpit at his church. He is seen as a pillar of the community and has been viewed that way for years, coming to call Tarker’s Mills home.

Lowe has not been a werewolf his entire life, nor has he been a werewolf since he first arrived in Tarker’s Mills. In fact, he has no idea about how he became a werewolf, but he suspects that it has something to do with some flowers he picked at a cemetery on Sunshine Hill months prior to his first transformation. He went to put them in vases at the church vestry, but they turned black and died before he could finish the relatively quick job. He has no reason to pinpoint this event as the beginning of his curse, but he believes that this was the beginning of the events. As the werewolf, he serves as the primary antagonist of the novella.

Lowe comes to realize that he is the werewolf after having awakened with fresh blood on his fingernails and (to his horror) mouth. He also discovers his clothes are missing or sometimes finds scratches and bruises, which appear to have come from running through the woods. The dream in May serves as a further omen to his curse, but he doesn’t fully realize his curse until July 5, when he awakens with his left eye blasted out. After Halloween, he began getting anonymous letters from someone who knows his secret, suspecting that it is the person whom he attacked in July and failed to kill, the person who blasted his left eye out. In November, he acknowledges that he is the werewolf and decides that he cannot risk going out in the woods, as he could be killed by the group of vigilantes who had taken to the woods that month.

To avoid the vigilantes, he travels to Portland, where he kills Tarker’s Mills resident Milt Sturmfuller outside a cheap motel. After returning home, he decides to find out whom he attacked in July, and confront that person. Marty eventually signs his name to the last letter he sends in December, shortly before the next full moon. Lowe is killed by Marty on New Year’s Eve.

The Victims

Arnie Westrum is a railroad employee killed sometime in the wee hours of the morning on New Year’s Day in January. He was snowbound in a blizzard after trying to clear snowdrifts off the tracks which had blocked the trains. Westrum manages to hit the werewolf with a pick axe once before it killed him.

Stella Randolph is a virginal seamstress whose business is beginning to fail. On Valentine’s Day in February, she sends herself cards from 1980s heartthrobs and longs for a lover. She sees the werewolf watching her from outside her window and lets it in, believing she is dreaming. The werewolf pounces on her and kills Stella in her bed.

A drifter killed on St. Patrick’s Day in March, he is found by an employee of the Electric and Gas Company while searching for downed lines. His body is surrounded by wolf prints.

Brady Kincaid is an 11-year-old boy killed while flying his kite on April Fool’s Day. He had an expensive kite and stayed out too late as he became fascinated by it. He is found the next day, decapitated and disemboweled in the town park.

Clyde Corliss is found dead in the Grace Baptist Church by Reverend Lowe on Homecoming Sunday in May. He had done janitorial work at the church since the late 1970s.

Alfie Knopfler is the owner of the Chat ‘n’ Chew, the town’s only diner. He is killed after high-school graduation in June in his diner. He sees the werewolf transform in front of him before he is killed.

Constable Lander Neary is the town constable and is frustrated by his inability to solve the case and by his patronizing treatment by the Maine State Police. Neary reveals that Marty was sent to live with relatives in Stowe, Vermont, after his attack in July. His fellow troopers don’t let Neary interview the boy, but allow him to have a copy of the deposition Marty gave to them. In it, Marty describes the werewolf in vivid detail, which both the troopers and Neary ignore, including the fact that the werewolf is now missing his or her left eye in human form. Had they not ignored this fact, they could have apprehended Lowe immediately. Both Neary and the troopers believe Marty is suffering from extreme post-traumatic stress syndrome and that the werewolf is a manifestation by Marty’s psyche as a mental block to the trauma. Neary is killed in August while drinking in his parked truck.

Elmer Zinneman’s pigs/Zinneman is a pig farmer who has his entire pen of pigs killed by the werewolf, but manages to avoid being killed himself on Labor Day in September. He sees something indeterminate running into the woods after his last pig dies, but he cannot say who or what it is that he saw. The next day, he discusses the carnage with his brother Pete from two counties away. Pete tells Elmer that he knows that a werewolf is on the loose in Tarker’s Mills, citing the unusual tracks in the mud as evidence. The two decide to begin hunting for the beast in November.

Milt Sturmfuller is the town librarian who is shown to physically abuse his wife in March and again in October. He begins an affair in November and starts staying at a hotel in Portland. He’s ironically killed by the werewolf while at the hotel in Portland, Lowe having gone there to avoid the vigilante group set up by Zinneman.

 

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SYNOPSIS

The story is set in the fictional town of Tarker’s Mills, Maine. Each chapter is a month on the calendar. A werewolf is viciously killing local citizens at each full moon, and the otherwise normal town is living in fear. The protagonist of the story is Marty Coslaw, a 10 year-old boy in a wheelchair. The story goes back and forth from the terrifying incidents to Marty’s youthful day-to-day life and how the horror affects him.

The werewolf’s first victim is a drunk railroad worker. Next is a woman in her bedroom contemplating suicide, followed by a hitchhiker, an abusive husband, one of Marty’s friends in the city park, a herd of hogs at a local farm, a sheriff’s deputy while he sits in his car, and finally the owner of a diner.

In July, the town’s Independence Day fireworks have been cancelled. This is very upsetting to Marty, who has been looking forward to them all year. Feeling bad for his nephew, Marty’s uncle brings him some fireworks, warning Marty to set them off really late so his mother won’t find out. While outside enjoying his own private Independence Day celebration, the werewolf attacks Marty, who manages to put out the monster’s left eye with a package of firecrackers. The werewolf escapes and police ignore Marty’s report because they are looking for a human murderer, not a werewolf. As the summer continues, the bloodshed occurs again every full moon.

Fall comes and so does Halloween. To celebrate, Marty goes trick-or-treating with his sister. While out, he sees Reverend Lowe wearing an eyepatch. However, Lowe doesn’t recognize Marty, as his face is covered by a Yoda mask. Marty, whose family is Catholic, never attend services at Lowe’s church, which is why he didn’t work out the werewolf’s identity sooner.

Over the next few weeks, Marty sends the pastor anonymous letters asking him why he doesn’t kill himself and end the terror. In December, he sends the last letter—signed with his name. Unbeknownst to Reverend Lowe, Marty has convinced his somewhat reluctant uncle to have two silver bullets made and to come spend New Year’s Eve (which falls on the full moon) with his sister and him. Right before midnight, the werewolf breaks into the house to kill Marty. Marty shoots the werewolf twice with the silver bullets. After the wolf dies, it changes back into Reverend Lowe, much to the shock of everyone present.

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BACKGROUND

The novella started out as a calendar by Zavista with illustrations by renowned comic-book artist Bernie Wrightson. Each month featured a drawing by Wrightson complete with a short vignette by King. King found the size of the vignettes, which were both small and extremely limited, to be a problem. King proceeded with a short novel and had it published by Land of Enchantment in 1983, complete with Wrightson’s illustrations.

In the author’s notes at the back of the novella, King admits to taking liberties with the lunar cycle. For example, if a full moon was on New Year’s Day, another one wouldn’t occur on Valentine’s Day, but these dates are widely recognized in January and February. He explains that this was done to focus the relevant months more clearly in the readers’ minds.

 

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Silver Bullet (The Film)

SUMMARY

Jane Coslaw (Follows) serves as the narrator of the film as well as the older sister of the main protagonist of the movie, her younger, paraplegic brother Marty (Haim) and their parents Nan and Bob. Their rocky relationship changes after a series of murders in their small rural town of Tarker’s Mills, Maine starting in the spring of 1976.

First, railroad worker Arnie Westrum (Gammon) is decapitated by a werewolf. The county coroner believes that Arnie passed out on the tracks and was run over by a train. Soon after, local woman Stella Randolph (Wendy Walker) prepares to commit suicide because she is unmarried and pregnant. Before she can act, she is brutally murdered in her own bedroom. This murder goes unsolved, and the townsfolk become worried. The next victim, a redneck named Milt Sturmfuller (James A. Baffico), whose daughter is Marty’s girlfriend, is killed in his shed. His family leaves town. Next to die is teenager Brady Kincaid (Joe Wright), Marty’s trouble making best friend, who stayed out too late one night while flying a kite.

After Brady’s death, citizens led by local gun shop owner Andy Fairton (Smitrovich) form a vigilante justice group. Although local Sheriff Joe Haller (O’Quinn) and his lone deputy (Hart) attempt to stop the citizens, the officers relent after being berated by Brady’s father (Broadhurst). Reverend Lester Lowe (McGill) attempts to dissuade the townsfolk from causing further bloodshed, but he is ignored. As the vigilantes hunt for the killer in the nearby woods, three are attacked and killed, including bartender Owen Knopfler (Tierney). The survivors later deny seeing anything unusual. Afterwards, Reverend Lowe dreams that he is presiding over a mass funeral when his congregation—including the bodies in the caskets—begins to transform into werewolves before his eyes and attack him. He awakens screaming and asks God to “let it end.”

As a result of the mounting unsolved murders, curfews are put in place, and the annual fair and fireworks show are cancelled. The Coslaws decide to have their own backyard party and invite Nan’s alcoholic black sheep brother, Uncle Red (Busey). Red gives the gift of a custom-built wheelchair/motorcycle to Marty, which he nicknames the “Silver Bullet,” as well as a pile of fireworks so he can have his own celebration. Marty uses the Silver Bullet to go out in the middle of the night to a small bridge deep in the woods where he lights the fireworks. The fireworks get the Werewolf’s attention, and it confronts him, but he escapes after launching a rocket into the creature’s left eye.

Marty enlists Jane’s help to look for someone with a newly injured or missing left eye. The search is conducted under the cover of the church’s bottle drive, so as not to arouse suspicion. When Jane turns her bottles in, she discovers that Reverend Lowe is missing his left eye- as well as noticing Knopfler’s broken baseball bat, called “The Peacemaker,” hidden among the bottles. Realizing that no adult would believe his fantastic story, Marty begins sending anonymous notes to Reverend Lowe telling him that he knows who he is, what he is, and that he should commit suicide in order to stop the killings. Afterwards, Lowe tries to run Marty off the road with his car. When Marty is trapped under a closed covered bridge, Lowe, whose sanity has been fractured by his condition, tries to rationalize the murders he has committed as doing God’s work (though he cannot explain Brady’s murder). Lowe then apologizes and moves in for the kill until Marty calls for help from a local farmer.

The siblings manage to convince Red that Lowe is connected to the murders and attempted to kill Marty. Red persuades Sheriff Haller to investigate. That night, Haller, still skeptical but desperate to find the killer, goes to Lowe’s house and finds Lowe has locked himself in his garage to restrain himself from further killings. Before Haller can arrest him, Lowe transforms and bludgeons Haller to death with the Peacemaker.

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Knowing the werewolf is coming for them next, Marty and Jane convince Red to take Jane’s silver cross and Marty’s silver medallion to a local gunsmith, who melts them down into a silver bullet. On Halloween, Red announces he has won a vacation to New York, but since he is separated from his wife, he gives the tickets to Nan and Bob. Questioned by Marty and Jane, Red reveals that he bought the tickets as a ruse to get their parents to safety. With the now-full moon in the sky, they head inside to wait for the werewolf. As the night wears on, Red starts to think that he is being fooled by the children and unloads the pistol. At that moment, the werewolf cuts the power to the house and smashes its way inside, attacking Red with wrestling moves. The bullet is nearly lost in the melee, but Marty is able to retrieve it and shoots the werewolf in the right eye. The corpse turns back into Reverend Lowe and has one last spasm before dying. As the trio recover, Marty and Jane say they love each other and embrace, and Jane narrates that although she hadn’t always been able to say it, she was able to say it from then on.

DEVELOPMENT

The project that began as an idea for an illustrated calendar has now emerged full blown as a feature-length motion picture scripted by Stephen King that does, in the author’s words, “what should have been done with it to begin with, which is to take this character, the little boy in the wheelchair and to use him as the unifying character to turn it into, well, in this case a movie, what would have been a novel if it had ever been fleshed out.”

In 1983, Stephen King teamed up with artist Bernie Wrightson at the request of publisher Chris Zavisa to create a werewolf story that would run twelve months as a wall calendar based on the cycle of the moon. The concept evolved into a graphic novel (“novelette” then), and CYCLE OF THE WEREWOLF was born. King was at his peak, his books being optioned for screen before they even hit stores, and CYCLE was soon picked up by legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis. Eventually, Danial Attias was tapped to direct. He immediately took to the story of a handicapped boy battling numerous monsters.

The novel is an episodic chiller that contains 12 chapters, each devoted to a month of the year and the horrifying werewolf incident that occurs during that month. Most novels demand quite a few changes when translated to the screen, but Cycle of the Werewolf’s special structure presented a special problem in that it doesn’t have a single, direct narrative line from beginning to end. The first several chapters deal with separate werewolf attacks at the time of the full moon.

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The Director and the Script

The project that began as an idea for an illustrated calendar has now emerged full blown as a feature-length motion picture scripted by Stephen King that does, in the author’s words, “what should have been done with it to begin with, which is to take this character, the little boy in the wheelchair and to use him as the unifying character to turn it into, well, in this case a movie, what would have been a novel if it had ever been fleshed out.”

 Silver Bullet was the fourth King film produced by De Laurentiis, and as producer Martha Schumacher remarks: “We had gathered a list of names we thought might be good potential directors for the film, but as soon as we met Dan, there was no question we had our director. He had sensational ideas, he has an excellent reputation, and he was very confident three important traits.”

Script in hand, Schumacher offered the picture to Attias, who was a bit nonplussed at the opportunity. “Truthfully, I’m not quite clear on the exact details of how I was chosen to direct this film,” Attias says, “except that on a Friday afternoon, received a call from my agent, and by Monday, I had my first picture as a director. It happened very quickly.”

When Attias came onto the Silver Bullet project, a couple of drafts of the screenplay were already written, and he found that “the structure of the script was in many ways very different from the novel, as you might expect, but it also had similarities with the book’s structure.” Although Marty and his family are present throughout the film, Silver Bullet does emphasize the killings in the opening reels, similar to the way they are emphasized in Cycle of the Werewolf’s early chapters.  King wrote the screenplay and worked closely on changes with greenhorn director Attias. “Stephen was extremely willing to make changes if I asked for them,” shares the filmmaker. “We basically took the original concept of a story unfolding over twelve months and consolidated it into a period of one month.”

 “I’m interested in emphasizing the human element of this story because I think it’s very rich in that area. Certainly it must be a scary picture, and it is dealing with a supernatural creature, but I think that’s handled very realistically once one accepts the impossible given that there is a werewolf running around.

“This script is beautifully laid out in terms of presentation of the characters and defining what each one’s central concern is. I love being able to explore character. “It is the emphasis on character, Attias believes, that will provide the proper sensation of fear. “The way I’m approaching this, the fear has to come through an acquaintance with the characters who are then put in jeopardy. The presence of the werewolf is marvelous because it creates a great sense of jeopardy that really brings out character. Once that is established I think it’s quite a simple matter to create the emotion of fear.”

“What intrigued me about this story was the issue of disability,” Attias explains, “The central character is a young boy in a wheelchair who has a physical impairment, and I thought it was fascinating how most of the characters in the story could be seen to carry some sort of wound. The most glaring in addition to Marty are Reverend Lowe, who has this shadow side that keeps taking a hold of him, and Uncle Red, who has his wound of alcoholism. I was very intrigued by the issue of what it means to have an imperfection.”

One of Attias’ primary concerns while seeing the project through later script drafts and the actual filming was that the movie should focus on the relationships within the Coslaw family. Marty Coslaw is the person who discovers the secret of the werewolf, but his parents won’t believe him. Attias believes that “it’s through Marty’s act of determining who the werewolf is and finally killing the werewolf that he validates himself.” In addition to his problem with his unbelieving parents, Marty also has to deal with an older sister who resents him because she feels he gets undue attention because of his handicap.

“What we tried to deal with, kind of sub textually throughout the film, is the notion that being crippled is more a function of one’s own image of oneself than anything else. The fact that the boy is physically crippled does not make him crippled. The movie becomes his progress towards accepting himself and gaining acceptance from his family.”

A weakness of the novel is the lack of definition of the character of Uncle AI, who is the one person who helps Marty in his werewolf investigation. It’s not very clear why he is so personally attached to the boy, and he gives the impression that he exists for little other reason than to supply Marty with firecrackers and silver bullets. “That’s a problem we really focused on in the writing of the script Attias says. The uncle [who becomes Uncle Red in the person of Gary Busey in the movie] became far more important in the story in the film than he was in the book.”

Attias goes on to explain that Uncle Red’s friendship with Marty is very much tied into Marty’s family problems. “I approached this aspect of the story with the idea that Marty’s family was never really able to deal appropriately with the fact that they had a crippled son, that they communicated to him that he was like a project, not really a human being. By focusing unduly on his disability, they communicated to him that he was a disabled person, rather than, first, a person.

“The uncle comes along and responds to the boy simply as a human being and thereby validates the boy. The boy intuitively responds to the uncle, knowing that the uncle’s image of Marty is the image Marty would like to have of himself.”

Attias further points out that since Uncle Red is an alcoholic, he is, like Marty, an outcast in the family. “That is, to me, one of the most interesting elements of the story. Marty’s mother had difficulty accepting imperfection in her son. She is the product of another family that had difficulty accepting imperfection. That’s what is, in some way, responsible for the uncle’s alcoholism, for his self-destructiveness, coming from an intolerance of imperfection within himself. Through Marty’s journey to self-respect, I think the uncle finds a vicarious identification.”

Since all this might sound a bit complex a werewolf picture, Attias is quick to point out that “none of this is handled heavy-handedly, but I hope the idea is communicated that the uncle has licked his problem throughout the course of the story by being able to make a commitment to the boy and finally stand by the boy. I hope we’re able to discern from Busey’s performance that the uncle has cleaned up his act.”

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CASTING

“The role of Marty was clearly the most important,” Attias says. “The film depended on him. He had to be totally witty, adventurous and able. I saw another film with Corey in it and knew right away that he was the one. We cast him when he was twelve years old, just this adorable kid with so much enthusiasm. In fact, he did the entire shimmy down the drainage pipe scene himself, with no complaints.”

After Marty came Uncle Red. “Critical casting,” says the director. “I fought for Gary Busey, and I knew he was a fantastic actor from the BUDDY HOLLY STORY He had this little kid quality that was required. I knew Gary could handle it.” While Haim came into the film fresh faced and ready for the world, Busey was at the other end of the spectrum at the time production began (in October of 1984), and wasn’t a shoe-in at the start. “He was going through one of his many very difficult times, had not been cast for a while,” shares Attias. “I really fought for him. It was a roll of the dice because he was such a handful, but [the producers] finally allowed me to cast him and he was fantastic.”

The rest of the cast was filled out by Terry O’Quinn as Sheriff Haller and Leon Russom as Marty’s rarely-seen dad Bob. But it was Everett  McGill’s turn as Reverend Lowe that Attias says figured prominently into the final success of the story. “Reverend Lowe has this dark quality in himself and is in the process of dealing with a vast, deep denial. You see it in that crazy scene where he is on the bridge trying to kill Marty, and he is still desperately trying to make himself whole and account for his dark side, trying to wrap it in the language of the Bible. It is totally insane, and that is what makes him so scary. Everett totally went for it, and I really enjoyed him in that role.”

PRE-PRODUCTION

Attias spent three months in pre-production and another eight weeks filming seven million dollars worth of moonlit mayhem. Filming began in October, 1984 finishing shortly before Christmas. In the novella the werewolf was said to snarl in nearly human words and the werewolf was supposed to speak in the original screenplay, although this was eliminated after a rewrite. Gary Busey felt a certain kinship with the Uncle Red character and was allowed to ad lib all of his lines in certain takes of each scene in which he appeared. Although he read the lines as scripted in most of the takes, Stephen King and Daniel Attias liked the ad lib scenes better and decided to include most of Busey’s ad lib scenes in the final cut of the film.

LOCATIONS

BEHIND THE SCENES/SPECIAL EFFECTS

 

Carlo Rambaldi’s articulated werewolf, a life-like suit topped with a mask capable of assuming a seemingly endless variety of facial expressions. That Rambaldi constructed the werewolf complete in five weeks time is clear indication that behind-the-scenes work has been running at fast-forward. Rambaldi’s werewolf is a classic wolf head attached to a muscular, humanoid suit. This is the final design, the third in a series of attempts to realize a werewolf that would be visually impressive as well as functional.

The first of Rambaldi’s designs had the appearance of being a hybrid werewolf-ape with pointed ears growing out of a slightly pugged face. “The theory on that,” said Michael McCracken, Jr., the makeup artist working in conjunction with Rambaldi, “was that Dino originally wanted a werewolf that was part werewolf and part something else, a werewolf – but not exactly. Carlo went through numerous sketches to try and get in sync with what Dino had in mind, and the first werewolf was just that. Then Dino had a change of mind and Carlo did a second werewolf. They’ve finally settled on the one they have now.”

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The werewolf is a wolf,” he said, pointing with his glasses to where the wolf’s head is perched. “My creation is directed toward a real wolf, and you don’t need to create anything more.”

There is something more about Rambaldi’s werewolf, though. Even with the head separate from the body, there is something obviously and disturbingly human about the wolf’s eyes. “Here,”

Rambaldi said, “let me show you,” and he pushed two of the wooden levers that project from the control boxes arranged on the floor. The wolf’s face twisted into an unsettling cross between a snarl and a smile. “It’s wolf with human inside; not exactly a wolf. A wolf doesn’t have that movement. There is no need for a wolf to smile.”

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Like most of Carlo Rambaldi’s recent creations, the werewolf in SILVER BULLET is primarily an articulated head capable of striking any number of facial expressions through a combination of movements produced by manipulation of the mechanical “guts” inside the head, a tightly-packed collection of springs, rods, and levers that push and pull on the face. Twelve levers operate the interior mechanics. Moving a lever pulls a cable that in turn moves part of the mask’s inner mechanism which causes the face to move. The operating principle is similar to that of hand brakes on a bicycle.

“The most difficult thing,” Rambaldi said of designing his werewolf, “is movement; many, many movements.”, the werewolf must appear to talk. In one sequence the angry werewolf snarls, “Bastard Marty,” and Rambaldi assures the assistant director that the werewolf will speak on cue. To make the werewolf appear to speak the necessary words requires precise manipulation of the proper levers and Rambaldi has spent a great deal of time making sure that the final effect will be the desired one.

For less demanding shots there is a second head, identical to the first in every way except mechanization. The fixed head will be used for long and medium shots that don’t require the werewolf to use facial expressions. Both heads are constructed of flexible polyurethane over a metal frame. The interior mechanics of the articulated head are made of aluminum or steel depending upon the amount of stress necessary to produce the desired facial movement.

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As was the case with the script, some preliminary drafts of the werewolf’s design had been done by Rambaldi before Attias came on to the picture. From then on, Attias says, “there were several discussions about what sort of a creature we wanted to create and it went through many transformations, if you will-on paper anyway-until we got something that we felt was the right look. Carlo designed a full suit that did not involve makeup appliances. It simply involved an actor slipping into the outfit, and then there was a system of cables that allowed for manipulation of the various parts of the wolf’s face, a system that was handled by four to six people off-camera. For the sophisticated kind of creature it was, it was surprisingly simple to get ready for shooting.

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“Ultimately, it looked like a bear,” confesses Attias. “The werewolf was very late in being designed, and Carlo (Rambaldi) was given very little time or money to work on it. In fact, it was so late that we had already started filming before we had the suit, so we starting shooting scenes without it. I tried to make sure the audience would see it as little as possible.”

 The coy approach with the monster would prove a challenge, considering the call from the top for more of the bloody stuff. “De Laurentiis insisted that I re-shoot things so there was more violence in it. Like the scene where the pregnant girl was killed… he really wanted clips of the claws ripping her flesh and all that, so I could only hide “the bear’ so much.”

 

Reverend Lowe’s Church Hallucination Sequence

The part of SILVER BULLET that is most exciting for McCracken is a hallucination sequence during which the entire congregation of Reverend Lowe’s church transforms into werewolves during a funeral for one of Lowe’s victims. Before Lowe’s eyes the church is transformed into a scene of pure chaos as the werewolf congregation goes wild, dancing and snarling, flipping through the air, and generally wreaking havoc. It will be the largest collection of werewolves ever seen on film.

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Since the scene required rather strenuous activity on the part of many of the werewolves, the production company recruited gymnasts and dancers. “We auditioned about one hundred and fifty people,” said Julius LeFlore, and we got some pretty good gymnasts to do the acrobatics and the dancers were trained to do that really weird looking walk Everett does. He went down and showed them how to do it.”

To distinguish between the real werewolf and those in Lowe’s hallucination, a different design was used. The werewolves in Lowe’s dream are clearly more humanoid than the Lowe werewolf. They are clearly werewolves, but their features are more human than canine. To give them a more subtle, but striking difference, McCracken opted against covering the actors’ eyes with lenses. The result is werewolves with blue eyes, grey eyes, green eyes-whatever the actors’ natural eye color. “It gives them a really quirky look,” McCracken said.

The forty actors selected to portray the werewolves were divided into three teams. McCracken explained, The performers were grouped into A, B, or C classes, depending on articulation and placement for a group howl culminating in a congregation of wolves at a church service.  “The B team’s faces can be operated with a tongue device. By moving the device inside the mask they can make the face snarl. The A team has radio operation providing three levels of movement in the face. They have ear, forehead, and mouth movement. The C team functions mainly as background. There’s no movement in the mask itself for them.

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What was your experience working with werewolves on SILVER BULLET (1985)?

MM: Carlo Rambaldi created the main werewolf on the film. He was VERY complimentary about my work with Mike McCracken on that film. I was fortunate to work with the very talented McCracken on that picture creating the Make-up Prosthetic Effects. – Special Effects Make-up Artist, Matthew Mungle

You worked on SILVER BULLET (1985) for Dino De Laurentiis, which apparently had some problems with the werewolf design. What did your work entail and how was working for him?

JR: I worked for Mike McCracken, Sr. on that. We did all the people turning into werewolves. There was a big church scene with the make ups we did, and Carlo Rambaldi made the priest’s werewolf. We jokingly called the werewolf a “werebear”, because it looked more like a bear. Oh well. – Special Effects Make-up Artist, Jill Rockow

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The werewolf’s bodysuit fits over a heavy layer of under padding worn by the actor to fill out the suit, giving the illusion of hunched shoulders and bulging muscles. And the actor most often in the suit is Everett McGill who plays both Reverend Lowe and the werewolf. “This is a good guy,” McGill said of his character. “He just has a bad side, a darker side. But he’s a good man. It makes things more dramatic that he’s a concerned, loving man. He cares for the people of his town, but at the same time he’s killing them. That dramatic range makes the role very appealing to me.”

McGill spent considerable time working on a walk that would be appropriate for a creature that is neither man nor beast, but a combination of both. The result is an unsettling blend of a wolf’s lope and a man’s walk. “What do you emphasize,” McGill asks, “the canine or the human? It’s tough. You try to find the right combination that will satisfy the requirements of the costume and makeup as well as your interpretation of the role.

“You can choose to play the man in the animal or the animal in the man. But you have to choose. You can’t play both. I prefer the idea of the man trapped in the animal. That’s the more horrifying.”McGill sees Lowe as a sympathetic character, a man not responsible for all of his actions. “But there’s the evil element that must be removed, so by the end he loses all sympathy.”

Although McGill performs a good deal of the werewolf stunts throughout SILVER BULLET, insurance demands prevent him from carrying out the most demanding feats required of the monster. When McGill steps out of the werewolf garb, the role is assumed by Julius Le Flore, the stunt coordinator for SILVER BULLET.

In addition to acting as stunt double for McGill and others, Le Flore is responsible for devising the stunts that demonstrate the werewolf’s tremendous strength. “We used this thing called an air ram that flings these guys fifteen to twenty feet through the air,” he said, a smile crossing his face. “It’s a lot of fun.”

The air ram is a simple enough device-a board set atop “kickers” that provide the powerful thrust. “It works on compressed air,” Le Flore explained. “You just stand on the platform, press a button, and it flings you through the air.” A harness and cable device is used to similar effect. “The cable jerks on the harness the guys are wearing and they go flying backwards through the air after the werewolf hits them.”

When it was necessary for the werewolf to break through the wall of a house, special effects coordinator Joseph Mecurio designed a break-through wall of balsa wood, fortified to look like a real wall. “We weaken it a lot, even though it’s balsa wood. A lot of people have the idea that just because it’s balsa wood it’ll break easy, but you come to find out it doesn’t break that easy,” Mecurio said.

And what device is used to break the wall? Mecurio laughed. “We let the stunt man do it himself.” Julius Leflore confirms that “it’s a real memorable sequence, because coming through that wall is tough. It’s a difficult thing because you have to hit it just right, land just right, and act like a werewolf while you’re doing it. And sometimes it’s like hitting a real wall.”

Another scene requiring breakaway structures is that in which one of the film’s characters is literally pulled down through the floor by the werewolf. The scene was shot on a hydraulic set through which a hole had been cut. Technicians posing as the werewolf burst through balsa wood planks, grabbing the actor’s ankles, and the hydraulic lists drop him a foot at a time, giving the impression that the werewolf is pulling the victim through the floor, but holding him upright.

As the actor is dragged down he meets a more merciful fate at the point of a jagged floorboard. “We have a dummy torso that has a blood bag in it and a retractable stake,” said Mercurio, describing the effect. “It’s the same as a knife gag. The back side of the torso has an appliance that pressurizes itself and looks like the blade is coming out. It’s shot from an angle so you see it going in and see it coming out.”

One of Mercurio’s more subtle effects is the full moon that brings on the transformation in Reverend Lowe. “We can’t shoot certain shots and work the moon into the background, and we don’t always have a full moon when we need it,” Mercurio explained. The solution: make a moon, or a number of them in assorted sizes that can be called up on demand.

All it takes to make a moon is a ready supply of plexiglass and a vacuum mold. “A wooden frame, cut in a circle serves the same purpose,” Mercurio said. “The force of hot air will make plexiglass expand into a perfect copy of a hole cut into plywood.” After the plexiglass is shaped, the surface is textured to resemble the surface of the moon. “If it’s a large moon, like the three foot moon we made, that has a little texture already in it because the plexiglass stretches so much you get crevices in it.”

The finished moon is suspended by wire within the camera’s view when needed, illuminated by a spotlight, and the scene is set for a werewolf, even if there’s only a quarter moon in the sky.

With the moon high in the sky and the werewolf on the prowl, there’s much mayhem keeping makeupartist Michael McCracken, Jr. busy. “They’re pushing it a little more toward an R rating,” he said as he sat down to talk. “Up until now there was some indecision, but now they’re going to pull out the stops and really go for it.” Plans are to reshoot several sequences, including the scene of the werewolf pulling his victim through the floor. “It’s not bloody enough,” Joseph Mercurio said of the scrapped scene.

One scene that doesn’t require re-shooting is that in which a hunter in the posse searching for the werewolf has an unfortunate encounter and comes away with his face torn off. The scene takes place in a meadow hung with dense fog through which the werewolf is creeping. Suddenly the hunter is pulled beneath the fog that begins to churn with signs of a struggle. Then, as suddenly as he was pulled under, the hunter rises briefly from the fog, his face ripped to shreds by the still unseen werewolf.

McCracken lights a cigarette and puffs on it as he talks. “Now there’s some problems there, in getting the actor from his real face to makeup, because if you stop the camera and do makeup on him, you’ll get a jump in the fog. You just can’t keep it level. There’s also a problem with putting someone under the fog already made up because they could pass out under there.

“We thought about having the actor wear a mask of his real face over the makeup. That way he could go under the fog, pull the thing off, and then come up looking like his face has been ripped off. That’s a bit risky though, and for take two it would really be a bitch.”

McCracken finally settled on using a dummy that could be placed beneath the fog in advance of the shot, then raised above the fog for the shock effect after the werewolf attack.

“The transformations, on the other hand, necessarily take a great deal more time in the shooting stage because each makeup appliance would require anywhere from a half an hour to four hours to put on. We would just have to schedule the shooting days so that we’d have something to do while the principal actor who was being made up was having that work done.” Attias says that the transformations involved primarily bladders worked beneath facial appliances, but they also “had somebody appliances to show expanding chests and exploding shoulders and growing fingernails and whatever else we could come up with in our wildest fantasies and that McCracken could give us–which was pretty much just about anything we asked for.”

McCracken designed the werewolves for the hallucination scene and also provided the makeup effects that transform Everett McGill from the kindly Reverend Lowe to the ferocious Carlo Rambaldi werewolf. Rather than use any one method in executing the transformation McCracken chose several.

“During the final transformation we’ll use a series of fades and dissolves. It’s the classic Lon Chaney transformation, slow and gentle.” Other transformation scenes make use of bladder effects that will distort McGill’s face on camera as he begins to change.

“We have him changing into the werewolf in very explosive, very dynamic ways,” McCracken said. When pressed for elaboration on “explosive,” he added, “We’ve got all kinds of new things we’re hoping will work out. But we’re facing a problem with time. Shooting a single transformation can take all day, and we’ve got forty werewolves to change.”

POST PRODUCTION

Major aspects of the script did not make it into the final product, one of the most surprising being that—in King’s screenplay—the werewolf actually speaks. It is given full lines of dialogue. Whether it would make the movie better or worse is hard to say, but it would definitely be a very different experience. The look and characteristics of the monster were the biggest problem throughout the production, which is certainly an issue on a werewolf movie.

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Stephen King wanted his movie werewolf to be nearly invisible to highlight its stealth nature. It was a contrast to other werewolf movies of the era which focused on detailed monsters. It took 3 months to make the werewolf costume and didn’t arrive on set until well into production. Though Silver Bullet producer Dino De Laurentiis hated it, there was no time to make any changes.

 

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Don Coscarelli Debate

There’s quite a bit of debate as to how much of Silver Bullet was actually directed by Don Coscarelli. Some sources claim that every scene without the werewolf in it was his, others claim he directed much less than that. What is not disputed is that he directed a number of scenes in the movie while waiting for the special effects department to come up with a werewolf design to be approved by producer Dino De Laurentis. Eventually, production on the film stalled enough that Coscarelli recused himself and Daniel Attias was hired to take over. Faced with throwing away everything that had been shot and abandoning the movie or approving the terrible bearwolf, De Laurentis relented and Attias finished the film. This explains why Silver Bullet has one of the worst werewolves in movie history. And if Coscarelli directed as much as many say, it also explains why Silver Bullet is really good.

King asked that the werewolf be ambiguous, plain, and hard to see, in contrast to the hulking monsters seen in other werewolf films and books in the early-to-mid-1980s, with the end result being a creature which looked more like a black bear than anything else and did not really have any identifying characteristics. After seeing Carlo Rambaldi’s design, per King’s request, producer Dino de Laurentiis was very unhappy and demanded a change, which both King and Rambaldi refused. Eventually pre-production fell behind schedule and director Don Coscarelli opted to start filming the non-werewolf scenes without knowing what would happen with the werewolf suit. After completing the non-werewolf scenes and not having any clear picture about what would happen with the film Coscarelli resigned as director and was replaced with Attias. When pressured to either cancel the film or accept the design de Laurentiis relented and allowed filming to continue with Rambaldi’s werewolf suit. A modern dance actor was hired to perform the stunts inside the suit but de Laurentiis was also unhappy with his performance and demanded a change. As a result, Everett McGill, who played Revered Lester Lowe in human form, wound up acting out most of the scenes in the werewolf suit and was credited with a dual role.

Don Coscarelli: I had made this movie, The Beastmaster. And for some reason this Italian movie producer, Dino De Laurentiis, seized on it that I would be the heir to direct the Conan series. He wanted me to direct Conan part 2. Unfortunately, they gave me a screenplay that… I just didn’t get it at all. And I had just made The Beastmaster… I just couldn’t in good conscience see how I could go to Mexico for months and make another sword and sorcery film without a script that I felt good about. So I turned down Dino De Laurentiis, which… I think it had an effect on him. Cause within a month he came back and he said, ‘I’ve got this Stephen King book, I want you to read it.’ And I read it. The problem was, it wasn’t a book – it was actually a calendar at the time. 

 So there was no screenplay. Stephen [King] was not available to write the screenplay. So I had to do an adaptation of the calendar and turn it into a screenplay. There were major adaptation problems that we were struggling with. One day Stephen came to New York. It was the one time I got to meet him. Such a nice guy. Funny, self effacing. Not what you’d expect. He sat there and listened to me just prattle on [about the issues]. He said, ‘I don’t have time to write it, but I’ll think about it.’ And so King went away. One day I got the word that Stephen had sent some notes. There were three, single spaced pages of notes. He answered every problem. Everything. So we go in to have a meeting with Dino De Laurentiis. He didn’t get it. Didn’t want it.

As a big Stephen King fan I’d known about you having been the original director attached to “Silver Bullet,” so that was the first chapter I hopped to when I got the book. It did not disappoint. The story of Dino De Laurentiis just throwing King’s notes away is insane.

Don Coscarelli: It’s totally insane, now you get it. I mean, at the time, my jaw was hanging open because the guy is a freaking national treasure and I think 99 if not 100 percent of any idea or anything that ever came out of Stephen King’s mouth you could bank on, you know? It was just a ridiculous situation.

It’s a bummer it didn’t happen because the combo of you and King and Wrightson and Dino was too good. Besides keeping the werewolf sort of hidden, how would your vision have been different than the one that ultimately got made in ’85?

Don Coscarelli: I would’ve been really careful about how the werewolf would be shown. My template when I was conceiving of it at the time was “Jaws,” because they never really showed that shark until the last act. And yet, the desire on Dino and how the story was laid out is that the werewolf was visible in every chapter going forward. I just didn’t think it would work. In fact, one of my scenes is still in “Silver Bullet,” which was the idea that the hunters go down into the ground fog that’s like up to their chest. So it’s almost like “Jaws” with the werewolf running around on all fours, under the ground fog. That was one of my ways of hiding it and keeping it there. I didn’t go into it as much in the book, but one of my great satisfactions was that I’d have these arguments with Dino, and he’s going, “Carlo Rambaldi! We will show the werewolf, all the scenes. It will look glorious. You’ll see it.” Now you see the final movie that they’ve made, and you see one werewolf claw in the opening sequence. So I knew it wouldn’t be possible for it to hold up.

 

 

Special Effects by

Jeff Jarvis     …       special effects coordinator

Michael McCracken …       special effects makeup supervisor

Michael Shawn McCracken  special effects makeup artist (as Michael McCracken Jr.)

Matthew W. Mungle          …       special effects makeup artist

Francesco Paolocci …       werewolf suit creator

Gaetano Paolocci    …       werewolf suit creator

Carlo Rambaldi        …       werewolf suit creator

Jill Rockow    …       special effects makeup artist

Michael Stein          …       special effects makeup artist

 

REFERENCES and SOURCES

http://www.coolasscinema.com.

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2 thoughts on “Silver Bullet (1985) Retrospective

  1. Hi, may be you think that the werewolf suit in silver bullet is more a bear suit than a werewolf one but I don agree with that as simple as it does I think that the suit is perfect and comparatively with other werewolf movies at the time it was and still to our day the most perfect suit that we can have on set . Nobody is capable to do the huge work that they have done with the werewolf transformation in the garage scene and the last scene when the werewolf was shot by the Marty’s silver bullet , so what I do believe is that Mr Carlo rambaldi gave us a gift and without that suit we wouldn’t be able to talk about this movie such a great work .

    Liked by 1 person

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