Thursday, February 1, 2018

STEPHEN KING'S SILVER BULLET (1985) (Umbrella Blu-ray Review)


Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: R
Duration: 94 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: David Attias
Cast: Corey Haim, Gary Busey, Megan Follows, Terry O'Quinn, Lawrence Tierney

Some movies you just cannot watch and not be overwhelmed with the wonderment of youthful nostalgia, Silver Bullet (1985) is one of those movies for me, a cable TV perennial from my youth I never once passed over while scrolling through the channels looking for horror to watch, a film that despite the holey looking man in a bear-suit that was the werewolf I still love to this day, it's been high on my list of movies that needed a Blu-ray, and Australia's Umbrella Entertainment have come through with it's worldwide HD debut on home video. 

The film is told in flashback, strangely narrated by an older woman named Jane who tells the story of her paraplegic younger brother Marty (Corey Haim, License to Drive) and how a series of grisly murders cursed the small-town of Tarker's Mill, Maine in the year 1976. The film is based on Stephen King’s 1983 novella Cycle of the Werewolf and also screen written by the horror icon. The film opens with the brutal death of a drunken railroad worker whose head is literally swiped right off his shoulders by the mostly unseen furry menace. The local Sheriff Joe Haller (Terry O'Quinn, The Stepfather) attributes the headless corpse to a simple train accident, but soon the bodies begin piling up, including a woman on the verge of suicide who is found torn to pieces in her bedroom. The local folks begin to murmur about a maniac on the loose, as the sheriff begins to lose the confidence of the locals a lynch-mob is formed and they head out into the fog shrouded swamps where more bodies pile-up! The trip into the foggy woods is atmospheric and fun but also a bit campy, with the growling werewolf lurking beneath the thigh-high fog, at one point taking a bat away from a cranky bar owner played by Laurence Tierney (Midnight) and beating him to death with it, his black hairy paw reaching above the fog with the bat in it's clawed hand before bringing it down on Tierney! 

Back to the kids, we have young Jane (Megan Follows, TV's Reign) and her wheelchair bound younger brother Marty (Corey Haim), they have the usual adversarial sibling relationship, but it's made clear in several scenes that despite annoying one another they love each other and have each other's best interest at heart. Enter into the equation their drunken Uncle Red (Gary Busey, The Buddy Holly Story, Gingerdead Man) who arrives to watch the kids while mom and dad take off for a vacation. Uncle Red also builds a sweet, souped-up motorized three wheeler of a wheelchair for Marty to zip around town in, calling it the Silver Bullet. One night Marty sneaks off on the Bullet to shoot fireworks off a bridge and has his own encounter with the werewolf, just barely escaping it after firing off a bottle rocket into the creature's eyeball! Red and Jane do not believe the hairy-tale at first but eventually come around, with Red melting down the family silver to create a werewolf-killing bullet, and Jane goes about town collecting cans while keeping an eye out for a newly one-eyed citizen.

Spoilers ahead, run away lest you be spoiled, here we go... it turns out the local reverend played Everett McGill (Twin Peaks, The People Under the Stairs) is the werewolf, at first he seems anguished and torn by his affliction, but as the murders continue he seems more and more consumed by the beast, at one point having a terrifically surreal dream about his parishioners transforming into werewolves in church pulpits. He keeps his murders to the sinful, in his twisted mind believing he is somehow saving their souls from eternal damnation by tearing them apart, but when he's been found out by Jane and Marty he turns his one-eye wolf sights on the siblings, leading to an honestly anticlimactic ending, but it doesn't ruin the movie, I still love it.

As I've already confirmed, I do love this movie, it's laced with 80s nostalgia to the nth degree for me, but I fully admit it has more than it's share of campy and bad b-movie moments. For starters the dialogue is at time hilarious and outrageous, a scene with Marty and his doomed friend Brady pranking Jane with a snake is laced with loads of unnecessary profanity, and the drunken hillbilly father of one of Marty's schoolmates make a shocking comment about how the handicapped all end up on welfare and should all be executed! Speaking of precious dialogue, Gary Busey is a firecracker in this movie, he's so damn quotable, he really does steal every scene he is in. The werewolf is a stinker, too, that's might be a deal breaker, but on the good side Everet McGill is pretty great as the cursed man of the cloth, I wish there'd been more backstory about how he came to be afflicted, but his anguished performance is tops, he really sells the transformation bits too. 

Silver Bullet (1985) is a top five werewolf film for me, the transformations are great, even if the lackluster were-bear man-in-a-suit put it well below The Howling (1981) and American Werewolf in London (1981), but that's not to say it still not a fun 80's werewolf movie, there's a lot to love about this Stephen King-penned lycanthropic classic, even the campy stuff is a blast, and I don't even mind the 80's anachronistic stuff that didn't belong in a film set in '76,.

Audio/Video: Stephen King's Silver Bullet (1985) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Australian distributor Umbrella Entertainment, the 1080p HD transfer is framed at 2.35:1 widescreen. Not sure what the origin of the new transfer is - I am assuming Studio Canal by the logo on the spine - but it's solid through and through, the grain is nicely managed, the image is crisp and the colors look accurate and nicely saturated. The English DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 audio sounds good, dilaogue is clear and special effects and the score from Jay Chattaway (Maniac Cop) sounds great, a creepy and dramatic, mixing of orchestral and electronic elements, optional English subtitles are provided.   

Umbrella went all out for the worldwide Blu-ray debut of this nostalgic slice of 80's lycanthropy, we get a brand new audio commentary with Director Daniel Attias moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. Felsher does a great job mining the conversation for nuggets and tidbits. Attias never directed another feature film after the poor reviews he turned to TV where he has had a very prolific career, directing all sorts of great TV stuff, from Six Feet Under to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and back to King territory with hte upcoming Castle Rock series produces by JJ Abrahams.

Martha De Laurentis shows up for a lengthy 26-minute discussion of her career and life with Dino De Laurentis beginning with her start as an accountant on the TV mini-series Daine's Curse (1978), getting involved with the Wolfen (1981) production team which lead to Amityville 3-D (1983) and her introduction to meeting the love of her life Dino De Laurentis. She also speaks about her career producing Stephen King films and what she believes is the continuing draw of King's work. De Laurentis also speaks about the werewolf genre and what makes it so appealing, comparing  the difference in a movie like the shape-shifting Wolfen to Silver Bullet, also brought up is how Phantasm director Don Coscarelli was initially brought on during post production as director and how it went to Attias, confirming that Coscarelli didn't start shooting the film as has been rumored for years. 

There's also Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with Composer Jay Chattaway moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures, which can be viewed like an audio commentary while watching the film. The interview lasts for about 38-minutes, then the isolated score kicks in for the remainder for he film, it's presented in lossy English Dolby Digital 2.0, the subtitles are available during this playback as well. 

Actor Everett McGill shows up for a 16-min interview, speaking about his relationship with Dino De Laurentis, the motivations for the characters, his guilt and anguish, donning the hairy costume after initially not wanting to, and his appreciation for how sensitive to the material the director was, working with Corey Haim and the make-up process. 

Special Effects Artists Michael McCracken, Jr. and Matthew Mungle appear for a fun 21-minute interview, the juiciest of the bunch, too. They discuss the day that Carlo Rambaldi's (E.T.) ill-fated were-bear arrived on set and how it didn't quite meet Dino De Laurentis's expectation, falling a bit below the mark and over-loaded with cable to operate it. These guys did not the werewolf itself but the various transformation scenes, which were awesome, speaking of how they were achieved using old school latex effects. They also spin a fun tale about one of the actors wanting to keep their werewolf make-up on after they wrapped for the day, saying that they were on their way to a sex-party and how the ladies loved the werewolf make-up! They also tease a story about some latex bladder's and improvising some hose needed for it, but they stopped themselves from finishing the story, these guys are funny. 

Extras on the disc are buttoned up with a theatrical trailer, TV spot, radio spot and an image gallery with 73 images including promotional and behind-the-scenes stills, both color and black and white  and include some cool make-up effects in process shots and sculptures, lobby cards and various home video releases. 

The single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in the usual over-sized Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring new artwork, which is fantastic, made to look like a well-worn Stephen King paperback novel, even the spine has a cool distressed look. I noticed the wear marks look exactly identical to the Umbrella release of Cat's Eye, the symmetry gives the releases some nice side by side shelf appeal.  The reverse side features a variant of the same artwork minus the rating label, and the backside of the b-side features the original one sheet movie poster for the film, same as they did with their release of Cat's Eye. The disc features the same key art as the sleeve minus the logo. While this release is labeled as a region B on the case it plays just fine on my region A player. 

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Director Daniel Attias moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures
- The Wolf Within – An Interview with Actor Everett McGill (16 min) HD 
- Full Moon Fever – Interviews with Special Effects Artists Michael McCracken, Jr. and Matthew Mungle
- Dino's Angel Takes on Lycanthropy: Martha De Laurentis Remembers SILVER BULLET (26 min) HD
- Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with Composer Jay Chattaway moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. (English Dolby Digital 2.0)
- Theatrical trailer (1 min) HD
- TV Spot (1 min)
- Radio Spot (1 min) HD
- Still Gallery (73 Images) HD 

Silver Bullet (1985) gets the truly deluxe treatment from Umbrella Entertainment, the A/V presentation is top-notch and the newly produced extras from Red Shirt Motion Pictures are much appreciated. I do hope we get more Stephen King adaptations from Umbrella if this is the sort of treatment we're going to get, this just might be an early contender for my best of 2018 retro-release, this is highly recommended. 

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