SILVER BULLET (1985) Blu-ray
Director: Daniel Attias
Umbrella Entertainment

Australia's Umbrella Entertainment puts a SILVER BULLET in Carlo Rambaldi's "werebear" with their region free special edition Blu-ray release.

The first full moon at the tail end of spring 1975 brings a series of brutal murders to the small town of Tarker's Mills. The first victim is a drunken railroad worker (James Gammon, MACON COUNTY LINE) whose decapitation could have been an accident. Unwed mother-to-be Stella Randolph (Wendy Walker), however, is torn apart in her own bedroom. Sheriff Joe Haller (Terry O'Quinn, THE STEPFATHER) is at a dead end and loud-mouth Andy Fairton (Bill Smitrovich, SPLASH) is riling up the locals into a mob in search of private justice (partially to drum up business for his gun store). When young Brady (Joe Wright) breaks the town's five o'clock curfew and is torn to pieces, not even Baptist preacher Reverend Lowe (Everett McGill, QUEST FOR FIRE) is able to prevent Tarker's Mills from becoming a ghost town. While the locals are still fearing a maniac in their midst, young paraplegic Marty (Corey Haim, THE LOST BOYS) discovers that the killer is a werewolf when he fires a rocket into the creature's eye. When his alcoholic Uncle Red (Gary Busey, THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY) does not believe him, he confides in his sister Jane (Megan Follows, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES) who finds his story hard to believe as well until she encounters the one-eyed assailant in human form. When the killer makes an attempt on Marty's life, brother, sister, and skeptical uncle set the stage for a final confrontation with only a single silver bullet in between them and a monster.

Based on the Bernie Wrightson-illustrated Stephen King novella "The Cycle of the Werewolf" and adapted by King himself, SILVER BULLET – the title referring both to the projectile and the motorized wheelchair souped up by Uncle Red – was the fourth of six collaborations between King and producer Dino De Laurentiis (DUNE). Narrated by Tovah Feldshuh (BREWSTER'S MILLIONS) as the older Jane, the film sets itself up as a memory piece exposing the ugly underbelly of a small town, but the revelation that killer is an actual werewolf rather than a serial killer ("Psychos are more active in the moonlight," says Uncle Red to Marty to refute his logic) reveals the film's deployment of white trash characters for comic relief and gory comeuppance, even though some throwaway dialogue does give a possible reasoning for the choice of certain victims. The tone of the film is rather schizoid with its young protagonists, touching family drama, and occasionally lyrical scoring by Jay Chattaway – particularly the theme song "Joy Ride" heard in instrumental when Marty takes the Silver Bullet for a ride and a version sung by Rob B. Mathes over the end credits – clash with severed heads, clawed skin, torn faces, eye injuries, and battered skulls comparable perhaps to FRIGHT NIGHT without the humor. The pre-animatronic werewolf of Carlo Rambaldi (POSSESSION) is a letdown, looking more like a "werebear" (a term coined by producer De Laurentiis) while the bladder effects and reverse motion transformations are nothing we have not seen before in the other werewolf films of the era. Haim and Follows make sympathetic leads while Busey also turns in a wonderfully nuanced performance (especially given his history with substance abuse). McGill's performance is workable in an inconsistently written character, with much of the characterization he and director Daniel Attias – who never directed another feature but went on to direct TV dramas from TRUE BLOOD, THE KILLING, SIX FEET UNDER, RAY DONOVAN with episode credits in the hundreds – discuss in the extras is buried in subtext.

Released theatrically by Paramount, the film managed to remain entertaining even in horrendously panned-and-scanned laserdisc and VHS. When Paramount got around to releasing it on DVD in 2002, it was barebones but the anamorphic widescreen transfer was very welcome. Territories in which the film was owned by Studio Canal – including the UK, France, and Germany – got an anamorphic DVD that included an audio commentary (as part of a treasure trove of such releases that also included PRINCE OF DARKNESS, THEY LIVE, SHOCKER, ORCA, DEEP STAR SIX, and THE CHANGELING). Germany got the first Blu-ray release carrying over the old extras. Umbrella's region free Blu-ray – inaccurately labeled Region B on the rear cover – features a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen transfer that is presumably the same one provided by rights own Studio Canal. Although it is not a new master, clarity is improved over the DVD transfer enough to reveal that the softness of some night exteriors is an effect of the limited depth-of-field of lenses shooting wide open (especially noticeable in reverse angle shot over Haim's shoulder when Busey takes a step back and goes out of focus). Bowing of horizontal lines are noticeable in some of the wide angle shots, and a falloff in sharpness is evident in a couple shots. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is clean, with clear dialogue, effects, and Chattaway's synthesizer score coming through nicely. An option for English SDH subtitles comes up when selecting play for the feature.

Umbrella and Red Shirt Pictures have produced an array of new extras. The audio commentary track with director Attias is a new one moderated by Red Shirt's Michael Felsher in which he discusses leaving UCLA Film School for a DGA assistant director trainee position for a few years on films like AIRPLANE, ONE FROM THE HEART, E.T., and TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE – before going back to school to complete his thesis film which landed him an agent and SILVER BULLET. He admits that he was not attracted to the horror so much as the family dynamic – including improvising a sequence to emphasize this between Busey' and Robin Groves (THE NESTING) as Marty's mother – and admits that there is a tonal inconsistency because he wanted a PG film and De Laurentiis wanted more violence. He also recalls having to communicate in broken French with cinematographer Armando Nannuzzi (THE DAMNED) or through his camera operator son Daniele (SANTA SANGRE), and being dissatisfied with the werewolf effects. He shares his recollections of the North Carolina shoot and the cast – although he demurs from discussing Haim's troubled life at length – while Felsher points out the many character actors including O'Quinn, James A. Baffico (DAWN OF THE DEAD's Wooley), Lawrence Tierney (THE PROWLER), and William Newman (MONKEY SHINES). A third audio track features isolated score selections and an audio interview with composer Chattaway also moderated by Felsher in which he discusses his early works with William Lustig and Joseph Zito (INVASION U.S.A.) and how collaborations editor Daniel Lowenthal (THE BIG SCORE) got him SILVER BULLET. Of the film score, he discusses the importance of the Synclavier's digital sampling abilities and the sampling of real wolf howls towards developing the score. The interview occupies the first thirty-eight minutes of the track and includes discussion of other credits, while the score selections play from then to the seventy minute mark (the remainder defaults to the feature audio).

In "Dino's Angel Takes on Lycanthrophy" (25:34), producer Martha De Laurentiis – then Martha Schumacher – discusses her beginnings assisting casting director Cis Corman on WOLFEN and then starting as production accountant on the De Laurentiis productions RAGTIME and the two AMITYVILLE sequels (as well as falling in love with De Laurentiis). She discusses establishing a studio in Wilmington as well as the productions of THE DEAD ZONE, FIRESTARTER and CAT'S EYE. Of SILVER BULLET, she confirms that slated director Don Coscarelli (PHANTASM) did not shoot anything on the production, the multiple versions of Rambaldi's design, and the casting of Haim with the goal of creating another child star after Drew Barrymore on the prior two films. In "The Wolf Within" (16:16), actor McGill recalls getting into character and Attias' attentiveness towards character motivation as well as the hours in the make-up chair (including the final scene which took an entire day to shoot with him locked in one position). "Full Moon Fever" (21:04) is an interview with effects artists Michael McCracken, Jr. (THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW) and Matthew Mungle (BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA) who reveal that they were hired – along with McCracken's father – to do the transformation effects, gore, and additional werewolves for the nightmare sequence at the recommendation of Stan Winston (THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU) who turned it down. They recall the experience as being fun while also noting Attias inexperience with directing actors in effects suits, and Rambaldi being out of his league as far as werewolves. Also included is an image gallery (6:20), the film's theatrical trailer (1:17), a TV spot (0:31), and radio spot (0:39). The inside of the cover includes an original poster but it is not a reversible cover since the other side does not include reproduce the back cover's photos, synopsis, technical specs, or list of extras. (Eric Cotenas)