Thursday, October 17, 2019

Shape Shifters Week 3: Silver Bullet

Silver Bullet (1985)
The most annoying thing about the 1985 werewolf film Silver Bullet is that it dispenses with the most interesting thing about lycanthropy. It’s as if someone pitched a new version of King Kong with “But this time, he’s the size of an average gorilla.” Or The Mummy with “This time he’s only been dead a week or two, so there’s none of that awful decay.” Or The Phantom of the Opera with “When Christine pulls off the mask, she’ll see a very handsome man.”

The most fascinating thing about werewolves is that they have two natures battling against each other in one body: man vs. beast, good vs. evil. When the villain in this adaptation of Stephen King’s novella Cycle of the Werewolf isn't a werewolf, he’s still a bloodthirsty killer. But he's also (quite fortuitously for this blog) a pastor.

The hero of the film is a young boy, Marty Coslaw (Cory Haim). He's confined to a wheelchair, but his Uncle Red (Gary Busey) sees to it that The Silver Bullet, his motorized wheelchair, is stylish and fast. The film is set in 1976 in the small town of Tarker’s Mill, Maine (of course Maine, because Stephen King.)

The werewolf's first victim is an old drunk by the railroad track. It's mistaken for an accidental death, and small-town life goes on. We see Marty at a town festival at the beginning of summer. Marty’s sister Jane says Tarker’s Mill, is “a town where people cared about each other as much as people cared about themselves.” At the town picnic, the sheriff (Terry O’Quinn) introduces the Reverend Lowe (Everett McGill) who speaks on the importance of community.

But at the next full moon, there's another killing that the town takes seriously. Teenaged Stella has just discovered she's pregnant, and afraid of disgrace, she's considering killing herself. “Suicides go to hell, especially when they’re pregnant, and I don’t even care,” she says. But before she can kill herself, she is killed by the werewolf -- and that death is clearly not an accident. 

The next person killed is Marty’s best friend, Brady.

No one knows if the killings are caused by man or beast, but the town forms a vigilante committee to go into the woods to find whatever the killer may be. The Reverend tries to stop the group, arguing that there is no place for “private justice.” 

The sheriff responds, “Let ‘em go, Reverend, this is that community spirit you’ve been talking about.”

The posse's hunt doesn’t go well at all, and three people are killed by the werewolf.

Reverend Lowe officiates at the memorial service for the three killed. He also seems to have done the services for the other werewolf victims. He appears to be the only pastor in town with the only church in town.

The church's sanctuary looks like a funeral home with red pews and a white piano (Brady's body is in a white casket at his service, and there are candles galore.) "Amazing Grace" is the prelude, played by an organist dressed in pink. Rev. Lowe says he was asked to "say a word of comfort if I could. If there is, it is that the time of the beast always passes." Nothing about hope or Jesus or heaven; those are strange words of comfort. He does refer to Scripture, but he doesn’t say where the verse is located. He says,  "The Bible tells us not to fear the terror that creepeth by night or flieth by noonday, and yet we do. We do. Because there’s so much we don’t know and we feel very small.” He doesn’t go on to give any reasons why we shouldn’t fear, such as we trust in an omniscient, omnipotent God. (By the way, the Scripture he’s referencing is Psalm 91:5.)

The film also takes us into the mind of the Reverend when he performs a funeral which ends in all of the townspeople turning into werewolves. I don’t know whether this was meant to throw us off track about who the werewolf is, but we find out shortly anyway.

Because on the next full moon night, Marty confronts the werewolf. Marty had been launching fireworks (a gift from his uncle) on an old bridge. The pyrotechnics attract the attention of the werewolf. Marty shoots a rocket into one of the werewolf's eyes as it approaches, and Marty is able to escape.

The next day, Marty and his sister go to town to see if they can find anyone who's lost an eye. At the church, Jane is shocked to find the Rev. Lowe sporting an eye patch. Jane is visibly shaken, and the Rev. says, “Jane, you’re trembling, would you like to lie down in the parlor? I could give you a soda or a ride. Give your best to your brother.” She’ll have none of it and rushes home.

Cory is sure that Reverend Lowe is the werewolf. He writes a letter suggesting the reverend should kill himself for the sake of the town. The Reverend is angered by the letter and spies on Marty from his car. When Marty goes out in his chair, the Reverend tries to run the boy off the road with his car.

They come to an old covered bridge, and Marty is trapped. The Reverend goes into a long villain monologue (found most commonly in James Bond films when arch criminals who have trapped 007 in their lairs). “I’m very sorry about this, Marty,” the Reverend begins, “I don’t know if you believe it’s true or not, but I would never willingly hurt a child.”

Marty pleads, “Please, I won’t tell anyone.”

The Reverend goes on, “You should have left me alone, Marty. I can’t kill myself. Our religion teaches us that suicide is the greatest sin a man or woman can commit. Stella was going to commit suicide and if she had done so, she would be burning in hell right now. By killing her, I took her physical life, but I saved her life eternal! You see how all things serve the will and mind of God. You see, you meddling little s**t! You’re going to have a terrible accident, you’re going to fall in the river.”

I don’t know what religion teaches suicide is the greatest sin, but it certainly isn’t Christianity. That can’t be found anywhere in Scripture. The Bible I read teaches that the blood of Jesus covers all our sins. Fortunately, Marty is saved from the Reverend by old man Zimmerman.

Marty tells the sheriff about the Reverend, and the sheriff agrees to check him out. But the werewolf kills the sheriff (and the Reverend claims this isn’t his fault.)

It all comes down to a confrontation between Marty's Uncle Red and the werewolf on Halloween night of 1976 --which happens to be a full moon. (Which is it was not. I looked it up and the moon was at 66% on Halloween of 1976.) They are able to kill the werewolf, which turns back into the Reverend.

Because the Rev. Lowe was less vile as a wolf than a human -- though perhaps a less efficient killer -- I’m giving him our lowest Movie Churches rating of One Steeple.

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