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Silver Bullet (Blu-ray) (1985)
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Details At A Glance
Audio Commentary-with Director Daniel Attias
Featurette-Dino's Angel Takes on Lycanthropy
Isolated Musical Score-Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview
Featurette-The Wolf Within: An Interview with Everett McGill
Featurette-Full Moon Fever - Interviews with Special Effects Artists
Year Of Production
||Cast & Crew
NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.
Produced and released in the shadow of successful werewolf flicks like An American Werewolf in London and The Howling, 1985’s Silver Bullet represents an adaptation of the Stephen King novella (or “novelette,” according to the opening credits) “Cycle of the Werewolf.” King himself actually penned the screenplay, denoting the second of three occasions for which he adapted his own works for the big screen during the 1980s - Silver Bullet came a couple years after Cat’s Eye in 1983, and just before 1986’s Maximum Overdrive (for which King also made his directorial debut). Directed by Daniel Attias (who was fresh out of film school at the time), Silver Bullet has admittedly dated in a number of respects, but it has charm in spades and remains an entertaining watch thanks to its goofy sense of humour.
In the New England town of Tarker’s Mill, Maine, a sudden series of violent murders leaves the locals on edge. Unbeknownst to the townspeople, the “serial killer” is actually a werewolf who is capable of ripping its victims to shreds and cannot be killed through conventional methods. After venturing out at night to set off fireworks in his wheelchair-cum-motorcycle known as the “Silver Bullet,” paraplegic youth Marty Coslaw (Corey Haim) becomes convinced that a werewolf is killing the locals, but his suspicions are not shared by his sceptical sister Jane (Megan Follows) or their alcoholic uncle, Red (Gary Busey). With the townsfolk taking things into their own hands by assembling a vigilante justice group to the horror of Reverend Lowe (Everett McGill) and Sheriff Haller (Terry O'Quinn), Marty hopes to convince Jane and Red about the werewolf’s existence, and is determined to stop it before they become lunchmeat.
The slim 126-page “Cycle of the Werewolf” novella was episodic, but Silver Bullet disposes of such a structure, tying everything together by concentrating primarily on Marty and his family. In a way, the resulting movie feels like a slasher in which the killer happens to be a lycanthrope as opposed to a more generic psychotic, and there is a mystery at the centre of the story in regards to who the werewolf is. King weaves themes into the fabric of the narrative relating to small-town Americana, while the central characters are nursing wounds of some sort - Red is an alcoholic, Marty is disabled, and so on. In addition, the idea is introduced that the victims are sinners who go against God, deepening the beast’s motivation. The werewolf costume was designed by the legendary Carlo Rambaldi, who earned Oscars for his contributions to 1976’s King Kong remake, as well as Alien and E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. Despite the pedigree involved, the rubbery werewolf looks mediocre at best - we’ve seen more menacing beasts in motion pictures before and since. Still, many of the special effects have held up surprisingly well, particularly the transformation sequences and some of the gore effects. In one standout dream scene, all of the locals begin to turn into werewolves, which is a terrific showcase for the sterling special effects.
Deliberate or otherwise, there is a healthy sense of humour which runs throughout Silver Bullet to keep it compulsively watchable and frequently enjoyable. It’s doubtful that first-time viewers circa 2018 will necessarily find the picture scary, but there are a number of effective set-pieces scattered throughout nevertheless, with convincingly-executed graphic violence depicting each victim’s grisly demise. Attias actually intended the film to be rated PG-13 and play out more as a teen-friendly adventure, but super-producer Dino De Laurentiis kept pushing for more gore and violence to heighten the horror. Some have criticised this decision, but the R-rating gives Silver Bullet more bite and raises the stakes, making us believe that the characters really are in danger. This was actually Attias’ feature film debut (Phantasm director Don Coscarelli was originally attached before dropping out over the old “creative differences” chestnut), but the filmmaker never tackled another theatrical movie again (to date) - instead, he became a successful television director, helming episodes of The Sopranos, The Wire, Alias and many more. The original score by Jay Chattaway, meanwhile, is a real standout. The compositions do sound distinctively ’80s, but the score also carries plenty of flavour and accentuates the horror when necessary.
Busey sinks his teeth the role of Uncle Red, helping to heighten the movie’s sense of humour. Rather than slavishly sticking to the script, Busey actually improvised a fair bit (with King’s blessing) to terrific effect - particularly amusing is his exclamation of “Holy jumped-up bald-headed Jesus palomino!” Busey is the definite standout in this ensemble, chewing the scenery at every opportunity, and fans of the actor (yes, they exist) should seek this one out. Other note-worthy actors fill out the cast, including the always-reliable Everett McGill (1989’s Licence to Kill) as well as Corey Haim (The Lost Boys), and even Terry O’Quinn (perhaps best known for TV’s Lost). Although the performances may not be anything to write home about for the most part, they are effective enough. Silver Bullet is predictable to a certain degree, and the ending is overly pat after a noticeably brief climactic showdown, but the picture nevertheless has a distinct charm. It will appeal to those who enjoy ’80s horror movies like Fright Night and Evil Dead 2.
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Making its Blu-ray debut in Australia, Umbrella Entertainment present Silver Bullet in AVC-encoded 1080p high definition, framed at its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. According to Umbrella, the HD master was created from a scan of the original camera negative, which is certainly promising news for a cult movie that has been relegated to crummy VHS and DVD releases (including some pathetic panned and scanned copies) for many decades. Happily, the resulting transfer is pleasing and satisfying, though it does fall short of greatness. For whatever reason, Umbrella have chosen to make use of a single-layered BD-25 for the movie and all of the many extras, mastering the presentation with a pathetic average bitrate of 17.96 Mbps. Although there aren't any distracting compression artefacts like macroblocking or aliasing, the compression nevertheless takes its toll on what could have been a demo-worthy presentation.
Thankfully, this is an organic presentation from top to bottom. Grain is thankfully left in-tact, and therefore the transfer retains a pleasing level of fine detail. There is no evidence of digital noise reduction or edge enhancement, and there is a smattering of print damage throughout, which only makes the presentation look natural and serves to remind you that this is a 1980s horror flick shot on celluloid. Print damage is heavier in specific sections and shots, of course, with white specks and hairs cropping up intermittently. In addition, certain shots look soft, unfocused or overexposed (see a close-up at 41:24), which is probably traceable to the source (this is a modest-budgeted '80s horror movie) and comes with the territory. In close-ups, the transfer resolves textures aplenty, revealing every last detail on the faces of the leads, and allowing you to appreciate the werewolf costume with its thousands of individual hairs. The video looks sharp for the most part as well - you can count all the hairs on the werewolf. Colours are fine throughout, with a nicely-saturated palette in daylight sequences and more muted colours at night. Silver Bullet certainly carries the appearance of an '80s movie from a colour perspective - skin tones look accurate, blood is bright red, and night-time scenes look slightly blue.
Unfortunately, the compression does bring the presentation down a few notches. Most noticeably, the transfer does struggle with the grain - it looks fine and nicely-resolved in some moments, while in other shots it's seriously blocky and in need of more refinement. As a result, the presentation ultimately looks closer to a compressed stream on Netflix or Google Play, whereas a Blu-ray should be offering the best possible transfer. Of course, some of the shortcomings could be baked into the master, but a scan of the original camera negative usually yields stronger results in terms of refinement and grain. In addition, highlights and contrast can be hit-and-miss - the movie could certainly look better with High Dynamic Range and Wide Colour Gamut to boost the colours and create a better sense of depth. But this is just nitpicking. Considering how obscure and niche Silver Bullet has become over the years, it's miraculous that we have received a Blu-ray at all, let alone one which looks this good. Until another release comes along from the likes of Arrow or Shout! Factory, Umbrella's disc is the way to go.
English subtitles are available. As ever, it's clear that the subtitles were created from watching the movie rather than looking at a script, so there are errors ("garden snake" as "garter snake"), as well as minor sync issues, but the track is still appreciated.
Video Ratings Summary
The sole audio option on the disc (aside from the pair of audio commentaries) is a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 track, which is 24-bit and about as good as can be expected. Thankfully, the audio is stereo rather than mono, so even though this isn't a properly-mixed 5.1 track, the result is still appreciated - especially given that IMDb reports that the movie was originally mixed in mono. Although this isn't one of the best Blu-rays mixes I've ever heard, it's definitely strong given the movie's age and origins, and it's clear that the sound was remastered. Indeed, whereas Umbrella's release of Orca: The Killer Whale suffered from an array of pops, clicking, and grating sibilance issues, Silver Bullet is smooth sailing across the board. I did not detect anything in the way of source-related problems or encoding anomalies - no drop-outs, sync issues, hissing, or anything else.
Despite only being a 2.0 track, prioritisation throughout the movie is never problematic. Dialogue is easy to hear and comprehend for the most part, and the lossless encoding ensures that everything comes through with maximum possible clarity (though it is slightly limited by the recording equipment of the time). The encoding does justice to Chattaway's standout score, which is never held back by peaking or muffling; it's impactful and crystal clear. Environmental atmospherics are impressive, thanks to the way the movie was originally mixed. When a group of citizens grab weapons and go hunting through the forest at night, ambience is consistent - you can hear frogs, birds and other bugs. Meanwhile, in scenes set outside, you can hear birds chirping. Of course, there is no deliberate surround placement or panning effects, but that's to be expected from a 2.0 track. Sound effects, meanwhile, carry plenty of impact thanks to smart subwoofer use, from the engine sounds of Marty's "Silver Bullet" wheelchair to the roars of the werewolf. The climactic showdown in particular is unnerving as hell thanks to the hard-hitting sound mix.
Silver Bullet sounds just fine on Blu-ray, with an aggressive and impactful audio track that never left me feeling underwhelmed.
Audio Ratings Summary
|Surround Channel Use|
Umbrella collaborated with Red Shirt Pictures to produce an impressive array of supplemental material currently exclusive to this release. In keeping with Umbrella's recent releases, the main menu features clips from the movie. Also, for any potential overseas buyers, rest assured that this disc is region free.
Audio Commentary with Director Daniel Attias Moderated by documentary filmmaker Michael Felsher from Red Shirt Pictures, this is a feature-length audio commentary with director Daniel Attias. The entire commentary boils down to Felsher asking Attias a number of questions and follow-up questions about the production, endeavouring to get as many tidbits out of the director as possible. Attias speaks about getting into filmmaking, working with Dino De Laurentiis, becoming attached to Silver Bullet, the familial dynamics of the story, casting Gary Busey, the narrative, the special effects, the level of gore, stunts, and lots more.
Dino's Angel Takes on Lycanthropy: Martha De Laurentiis Remembers Silver Bullet (HD; 25:34) Evidently filmed at the same time as her brief interview for Umbrella's Orca: The Killer Whale Blu-ray, this is an fascinating enough segment with Dino De Laurentiis's wife Martha. She talks about first working with Dino, the fact that he made 5-6 movies per year, recruiting director Daniel Attias for Silver Bullet, and lots more. This was not produced by Red Shirt Pictures - Umbrella actually created this extra themselves. Unfortunately, the difference in style and quality is apparent - this extra is static, devoid of music, and title cards reveal questions. Still, there is some good information in here.
Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with Composer Jay Chattaway Michael Felsher returns for this special feature, sitting down with composer Jay Chattaway to ask about his career, his interest in music, and his contributions towards Silver Bullet. Chattaway still vividly remembers working on Silver Bullet, and has a lot of production anecdotes to impart. The conversation is brisk and fast-moving, without any dead space or struggles to find things to speak about. The actual commentary finishes a bit before the 40-minute mark, after which there is a selection of music composed by Chattaway which subsequently plays over the movie (though it's not scene-specific). The song "Joyride" is even one of the selected tracks. Note that the isolated score selections finish at the 70-minute mark, after which the regular movie audio cuts in for the remainder of the runtime (in lossy Dolby Digital). Perhaps a full scene-specific isolated score track as well as a separate interview featurette with Chattaway might have been better, but this is still a worthwhile inclusion.
The Wolf Within: An Interview with Everett McGill (HD; 16:16) Created by Red Shirt Pictures, this is a slick and enjoyable interview featurette with McGill, who speaks about a variety of things relating to Silver Bullet. McGill discusses Dino De Laurentiis, getting involved in Silver Bullet, eventually agreeing to get into the werewolf costume (and the issues therein), the movie's themes, and working with director Dan Attias, on top of speaking about several members of the cast. Backed by snippets of Chattaway's memorable score, and containing cutaways to stills and film clips to enhance what McGill is saying, this is a very worthwhile extra.
Full Moon Fever - Interviews with Special Effects Artists Michael McCracken, Jr. and Matthew Mungle (HD; 21:04) Another interview featurette created by Red Shirt Pictures, this lengthy segment sees Matthew Mungle and Michael McCraken Jr. (who worked on the movie with his father) discussing the special effects of Silver Bullet in great detail. The two men still have clear memories of working on the movie, going over how certain things were accomplished - including the impressive transformation scene at the end. It's nice to get yet another perspective on the movie, making this another great addition to the disc.
Theatrical Trailer (HD; 1:17) This feels more like a teaser trailer than a theatrical trailer. Anyway, this is a nice inclusion.
TV Spot (HD; 00:31) Encoded in high definition but taken from a rough VHS source, this is a TV spot from 1985 which is nice to have from a historical perspective.
Radio Spot (HD; 00:39) A suitably cheesy radio spot from 1985.
Image Gallery (HD; 6:20) Over seventy film stills, behind-the-scenes photos, promotional images, posters and video covers fill out this gallery, which plays out as a slideshow complete with music, but you can use the chapter skip buttons to advance if you wish. This is a worthwhile way to round out the package.
R4 vs R1
NOTE: To view
non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually
also NTSC compatible.
According to information available online, the German Blu-ray from Koch Media contains an archival audio commentary that's not included on this disc, but it misses out on Umbrella's newly-produced extras. In addition, the German disc makes use of the same video master and reportedly has a higher bitrate, though differences are negligible looking at screenshot comparisons. I'd have to watch the disc to provide any comparison. Avid fans will want to own both, but Umbrella's disc wins.
An effective and enjoyable Stephen King adaptation, Silver Bullet deserves its minor cult status.
Fans can rejoice, for this is the Blu-ray that you've been waiting for. While not flawless, the Blu-ray presentation is perfectly adequate despite noticeable compression. Nevertheless, Umbrella have really stepped up their game in terms of special features, commissioning a brand new selection of interviews and commentaries, on top of compiling archival material. It's just about everything that a Silver Bullet fan could want (short of a Gary Busey interview), making this an easy recommendation.
© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Monday, February 26, 2018
|DVD||LG UP970 4K UHD HDR Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output|
This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver.
This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
|Amplification||Samsung Series 7 HT-J7750W|
|Speakers||Samsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up|