Signet • 1985 • 116 pages (screenplay only) • With eight pages of movie photos!
A Screenplay Critique
Reading a screenplay – and writing about it – is always a tricky thing, especially if you’ve seen the finished celluloid product. It’s hard enough to separate the “movie version” of a novel from the source text; it’s nearly impossible with a screenplay. When the words have already been made into images (in this case, eight pages of dramatic movie photos accompany the book), trying to see these characters in any way other than the way they ended up is an exercise in futility. And maybe that’s not even the point.
Silver Bullet is one of those very interesting side-journeys Stephen King has made in his long and varied career. (It’s almost to the point where the alternate avenues comprise more of his writing than the straightforward publishing process.) In 1983, King published Cycle of the Werewolf, originally meant to be a “story calendar,” a concept devised by Chris Zavisa, of Land of Enchantment press. The story grew out of the constrictions (and the tale behind this tale is one of the more interesting segments of Silver Bullet; I hold that nearly all of King’s forewords and afterwords to his published work are invariably worth the price of the book. “The Importance of Being Bachman,” the afterword to Different Seasons, “Straight Up Midnight”: by themselves worth the admission) and the calendar became an illustrated novella published alone.
It might have stayed that way if not for legendary movie producer Dino DeLaurentiis, who was in the habit of asking King if he had any new property he wouldn’t mind being turned into a film. King relates this story in the foreword, as well – it’s a terrific foreword – and soon enough, King was drafted to spin a screenplay out of Cycle of the Werewolf. Its new title? Silver Bullet.
The book made from that screenplay is an anomaly. To date, King has published only two full-length screenplays (Storm of the Century being the other, though he has published shorter screen works in the past: “The General,” the source text of the third segment of Cat’s Eye appeared in the anthology Screamplays; “Sorry, Right Number” is included in King’s own collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes.), even though there are eleven produced from King’s screenplays (all helpfully listed at the front of each of King’s books.) This is sort of a shame; as one has been able to watch and read the progression of King as a novelist, it would be interesting to be witness to his growth as a screenwriter. It would also be cool to see if something that didn’t particularly work onscreen – like Maximum Overdrive – came off better on the page, like the novels usually do.
As it stands, we only have Silver Bullet (which was published in a full-on deluxe trade paperback package including the new foreword, the full text and illustrations of Cycle of the Werewolf, the screenplay, and of course those eight pages of dramatic movie photos) and Storm of the Century on which to base our opinions on King as a screenwriter. The verdict? He’s gotten better with time.
It’s not that Silver Bullet is a bad screenplay, not at all. It’s just that it seems remarkably ... thin. And yes, so was the book, but in the screenplay, there are flourishes of character detail – like Marty watching the other kids running and playing, knowing he can’t – that smack of King’s usual writing, and leave the reader wanting more. Though he found it hard to keep within the 500-word limit when he was actively trying to stay within the bounds of the calendar arrangement, he seems to have reigned himself in here. Perhaps that’s also the point – a screenplay is not a novel, and you just don’t have the space or time to develop characters or subplots or really anything but the main thrust of the story. It’s frustrating at times, because I kept finding myself wanting to see more. (Example: the barbarous yet close and touching relationship between Marty and his sister Jane got a little more fleshed out in the screenplay than in the novella ... but there still didn’t seem to be enough.)
There were some interesting changes the other way, too, from the screenplay to the movie screen. Uncle Al becomes Uncle Red when played by Gary Busey. In the screenplay, the werewolf actually talks (and sometimes sings!) The voice-over effect doesn’t play well on the page, but it worked very well on screen. Some other bits of dialogue worked better spoken aloud, as well, especially that scene where Jane says, “Blue ... this blue.”
All in all, Silver Bullet is worth having. It’s harder to find now; Cycle of the Werewolf itself is still in print, but Silver Bullet is not. I picked up my copy in a used bookstore in California way back in the early 90’s and I haven’t seen a copy since. It’s not a bad little work, just a little spare – especially in comparison with King’s more layered fiction. The illuminating foreword, however, is justification for Silver Bullet’s existence, and as it hasn’t been reprinted elsewhere, it is reason enough by itself to own the book.