Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Cycle of the Werewolf/Silver Bullet

I'm always a little confused about where the line is drawn between short story and novella. I'm sure there are page counts that publishers use to differentiate between them, but all I can say is that Cycle of the Werewolf certainly feels more like a short story to me. It was originally born as a story to go along with a calendar that featured illustrations by Bernie Wrightson. King wrote a short vignette for each month of the year. King being King, he found those very limiting and eventually expanded the story and it was published along with Wrightson's illustrations. But it's still only about a hundred pages and very brief.

The story features the town of Tarker's Mill being plagued by a werewolf. Some months are written about the victims the werewolf attacks and others about the people in the town and how they feel about this problem, and a couple more about the man who is the werewolf and his perspective on the situation. It's all very brief so you have to kind of fill in the details yourself, but King still manages to paint some vivid characters in a brief amount of time. Probably the most striking for me was the victim of February, a Miss Lonely Hearts type who wants so badly to not be alone on Valentine's Day that she embraces the werewolf as he attacks her. I also appreciate that even in such a short amount of space, King provides us with some hints early on who the werewolf is and reveals it nicely toward the end.

This story had to be expanded upon in order to make a film, and King himself wrote the screenplay for Silver Bullet. Names for some of the main characters change, and minor characters are very different from the ones in the novella. It's pretty clear that King saw this as a chance to build a slightly different, more fleshed out story than what he had been forced to do with the calendar set up, and I think that's a large part of why we end up with the different name. Much like Maximum Overdrive and "Trucks," King often does this for a reason.

The core of the story remains the same - it's the town preacher who has become the werewolf, and it's a boy in a wheelchair that figures out his secret. I particularly like the idea of the preacher as the werewolf, as it causes him to really question his morals and what he should do about the situation. It's handled better in the novella than in the film, mostly because we get more inside Reverend Lowe's head and find out how he justifies the things he does. He also spends two months only attacking animals, so it's clear there that he is struggling with his problem and only eventually succumbs to the wolf inside him over time. In the film, it seems like the wolf overtakes him much faster.

Marty is a fairly blank slate lead, sympathetic because of his disability but otherwise a fairly bland character, particularly in the film. I suppose the idea is for a kid to imagine themselves in the same position. The problem is I don't really feel for him, and Corey Haim's bland performance in the film doesn't really help. King also gives Marty's sister a bigger role in the film, even making her the narrator for certain scenes, but it doesn't really help. I imagine that making her the narrator was supposed to create some mystery as to whether or not Marty survived the ordeal, because otherwise it feels unnecessary.

Despite the bland child actors there are some decent performances here, particularly Gary Busey as Uncle Red. Terry O'Quinn, Everett McGill, and Kent Broadhurst also give good performances. But the film is hindered by weak direction and absolutely terrible special effects. This was apparently a very troubled production with director Don Coscarelli leaving in the middle and Daniel Attias taking his place. There was also some disagreement between King and producer Dino DeLaurentiis on the way the creature would look, and I'm afraid what we get and what King wanted just don't really work for me at all. The transformation scenes in particular look really poor to me, and the werewolf just a little too cute and fuzzy. Ultimately, I just found the movie really dry and unmoving.

Obviously I can't really recommend the film, and I'm a little hesitant on recommending the novella too. It's a decent short story and the illustrations by Wrightson are great, but the paperback has a pretty steep price tag for the little you get. But if you can find this at the library or perhaps cheap used, then by all means check it out.


  1. The larger paperback also containing the screenplay is actually a bit easier to track down, and I’m always seeing it on the shelf at the local Half-Price.

    I agree. The story never really comes together in the book, and the film never really comes together as an adaptation. Am I the only one who kept wondering if the sister narrating things was supposed to be a To Kill a Mockingbird reference? Because there’s otherwise no real similarity between those stories.

    Oh, and I think the distinction between novella and short story was defined by publishers when specific page counts were more an issue. I think it was also largely defined by the scifi community when they were doing those split “two in one” books, with two novellas too short to print on their own, but just long enough to pair together.

    1. I definitely figured it was a publisher decision, it just seems kind of arbitrary particularly with some of the King stories I’ve been going through.


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