HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY FROM STEPHEN KING!
((THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS))
Deciding what image to use for this week’s blog post was rough. I dimly recall seeing Silver Bullet, the movie adaptation of Cycle of the Werewolf, years ago. When I viewed the trailer for Silver Bullet, I was thrilled to see that Gary Busey plays Uncle Al, young Marty has a rocket-powered wheelchair and the werewolf is played by a guy in a rubber suit. However, in honor of Valentine’s Day I decided to use an image from my vintage 1983 copy of Cycle of the Werewolf.
A publishing experiment/gimmick set in Tarker’s Mills, Maine, Cycle of the Werewolf is an illustrated novella consisting of twelve vignettes, one for each month of the year. Every month we learn about the weather in Tarker’s Mills, because what else do people in small towns have to talk about? We also learn who – if anyone – the Beast will kill. Yes, there’s a werewolf loose in Maine!
The deaths are vintage horror dreck, Stephen King style. Young Brady flies his kite too high, and is found headless and disemboweled. Constable Neary dies in his cruiser with a bottle of Busch beer nestled against his crotch. King tells us that Constable Neary is a Busch Man because such details make or break a story. Also, the Reverend Lowe has a nightmare/wet dream wherein he and everyone in his congregation transform into a werewolf. Gosh, I wonder who the werewolf could be?
Our hero is Marty Coslaw, a ten-year old in a wheelchair. Marty’s father says things like rootie-patootie and diddly-damn, which is a great way of identifying a person through dialogue. I myself don’t know any human being who speaks that way, but I’ve lived a sheltered life in New Jersey, so who knows? Marty’s Uncle Al should be locked up. Marty himself is a stone-cold killer.
Marty meets the werewolf on the Fourth of July, when he’s out shooting fireworks. Marty has fireworks because his Uncle Al gives them to him, telling his nephew to go ahead and set them off during the night of the full moon, when the killer has been rampaging. Marty shoots one of the werewolf’s eyes out with a firecracker, which proves those things are dangerous. Boy and Wolf Man meet again on New Year’s Eve, and this time Marty blows the werewolf’s brains out with a pair of silver bullets. Gee, I wonder who gave him the bullets?
Cycle of the Werewolf is pedestrian Stephen King. It’s not rock-bottom Stephen King, but it’s not good either. The art is one of the novella’s high points; comic book veteran Berni Wrightson draws a great werewolf. Mr. King and Mr. Wrightson also collaborated on the comic adaptation of Creepshow. I mention this because I believe Cycle of the Werewolf would have made a great graphic novel, but the publishing industry hadn’t perfected the format yet.
King addresses the biggest inconsistency of Cycle of the Werewolf in the afterword. Yes, the Master of Horror tells us, I know the moon cycles don’t match up. Deal with it. To be fair, this novella contains about a million other inconsistencies. My favorite is the werewolf’s eyes, which start out yellow and then turn green. Interestingly, Mr. Wrightson always draws the werewolf’s eyes as green. Logic and consistency aren’t this novella’s strong point. Neither is character development. Neither is the prose. Mr. King did his life-in-a-small-town shtick better in Salem’s Lot, and if you want to read about a monster terrorizing a small town try IT.
My favorite part of Cycle of the Werewolf is the art. I also liked the descriptive sequence of Marty hauling himself out of bed. That scene was well-done, because it required actual research on King’s part. One could view King’s werewolf as a metaphor for drug addiction; the Reverend sounds suspiciously like an addict as this novella lurches to a close, and at the time Mr. King was struggling with drug addiction. Who knows? Bottom line: if you want cheesy Z-budget horror, watch Silver Bullet. It’s way more entertaining.