THE DARK HALF (1993) – The Dungeon Review!
I hungrily devoured horror fiction in my pre-teens but my love for horror fiction started to dwindle in my late teen years. I have read very little horror fiction in my adult life and I could count on my hands how much I’ve read in the last ten years. Odd I suppose considering my lifelong addiction to horror films. I bring this up simply because my recollection of the writing of Stephen King is a distant memory for me. I am in no position to compare a film adaptation to the original material where Mr. King’s literature is concerned. One thing I do know however is there have been a shitload of films made based on the writing of Stephen King; and they have been a mixed bag as far as quality is concerned. From the awful Cujo to the brilliant The Shining (evidently much maligned by the author) you never know what the hell you are going to get when you watch a flick based on the work of Stephen King. This brings me to The Dark Half. I am not sure I ever read The Dark Half but I figured I was in pretty good hands with the great George A. Romero on board to direct.
The film opens in 1968 with a young Thad Beaumont, already an aspiring writer but plagued by severe headaches. As the headaches are coming on Thad hears the sound of birds and the severe headaches eventually become crippling for the child. Doctors are forced to perform surgery and discover a tumor which has pieces (including a huge eyeball and a tooth) from an unborn twin. Immediately after removing the tumor the sky above the hospital is darkened with a tremendous amount of sparrows. We are transported 23 years later and meet Thad as an adult. Thad is a professor who is happily married to Liz and the father of twins Wendy and William. At the end of a class he is approached by a man introducing himself as Fred Clawson. Clawson has discovered that Thad Beaumont is the writer behind a popular series of violent crime books penned under the name of George Stark. He attempts to blackmail Thad who reluctantly decides to go to the press himself and bury his pseudonym once and for all. Thad’s publisher arranges an interview at his Castle Rock retreat with People magazine. People’s photographer even sets up a fake tombstone for George Stark with the simple line below the name “Not A Very Nice Guy”. The symbolic act of burying George Stark has real consequences as those who helped make it happen begin dropping like flies.
The Dark Half’s opening sequences is fantastic and very creepy. It was an intriguing start to the film. There is a great sense of foreboding even through the lighter moments shared with Thad and his family. Clearly Thad is torn about parting with his dark half and not just for financial reasons. Liz comments to Thad that he was like Jekyll and Hyde when he was writing as George Stark and would sometimes say cruel things. Thad replies that it was all him even the ugliness. I have managed to say quite a bit about its story without mentioning that it is in fact a supernatural tale. The People magazine photographer who is beaten to death with his prosthetic leg is the first body to turn up. Thad is instantly suspect as his fingerprints are all over the place. Sheriff Alan Pangborn shows up at the Beaumont’s home but does not arrest Thad despite the fact that every clue leads to him. Is Thad schizophrenic? Does he have an evil twin? Is there a crazed Stark fan running amok? They make it clear mid film who, or more accurately what, the menace is. Thad has materialized George Stark through sheer will and he is an actual walking, talking entity. Stark is none too happy about being killed off either.
Timothy Hutton plays both Thad Beaumont and George Stark. In the dark from a distance you could easily mistake George for Thad. On closer inspection they do a decent job of changing Hutton’s face. As Stark they make Hutton look harder, older, poorly shaven and slick back his hair. Stark has a Southern drawl, wears black from head to toe and drives a cool black Oldsmobile Toronado with the words “High Toned Son of a Bitch” stenciled on the back. Initially George commits crimes when Thad can not account for his whereabouts but eventually he gives up on that idea. Stark eventually commits crimes that Thad could not have possibly been in attendance for. I guess it is not in George’s best interest to see Thad go to prison. What George really wants is to be brought back from the dead in book form. Thad shares his theory that he has actually materialized his pseudonym with Sheriff Pangborn. Thad even suggests who the next victims will be but Pangborn needless to say thinks he is out of his freaking mind. I mean honestly, the whole thing is pretty crazy. It seemed a little premature to give up the Stark thing mid-film.
The acting is quite good across the board. Amy Madigan plays Thad’s supportive wife Liz and is likable and has good chemistry with Timothy Hutton. As Thad, Hutton is brooding but kind; although he does have a temper which he is constantly trying to keep in check but slips now and again. Hutton gets to have some fun playing his dark half George, who unlike Thad, never keeps his anger in check and has not given up drinking and smoking. Rooker is a good guy here as Sheriff Pangborn and is likable enough but still elicits respect. Julie Harris has a minor role as an expert in the occult who helps Thad work through some of his shit. Really I have no complaints about any of the acting in the film even the minor roles. The Dark Half has a significant body count; Stark stabs and slashes a significant amount of people before the finale. There is some blood but it is not terribly graphic. The use of computer generated sparrows was pretty neat, as was Thad’s spooky dream sequence. The visuals are quite decent. The Beaumont’s Castle Rock retreat was something else. I had a dream after watching The Dark Half that I had a sliding bookshelf door like Thad had in his writing room.
The Dark Half has a great start and an intriguing build up but there are ideas introduced that aren’t followed through and some of the action felt a bit redundant. The acting is good, the effects are decent and there are some nice moments of horror. The Dark Half is flawed but I can’t say it wasn’t entertaining.
Dungeon Rating: 3.5/5
Directed By: George A. Romero
Starring: Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan, Michael Rooker, Julie Harris, Robert Joy, Kent Broadhurst, Beth Grant, Rutanya Alda, Tom Mardirosian, Larry John Meyers, Patrick Brannan, Royal Dano, Glenn Colerider, Sarah Parker, Elizabeth Parker