The Dark Half Blu-ray Review
One of the better King adaptations and, sadly, one of the last genuinely good films that Romero has made
What is it?
Thaddeus Beaumont’s highbrow books don’t sell. So he creates a volatile alter-ego called George Stark to pen fast and nasty pulp thrillers that do.And life is good for the Beaumonts . But when some enterprising blackmailer threatens to blow the lid off his literary subterfuge, Thad elects to kill off his vicious-minded fictional doppelganger in a public display to his fans, and come clean about Stark’s origins. However, Stark has other ideas. Although he never lived in the first place … he doesn’t want to die either. And pretty soon people close to Thad are getting carved-up, and the author’s fingerprints are all over what’s left. As the bodycount grows and Thad is ever more incriminated, he realises that somehow he has brought his dark half into reality, and that he, alone, can stop the slaughter.The Dark Half saw the terror-titan double-act of George Romero and Stephen King reteaming for the first time since Creepshow 2, with the king of the zombies adapting the super-scribe’s bestseller for the screen. Timothy Hutton may have been incredibly difficult to work with on-set, but his dual performance as Thad and the violently unhinged Stark is tremendous. Romero directs with an autumnal chill, but keeps the gore in check. A gallows sense of humour runs through the story, and a concerted effort is made to create a monstrous new genre icon out of the Elvis-groomed, cut-throat razor-wielding Stark. Christopher Young, as usual, provides a wonderfully haunting score.
Solid chills and enjoyably intriguing.
Blu-ray Picture QualityThe Dark Half is presented on US region A-locked Blu-ray by Scream Factory, right alongside George Romero’s adaptation of Monkey Shines.
It is exhibited 1.78:1 and via AVC. And, much like Monkey Shines, which was made the year before but did an impressive disappearing act, it looks rough, earthy and dated, with a tendency to languish in dull greys and browns. The transition to hi-def is hardly revelatory, with the image determinedly refusing to scintillate, although there is no doubting there are gains made on what we have seen previously on home video. But don’t go expecting miracles. Romero’s films (barring Land of the Dead) have a tendency to look grubby and drained, the only real splashes of vitality reserved for the usual bloodletting which, in this case, may be more restrained, but still appreciably icky.
The source that Scream is working from is pretty robust. There are no major pops or scratches, hardly anything noteworthy in the fleck department.
Another plus is that the transfer isn’t let down by edge enhancement and there is little to no evidence of DNR. Grain is present and even if it avoids being coarse, it can still veer into spikes at times, especially during optical FX shots. Contrast is not startlingly adroit, with the palette being so desiccated and autumnal, but it is consistent and makes no errors along the way. The rustic sheen to the image is intentional with the only real variance being in the neon-stippled city scenes, which are actually limited to just the interiors of apartments and offices. Shadows aren’t compromised, with some nice deep blacks to add some atmospheric depth.
Detail throughout is none too shabby, although the image is never one that seems to scream high-definition
Skin tones are grubby yet pale, although perfectly reflective of the environs and the time of the year. Some location shots are actually terrific. The gliding camerawork of Tony Pearce Roberts is able to create some wonderful compositions, particularly of the spectral trees framing the Thad’s summer retreat. The grisly bits, such as the surgery to remove Thad’s tumour-twin and the various slicing ‘n’ dicing that occurs have a more realistic slant than the usually comic-book overtones that Romero employs. One particularly gruesome bit towards the end is definitely showcased far better than ever before, with lots of splashy colour amid the chaotic swirl of sparrows, and some finer detail exhibited in the wounding they inflict. Primaries are well saturated and bright, but they do not leap from the screen. Reds, especially in clothing seen around the campus grounds, are nicely presented, providing a rich contrast to the cooler surroundings.
Detail throughout is none too shabby, although the image is never one that seems to scream high-definition. This said, close-ups are revealing and props and paraphernalia – pencils, text and scrawled jottings, phones and pictures etc – refuse to melt away. The low-rent CG looked terrible back then ... and this transfer doesn’t improve things one iota. It still looks terrible.
I don’t doubt that this could look better again with a full restoration, but I feel the improvements made would still not be all that significant. Drab was what Romero intended ... and drab is what you get.
Still, Scream’s transfer delivers this faithfully and with great accuracy.
Blu-ray Sound QualityScream provide two audio options for The Dark Half – DTS-HD MA 2.0 and 5.1. Neither is spectacular. The soundfield may be opened-up with the surround mix, but it is really only Christopher Young’s that benefits ... which is reason enough to go with that track, as far as I’m concerned. Beautiful, delicate and eerie, it has shades of his Hellraiser scores and the melancholic lyricism that he would bring to likes of Fly II and many other horror outings.
Voices hardly carry, although it is always cool to listen to George Stark’s southern insinuations, abuse and threats. Dialogue, therefore, is consistently handled and certainly clear enough, but lacks any spark and can seem quite flat. There are some voices that emanate from unseen speakers and this can be quite effective and disembodied. The track is clean and without any hiss or distortion. There is some detail in the squawking of the sparrows, which plays a large and integral part of the story, and a reasonable sense of their movement across the environment, but this really isn’t a soundmix that has much complexity.
This might not be a powerhouse soundtrack, but there is a lot going on within itThere are razor-slicings, gunshots, shattering glass and bodily mayhem as vulnerable flesh meets unyielding surfaces. This violence is unlikely to disturb the neighbours, however. But the mix does a workmanlike job of presenting these more intensive moments with suitable impact. The sub won’t break into a sweat though. Little things like footsteps, flicking through files and books, and the tinkling of the overhead lamp as Stark’s foot knocks into it are nicely observed. A porcelain vase ruptures and a china mask crumbles, and the mix is able to provide some fine clinical detail for such elements.
This might not be a powerhouse soundtrack, but there is a lot going on within it, and the audio mixes here, both the stereo and the 5.1, are able to showcase both the bigger effects and the subtleties with assuredness and clarity.
Blu-ray ExtrasScream have provided some fine supplements here. Clearly worked on alongside Monkey Shines, the same pattern appears.
There is a commentary with Gory George and a fine half-hour retrospective with all the main players. Both are candid and entertaining and neither shies away from the elements of the production that were difficult, or just didn’t work out as well as intended.
We also have some Deleted Scenes and an Alternate Ending, though, these wouldn’t have altered the overall story to any great degree. The ending was always going to be a problem, although I have to say this original conclusion would have given Michael Rooker’s character more final relevance to a cohesive climax.
There is behind the scenes footage and a quick look at the special effects. Storyboards can be examined for the film’s original ending. Vintage interviews and the original EPK help to pad things out even further, as well as the obligatory (and, to be honest, mostly ignored) stills gallery, TV spot and Trailer.
VerdictThe voracious and demonic side to obsessive creativity is laid bare and literally given life in The Dark Half, which attempts to dissect the psychological pressure an artist can unwittingly subject their own sanity to, as well as the fall-out that can affect those closest to them. But Romero never forgets that this is still a chillingly entertaining romp, fertile with the supernatural, and he keeps things blackly amusing throughout.
The Dark Half has a fantastic premise whose tense momentum is pleasingly offset with a quirky sense of humour emanating mainly from the scabrous character and homicidal antics of Stark. Whilst hardly a conventional looking monster, the transformation that Timothy Hutton undergoes to portray Thad’s sinister alter-ego is surprisingly effective, yet subtle. We know it is him, but the differences are unsettling.Yet Romero, who provides an, otherwise, strong narrative, drops the ball during the finale. It is not so much the subpar CG that lets the side down, but the strange combination of being too slow and lacklustre and yet still feeling all too abrupt. As much as I like the film, I feel the way the conclusion is handled, budgetary concerns notwithstanding, damages it. Story resolution and a proper emotional payoff are, thus, cruelly curtailed.
Scream delivers the goodies with customary aplomb
Amy Madigan provides fine support as Thad’s beleaguered wife but the ever-grizzled Michael Rooker wrestles with an atypical good guy role, and despite considerable screen-time as Thad’s conflicted friend and the local sheriff investigating the killings, isn’t given an appropriate enough arc to elevate the character from rote.
Scream delivers the goodies with customary aplomb. The transfer seems faithful to me and the extras provide terrific insight into the production. Romero airs his views and the cast and crew get to reminisce in what is a frank and genuinely honest look back at a film that was, ultimately, badly treated by the ailing Orion.
In spite of a desultory finale, The Dark Half is actually one of the better King adaptations and, sadly, one of the last genuinely good films that Romero has made. The“ Dead” reclaimed him, but nobody really benefitted, I’m sorry to say.
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