The Dark Half Review
Solid chills and enjoyably intriguing
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Solid chills and enjoyably intriguing.
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