THE DARK HALF (1993) Reviews and overview

   

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‘Serious writer or serial killer. Thad Beaumont is in two minds.’

The Dark Half is a 1991 [released 1993] American horror feature film adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name directed by George A. Romero. The movie stars Timothy Hutton as Thad Beaumont and George Stark, Amy Madigan as Liz Beaumont, Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer; The Walking Dead) as Sheriff Alan Pangborn and Royal Dano in his final film.

The film was shot from October 1990 until March 1991 and was in release limbo for two years due to Orion Pictures’ bleak financial situation. It eventually saw release in April 1993, taking in just over $10 million domestically.

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Review:

The Dark Half was a late return to the world of Stephen King for George Romero after their early 1980s collaborative plans mostly fell apart. The story takes inspiration from King’s years writing as ‘Richard Bachmann’.

Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) is a serious novelist with a secret – he also write wildly successful violent pulp crime novels as ‘George Stark’. When his secret is threatened with exposure, he decides to publicly out himself and kill off Stark. The problem is, Stark doesn’t want to stay dead, and soon all those involved in his ‘death’ – Beaumont’s agents, the journalist who wrote the story – are being killed off.

There’s an interesting idea at the heart of The Dark Half, but Romero can’t seem to decide quite what it is (I haven’t read King’s novel so I don’t know if he handles the problem with any more success). The opening of the film reveals that Beaumont had a partially-absorbed twin that was surgically removed when he was a child, but this is no Basket Case – the twin was never more than a twitching eyeball and some organs. So it’s never quite clear who or what Stark is – a supernatural force come to life, a part of Beaumont or a split personality.

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Actually, the film rules the latter out as it goes on, even though it would be the best (albeit most cliched) solution, and so Stark remains a bit of an irritating, thinly-defined mystery for most of the film, as do the plague of sparrows – yes, sparrows – that are connected to him.

Romero handles the film with efficiency but gives it no style – cut a couple of gory scenes and the swearing, and this could be another of the slew of King TV mini-series (at two hours long, it’s not even far short of their length), which we might argue is the natural home for King’s often bloated work.

It’s not a terrible film by any means, but there’s nothing here that suggests more than a jobbing effort all round, Hutton’s performance excepted – he clearly has fun switching from the bland Beaumont to the sleazy Stark, all slicked back hair and one-liners (the best moment of the film: a neighbour opens the door during an attack from Stark. Neighbour: “what’s going on here?”. Stark: “Murder. Want some?”. Neighbour quickly closes the door.)

The rest of the cast are bland at best (Michael Rooker seems especially wasted as a sympathetic cop), and the film doesn’t so much end as fizzle out after a display of dreadful CGI, with much of it feeling like padding. Romero seems to be going through the motions, frankly, with no individual flair or style being apparent – this could have been directed by Mick Garris and it would’ve looked the same. The result is an inoffensive but ultimately forgettable horror movie.

David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA

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Other reviews:

“While there’s little doubt that most Stephen King fans will enjoy this film, it’s unclear whether there’s enough in The Dark Half to attract a wider audience. An effort has been made to keep the picture from collapsing into a grade-B slasher flick, but there are still copious quantities of blood and gore. While this isn’t a complete comeback for screen adaptations of King’s work, it’s a worthwhile step.” Reel Views

“At first glance it would seem an unlikely turn for Romero, given its lack of any social commentary. Much like he did in Martin, Romero instead delivers a commentary on the human condition, and the piece fits him like a glove.” Death Ensemble

The Dark Half is certainly not a bad film but much of the exposition seems directed by Romero in a plain and visually uninteresting manner. The story needs more obsessiveness – it never fully gets inside Timothy Hutton’s boyish looks to show him being haunted by his doppelganger. Although, once the George Stark character emerges on screen in the latter part of the film, things pick up and Romero builds to an impressive climax.” Moria

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TIMOTHY HUTTON

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