The Dark Half

Synopsis: Masters of horror Stephen King (The Shinning) and George A. Romero (Night Of The Living Dead) have created a “gripping, creepy, frightening” (L.A. Reader) film that thrills, shocks and works us over” (Los Angeles Times)! Featuring an “intelligent screenplay and first-rate cast” (The New York Times), including Oscar winner Timothy Hutton, The Dark Half will keep you captivated to the chilling end.

Horror writer Thad Beaumont (Hutton) hopes to distance himself from his murder novels and from George Stark, the name he has used to anonymously author them. To achieve this, he cooks up a murder of his own: a publicity stunt that should lay Stark to rest forever. But when the people around him are found gruesomely slain – and his own fingerprints dot the crime scenes – Beaumont is dumbfounded until he learns that Stark has taken on life of his own…and begun a gruesome quest for vengeance!
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The Dark Half 8.0

Really, George Romero simply can’t get a break. Even when pairing himself with the legendary Stephen King, he can’t draw the masses out to come see his movies. Admittedly, he mostly makes films in the horror and/or thriller genres, but I have to wonder why it is that he’s never had a box office hit yet – he is, after all, the Grandmaster of the zombie film, having created the critically acclaimed and massively influential ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and ‘Dawn of the Dead’ films.

And yet, despite his impact on pop culture, he’s still scrounging for a real hit.

The closest thing to a hit was waaaaaaaay back in 1982, when he first collaborated with Stephen King for the ‘Creepshow’ anthology film. It wasn’t a massive hit, but at least it turned a meagre profit. The sequel, which he co-wrote with King but didn’t direct, also made its money back. I don’t know that any of his other films have, despite offering a variety of original material – much of which is stronger than ‘Creepshow’ ever was.

Which takes me to ‘The Dark Half’.

The novel was one of my favourite King books. By the time it came out, I had read most of his works and I placed it at the top along with ‘Firestarter’ and ‘Thinner’. So I was incredibly pleased when a film adaptation came out, and was relieved to find out that it was true to the original (as we all know, Stephen King films are not always of the highest calibre – in fact, a large bunch are straight-to-video or TV productions). But Romero had worked with King before, was a fan (and, apparently, a friend), and was accomplished enough a screenwriter to do the story justice.

For one of those rare times in his career, Romero got the chance to work with a decent budget. He also got himself a respectable cast – something that hasn’t always been possible. For starters, he got his hands on Tim Matheson, who does a relatively credible job (even if he’s not especially great). He also got Michael Rooker to provide a surprisingly under-stated performance (compared to his standard yelling and menacing turns); I was rather impressed with the thoughtful, empathic policeman he portrayed.

Romero’s casting choices have always been intriguing, if not bold. He was ahead of his time in making an African-American a leading man and has always chosen actors and/or created roles that would have been frowned upon in Hollywood. In ‘The Dark Half, Romero makes a statement by casting a woman who doesn’t fit in the traditional Hollywood “tall and slender” mould as Matheson’s spouse; even if his films are fantastical, he eschews fantasy casting for reality – something that, to me, deserves respect.

What matters most, of course, is that ‘The Dark Half’ is an entertaining piece. It has a great concept (in a last attempt at survival, a writer’s dark nom de plume comes back from the dead to terrorize those who’ve ‘retired’ him), the pacing is good and there is enough eeriness to unsettle the viewer – without being especially violent or gory. It also injects small bits of corny humour along the way (but not enough so that it turns the proceedings into a circus – it’s sparsely spread throughout).

So, over 15 years after first seeing it, I think that ‘The Dark Half’ holds up reasonably well. It’s a product of ‘90s filmmaking, certainly, but, unlike many of its peers, it hasn’t aged too badly. Rooted in a solid story by King and a faithful script by Romero, the film manages to provide us with a cohesive and genuinely intense turn of events. It’s likely that it will get a few repeat performances in my home in the next few years. Deservedly so.

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