Marking George A. Romero's second Stephen King-based film after 1982's CREEPSHOW, THE DARK HALF proves him every bit as capable of adapting King's darker horrors as the author's ghoulishly comic side. It's an uncommonly mature and intelligent chiller, particularly in a period when the
genre has devolved into wisecracking fiends and empty special effects showcases.
Timothy Hutton stars as Thad Beaumont, a writer who, as a young child, had the remains of an unborn twin surgically removed from his brain, an event accompanied by a swarming of sparrows around the hospital. In the present day, Thad's books are winning rave reviews but negligible sales, and he
is supplementing his income by teaching courses at a local college. After one class, he is approached by Fred Clawson (Robert Joy), who has uncovered Thad's identity as George Stark, the pseudonym Thad's been using to write bestselling, violent thrillers. Clawson tries to blackmail him by
threatening to reveal this secret, but instead Thad decides to "bury" Stark, arranging for a mock funeral where he and his wife Liz (Amy Madigan) are photographed in front of "Stark's" tombstone for People magazine.
Soon thereafter, however, "Stark's" grave is found disturbed, as if the earth had been dug up from underground, with a series of footprints leading away. Stark has, in fact, taken on a life of his own, and the black-clad killer (also played by Hutton) soon murders a truck driver. He then sets
out to kill everyone involved in his own "death," including Clawson and Thad's agent, Miriam Cowley (Rutanya Alda). Thad's fingerprints are found at the scenes of the crimes, but Castle Rock Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Michael Rooker), a friend of Thad's, refuses to believe he's responsible and doesn't
arrest him. Stark's trail of murder continues, and soon he calls Thad, telling him that he's physically deteriorating and that Thad must write a new "George Stark" novel to allow him to regenerate his body.
Seeking help, Thad goes to his college associate Reggie Delesseps (Julie Harris), who tells him he must confront his evil alter ego, and also informs him that the sparrows that have been flocking about him are psychopomps, spirit conduits between the land of the living and the dead. As Pangborn,
faced with overwhelming evidence of Thad's guilt, prepares to arrest him, Stark kidnaps Liz and their twin babies and spirits them to the Beaumonts' remote country home in a final attempt to force Thad to write the new book. Thad follows them there, confronts Stark--who is now literally falling
apart--and agrees to begin the work. But Thad breaks free from Stark's evil influence and during the ensuing struggle thousands of sparrows swarm to attack Stark, bursting into the house and ripping his body to pieces before carrying his spirit off to the netherworld.
In the years since concluding his gory zombie trilogy with 1985's DAY OF THE DEAD, Romero has demonstrated an admirable proclivity toward psychological horror. His underappreciated 1988 film MONKEY SHINES was an absorbing exploration of the animal within us all, and THE DARK HALF continues the
preoccupation with what can happen if one's dark side takes on its own identity and gets out of control. Sadly, like his previous film, THE DARK HALF apparently fell victim to its own intellectual aspirations. It flopped at the box office, a year after the slick but surface-level King-based films
SLEEPWALKERS and THE LAWNMOWER MAN were financial hits. That's a shame, since not only does THE DARK HALF contain plenty of genuine scares and gruesome scenes, it's also one of the few good King films, every bit the equal of THE DEAD ZONE, MISERY and STAND BY ME.
Romero's script is a perfect distillation of King's novel, retaining all the important elements and events and jettisoning superfluous material. The story proceeds logically and inexorably, with a refreshing lack of gimmicks and an attention to characterization. The people in this movie behave
realistically for a change, particularly the sheriff, who, as solidly portrayed by Rooker, convincingly balances his friendship with Thad against the hard evidence that this man seems to be committing brutal murders. For his part, Hutton does a terrific job bringing both Thad and Stark to life and
making them distinctive, eliciting sympathy for the beleaguered writer and lending his brutal doppelganger a palpable sense of menace. Romero gives the actor his due during the duo's climactic showdown; instead of tricking the film up with fancy effects of the two sharing screen space, Romero
allows Hutton's acting to make the scenes work.
The supernatural business with the sparrows could have played as silly and unbelievable in a movie with such a realistic approach, but Romero avoids that trap through sparing use of exposition and maintains an air of mystery about the massing birds. As the character who must explain their
importance, Harris (whose character was male in the book) is a welcome presence, adding just the right touch of eccentricity. The climactic bird attack is believably presented through a combination of live animals and optical effects, matching and possibly outdoing anything Hitchcock achieved in
THE BIRDS. Indeed, Romero is starting to appear to be a successor to Hitchcock, crafting intelligent stories of ordinary people in dire peril and lacing them with dark wit. If only audiences would respond with similar enthusiasm. (Graphic violence, adult situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: R
- Review: Marking George A. Romero's second Stephen King-based film after 1982's CREEPSHOW, THE DARK HALF proves him every bit as capable of adapting King's darker horrors as the author's ghoulishly comic side. It's an uncommonly mature and intelligent chiller, part… (more)