The Dark Half
the dark half | george a. romero | timothy hutton | amy madigan | michael rooker | based on | novel | stephen king | dr. jekyll and mr. hyde | mystery | thriller | united states | julie harris | robert joy | beth grant | rutanya alda | christine forrest | david early
Film: The Dark Half
Director: George A. Romero
Writer: George A. Romero
Starring: Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan and Michael Rooker
This was a film that I’m pretty sure I read the book long before seeing the movie. What is interesting here is that I completely forgot this is another Stephen King adaptation that was helmed by George A. Romero. He’s probably my favorite director and if memory serves now that it clicked, I do believe this is one of the movies that kind of soured him with working in Hollywood. I think I only saw this one once in college and haven’t given it a rewatch since. The synopsis is a writer’s fictional alter ego wants to take over his life…at any price.
We start this in 1968. There’s Thad Beaumont (Patrick Brannan) who wants to be a writer. He’s using Black Beauty pencils to write. He has to stop though when he gets a terrible headache. His mother Shayla (Beth Grant) takes him to the doctor and he thinks there could be something more. After he collapses they do surgery to find that he had a twin that he absorbed while in the womb. It is now growing though where in the brain they find an eye that is opening and closing along with part of a nose and teeth. They remove this from his brain and the hospital is attacked by sparrows.
Then we shift into what was the present of the time the movie was made. Thad is grown up to be a writer played by Timothy Hutton. He is married to Liz (Amy Madigan) and they have twin children. His wife is reading a new book he wrote and she thinks it is amazing. Thad is a teacher at a local college where he encounters Fred Clawson (Robert Joy). He has figured out that Thad wrote pretty graphic books under the name George Stark. Fred is trying to blackmail him into keeping his secret.
Thad discusses what to do and she comes up with the idea to just go ahead and reveal this information themselves. He discusses it with his agent, Rick Cowley (Tom Mardirosian) and his ex-wife Miriam (Rutanya Alda). They agree with his decision. This is going to be made into a publicity stunt with Mike Donaldson (Kent Broadhurst) writing an article and Homer Gamache (Glenn Colerider) taking photos. The last one they do is setting up a fake grave in Homeland cemetery that says ‘George Stark’ on it.
Something dark happens though. Thad goes to New York to make the talk show circuit of his reveal. Back in Castle Rock, Homer is attacked by someone and they kill him. The person steals his truck. Thad has a nightmare that night and when he returns home, Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Michael Rooker) pays him a visit with two state troopers. He’s the prime suspect as his fingerprints in the truck match to Thad and the description is similar. Thad has an alibi and they turn over to the police that Fred could be doing this, being upset about his payday falling through. We get to see though that whomever is doing this pays him a visit and kills him, writing ‘The Sparrows are Flying’ on the wall in blood. During this attack, Thad goes into a trance and writes this same phrase on a paper.
There’s a dark and interesting reveal as to who is actually doing these killings that is rooted in the supernatural. Alan is trying to give Thad the benefit of the doubt, as the truth is too wild to believe, but it seems that George Stark has come to life and wants to take over Thad’s life.
It is fitting that I’ve been watching different versions of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde stories as this really does seem like King giving his take on it. What makes this interesting though is that this isn’t a version of it, but really more of him going through his own demons. Since I’m a massive fan, I knew that he wrote novels back in the day under the name of Richard Bachmann. This was due to publishing laws from what I remember, but there are quite a few similarities to his life to Thad. He was a struggling author when many of these were published. King had a drinking problem, much like Thad and kicked the habit where when Thad was writing as Stark he would take the bad traits back on. King did a ceremonious ‘eulogy’ when he gave up Bachmann. What this movie and book do though is bring up the scary concept, what if your dark side manifested into a real person.
Thad seems to will Stark into existence, but I like the concept of the twin being assimilated. Thad technically is the stronger of the two. It is a subtle nod to the fact that Thad and Liz have twins. I know that twins tend to have higher rates of having twins themselves, so it is cool to show that like they do. Thad though created this persona of Stark who doesn’t have any of his shortcomings and just does what he wants. The reason I like this though, despite everything Thad is slightly envious. There can only be one of them as they two parts of the same soul, which harkens back to Jekyll/Hyde concept.
We also get some interesting supernatural aspects on top of this. We get an interesting reveal later in the movie when Thad learns of his surgery and the ‘tumor’ he had removed. The movie also introduces the lore that sparrows conduct the souls from the world of the living to the world of the dead. Thad also made Stark seem so real, that he felt like they ‘wrote’ together when he was doing those stories and created all of these character traits. When they do the ‘fake’ funeral for him, that breaths life into this entity he has to deal with. On top of that, Stark at first is getting revenge for those that kind of wronged Thad, since he can’t do it for himself.
As I said earlier, I completely forgot this was directed by Romero. It is interesting as I feel this is an underrated film from him, but it also doesn’t have that feel that many of his do. That’s not to say it is boring though, that’s not the case. It doesn’t really have the social commentary or his flair to it. It feels like a director for hire and feels like he is bringing King’s book to life. The only flair I noticed is some of the effects and some of the secondary actors are those I know of as a fan of his.
That will take me to the acting, which I think is pretty good. Hutton does well as playing these two characters. I think we get some prosthetics to make Thad and Stark look different. Aside from that, Thad is clumsy, but a good man, where Stark is bad and does whatever he wants. I think the performance is solid. There’s a good cast around him as well. I thought Madigan did well as his wife. I really liked Rooker as Alan Pangborn, a character many actors take on and all seem to put their own spin on. It works for me though him wanting to give Thad the benefit of the doubt, but as the evidence piles up, his hands become tied and he’s forced to do his job. I liked Harris, Joy, Grant, Alda and the cameos by Romero’s then wife Christine Forrest as Trudy Wiggins, a nanny, David Early as a cop and John Amplas who was Thad/Starks’s body double. I also think an uncredited roll was Romero’s son George Cameron Romero as well.
The last thing I want to go over would be the effects. For the most part, they were done practical and I’m really glad for that. The wounds on Stark’s face as he rots were good. They were gross and it looked quite real. I also like what happens at the end with the birds. There was some CGI with them at times that I wasn’t the biggest fan of. It really didn’t feel like Romero to me and that’s probably due to the fact he had more of a budget to work with actually.
Now with that said, I’m really glad that I gave this a rewatch. It isn’t my favorite Romero film or King adaptation, but that’s not to say it is bad. It is a different take on the Jekyll/Hyde story and I like the parallels to King’s own life. I think Hutton is fine as the lead and he has a really good supporting cast around him. I like the practical effects and really the only thing that didn’t work for me was some of the CGI with the birds. Despite the 2 hour runtime, I was never bored which is good. The soundtrack didn’t really stand out to me and again, doesn’t feel like something Romero have much of a hand in. Overall I would say this is a good movie and one that I probably should revisit a bit more than I do.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10