Timothy Hutton Doubles Down in this King Classic
Main Cast: Timothy Hutton and Amy Madigan
Director: George Romero
Full disclosure: I do not find George Romero to be the genius most other horror fans try to make him out to be. Personally I think he fell ass backwards into “creating” a sub-genre, and it’s a sub-genre I have little to no use for anyway (and besides, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead owe just as much to Tom Savini’s make-up effects for their popularity if you ask me–no teenager watched those movie marveling over the brilliant direction or the tight script; we wanted to see the living dead eat some people and Tom Savini made that happen), and Creepshow aside, I’ve yet to see anything from him I thought was all that great–I’m looking at you, Bruiser. BLECH!!!!
But I will always have a soft spot in my hear for the Stephen King story The Dark Half and, by default, that includes the movie written and directed by Romero, starring Timothy Hutton as Thad Beaumont, and his evil alter ego, George Stark.
I credit this novel, almost single handedly, for inspiring me to not only start reading–an activity I’ve done every single day since–but also for picking up a pen and trying my own hand at writing–a decision that has shaped every day of my life since. To me, this is a story I’ll always cherish and hold in high regard … even if I know it’s really not that great.
In King’s story, writer Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton, Taps) has recently been outed as the writer behind the popular Alexis Machine series of novels, credited to the pseudonym George Stark. To prevent his would-be blackmailer from making good his threat, Thad decides to out himself instead and put George Stark six figurative feet under.
The problem arises, however, when George Stark doesn’t want to die and uses the remains of an unborn twin Thad never knew about–which had been buried in Thad’s plot, where the publicity photos for George’s “funeral” had been staged–to enter the world and start taking his revenge on everyone who had a hand in killing him. The blackmailer is murdered, the photographer is murdered, the reporter who wrote the story revealing Thad’s secret to the world is murdered, and Thad’s New York literary agents are also on the hit list.
That’s bad news for everyone, but it’s even worse news for Thad: the police have him as the prime suspect because the assailant matches his description, and Thad’s fingerprints were found at two of the murder scenes.
Luckily local Castle Rock sheriff Alan Pangborn (Michael Rooker, “The Walking Dead”) knows the Beaumonts and doesn’t believe the usually mild-mannered Thad could be responsible for something like this. Then again, as the bodies pile up, the explanation Thad offers Alan is even less likely.
Thad just has to stay out of jail long enough to confront George and let fate decide which of them deserves to live. He’d better hurry, though, because not only is Alan closing in, but George doesn’t have much time either: his borrowed body is slowly rotting away. He’s on a time table just as much as Thad is, and when the two meet, it’s going to be a bloodbath.
Now the movie. I saw this movie in the theater when it was first released in 1993. I believe I took my mother to see it for Mother’s Day, and we were the only two people in the theater. We enjoyed it so much, we went back to see it again a couple of weeks later and were, again, the only two people in the theater. So I’m guessing most of the people reading this review haven’t seen the movie. That’s a shame because it’s a good movie with a complex plot, some excellent character moments, and one really good jump scare.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. At 122 minutes, it’s easily thirty minutes longer than necessary as Romero spends the first half hour revealing Thad’s secret and telling the story of George Stark’s death. So we’re already thirty minutes into this two hour movie before the first dead body shows up, and that may sound like good pacing to you, but considering how quickly the rest of them pop up, leaving all this extra space at the end that needs to be filled, the whole thing feels a bit uneven to me.
And, okay, so King wrote the original dialogue, and I haven’t read the book since 1991, so my memory of it is for crap, but I assume Romero was just adapting what King wrote when he did the script, but, man some of these lines are ROUGH. Yes, they totally read like Kingisms (especially George’s penchant for witty phrases, and the one cop who repeats the catchphrase “Ask momma if she believes this” twice in one scene–that is totally King), but it almost feels like Romero and the cast were both so disgusted with the dialogue they decided to deliver it in the worst manner possible, shining a bright, glaring light on how awkward and terrible it was. Or maybe it was a case of bad direction and weak acting that caused the lines to fall so flat. Either way, some parts of this movie were hard to make it through. Hutton as George had some really winners, but Amy Madigan (Field of Dreams) as Thad’s wife Liz didn’t do much better.
I did appreciate Romero’s attention to details, however. George is left-handed while Thad is right-handed, because one is the mirror image of the other. It seems like a minor thing, but it added to the movie and I’m glad they cared enough to include little things like that.
Keeping in mind this was 1993 (and originally made in 1991, then shelved for two years while the studio dealt with a bankruptcy), the make-up effects work very well, but the few times Romero resorted to CGI … 1991 CGI, that is … well, it doesn’t work as well as one would wish it did. And that’s to be expected, and can even be forgiven. But that doesn’t make it play any better in December 2015, believe me.
As a King adaptation, The Dark Half works really well in including enough of the original novel to make the story comprehensible–and is able to omit several details from the book that, while helpful in the grand scheme where time isn’t an issue, weren’t so important to simply telling the story–and could have even lost a bit more without any negative effects. As a standalone movie, it’s an effective horror movie with a decent cast and an interesting story, but it’s not going to be winning any awards. It’s about as dated as dated can be, and while I think it does stand up in 2015, it does so on very wobbly knees. For my money, I’ll take the book any day.
King on Film (1976-1992: Carrie, to Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice)
C. Dennis Moore is the author of over 60 published short stories and novellas in the speculative fiction genre. Most recent appearances were in the Dark Highlands 2, What Fears Become, Dead Bait 3 and Dark Highways anthologies. His novels are Revelations, and the Angel Hill stories, The Man in the Window, The Third Floor, The Ghosts of Mertland and The Flip. He is writing another Angel Hill novel called Return to Angel Hill with co-author David Bain.