By the squirrels of autumn it’s Burl, here to give you a new film notice! Yes, we find ourselves once again in the company of the great Beardsman of Pittsburgh, the zombie maestro who brought us excellent films like Dawn of the Dead, along with some less excellent but still perfectly watchable works like Monkey Shines! It’s Mr. George A. Romero of whom I speak of course – ha ha, sadly I never met Mr. Romero, but I did once get to see him introduce a movie close to his heart, Powell and Pressburger’s Tales of Hoffman! One fails to discern the Archers’ influence on the picture under review today, however: The Dark Half!
It’s a Stephen King tale, based a little bit on his own life and how he was outed as the maniacal overachiever who wrote so many books that he had to publish some of them under the name Richard Bachman! (I read Thinner when it was still unknown that Bachman was King, and thought to myself “Boy, this guy sure writes a lot like Stephen King!”) Timothy Hutton from Turk 182 stars as the King stand-in, Thad Beaumont: here not a gargantua-selling horror novelist but one of those cartoonishly “serious” writers King features so often, and somewhat longingly, in his stories! And yet Beaumont has a sideline in writing punchy pulp novels under the name George Stark, featuring an amoral killer as a hero, and, after Stark is revealed to be Beaumont and Thad conducts a mock burial of the pseudonym, it’s this aspect of Thad that starts to make trouble!
Amy Madigan from Streets of Fire plays the wife who wonders what’s going on, and Michael Rooker from Cliffhanger is the cop-acquaintance who suspects Thad when the Stark persona corporealizes somehow and starts killing people in gross and violent ways! Ha ha, the parade of victims start with Robert Joy, whom Romero used again in Land of the Dead, and who plays a sleazy guy who tries to blackmail Thad about his double identity! The carnage continues with the magazine writer of the story, essayed by Kent Broadhurst who’d Kinged before in Silver Bullet; Thad’s literary agents, played by Rutanya Alda from The Stuff and Tom Mardirosian from Trading Places; and then some old geezer with a false leg! I feared for the lives of Julie Harris from The Haunting, playing Thad’s university colleague, and Royal Dano from The Right Stuff as the local gravedigger (named, of course, Digger), but needn’t have as it turns out!
Of course the premise is utterly goofy (though not the goofiest in King’s canon – ha ha, The Mangler, anybody?), but I don’t blame King, because after all the idea was designed for print, not film, and it’s much more palatable, not to mention thematically apt, on the page! Putting this concept in a movie significantly exposes the utter impossibility of it, and in response the cast all work extra hard to sell it! Rooker in particular expresses how he’d be more likely to believe the culprit was a ghost rather than a name that never was! Romero also treats the premise seriously, perhaps too much so; but now and again, as in some nice scenes early in the picture involving birds and brain operations, it pays off!
As King/Romero collaborations go, it’s no Creepshow, and Creepshow isn’t even all that great I guess! Don’t get me wrong, it’s a highly enjoyable omnibus horror picture, but it’s just no masterpiece! The Dark Half is a few rungs below that, though it has elements to recommend it: some strong autumn atmosphere (I’ll admit that I watched – or rewatched, since I first saw it in the theatre way back when – the picture this past October and am only getting around to reviewing it now, and the fall miasma struck a sweet chord at that time); nice photography from the most unlikely of cinematographers, Tony Pierce-Roberts, who usually shot highbrow British stuff like A Room With A View and Howard’s End; and a strong cast! It’s got some effective moments, but, like its antagonist, lacks the cohesion necessary to triumph! I give The Dark Half two black pencils, freshly sharpened!