Movie Review: The Dark Half

Posted: August 24, 2010 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , ,

You know, we’ve seen us some dull title cards on this blog, but this one takes the cake. It was a nice cake too.

The Dark Half (1993 Orion Pictures Dir. George A. Romero)

This is not one of the better-loved Stephen King books, so I suppose it’s natural that the movie wouldn’t be that beloved either. Hell, I had to order a copy from England just to get a proper widescreen edition. Part of the problem was that the movie sort of flopped when it came out, which it did nearly two years after it was made, due to Orion’s death throws. The release of this movie could almost be considered a final death spasm, and as such, it wasn’t enthusiastically promoted or even properly funded. All this means that not many people saw the movie, however one cannot simply blame that as people who have seen the movie aren’t that impressed by it. This makes it much like the book, which is one of my favorites, but they can’t all be The Stand or IT now can they? Still, let us clear those things from our mind and try to focus on this movie. How does it stack up against the book or other King movies? Well, let’s see…

Looks like someone is just waiting for the day he can be Archie Goodwin.

The movie was shot between October of 1990 and March of 1991 in Pennsylvania with a script written by Romero himself. There is a slight problem for me since Pennsylvania isn’t Maine and doesn’t really look like Maine. I always take issue with a movie that’s shot in one place while trying to pretend it’s somewhere else. Toronto doesn’t look like New York City, and yet so many movies try to convince us that they look alike. One movie even tried to convince us that Alaska above the Arctic Circle looks just like Vancouver. In terms of distance that would be like trying to pass of Miami, Florida for Chicago, Illinois. However, we’re not as far off as all that in this movie, and to a great extent it doesn’t matter, which is sort of my point. If you want to shoot in Pennsylvania, why not just set the movie there? Nothing about the story absolutely screams Maine, it could happen just about anywhere. Maybe people really wanted another Castle Rock movie and at the time they didn’t know that Needful Things would come out five months after this. Of course considering how lousy that movie was, The Dark Half is definitely the best Stephen King Movie of 1993 if you consider The Tommyknockers to be a TV Mini Series and thus unable to be counted. Yeah, it’s not looking good for this movie, is it?

I feel a very saucy idea coming on.

The story is about Thad Beaumont, a writer and college professor who is in no way shape or form based on Stephen King. Thad had found fortune, if not fame, through the pen name of George Stark, which is not in anyway based on Richard Bachman. Well, no, King admits that the main inspiration for this book was his unmasking of Bachman and while not acknowledged, I think a big part was of the story was about King putting an end to his drinking and drug days. The book contains a great deal of metaphor dealing with addiction and duality of nature. The movie is less metaphorical and symbolic, opting instead for pulpy murder and horrific thrills. The movie even goes so far as to explain things only hinted at in the book and to make Stark a bit more like a classic monster rather than an extension of an idea. This doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it a bit different and slightly more simplistic.

Tru Dat Bro!

While the backstory of book is told partially in flashback, the movie tells the story in a straightforward chronological fashion. Instead of being told about Thad being blackmailed and having that be the reason to kill Stark, instead it’s made a part of the movie proper. Like the book, the movie starts with 12-year-old Thad having a parasitic twin removed from his brain. More is made of this in the movie than the book though, as the tumor is not just made to be the genesis of Stark’s personality but rather the physical being of Stark as a whole. While the book states the pieces of the removed twin were simply destroyed, in the movie we’re told that the tumor was buried and that the plot where it was buried is the place where George Stark explodes from. So as a result, George is now something that always had physical presence, rather than an unexplained force, whose nature we’re never quite sure of. In a way, it’s nice to have an explanation, but in another way, it’s nice to always wonder just what exactly Stark was.

Hey friends and neighbors, I think I found the catch phrase for this book.

I don’t want to sit here just comparing the book, (which I just read) to the movie (which I just watched) and use that as a sorry excuse for a movie review. There is a change that is thoroughly baffling to me though. If you remember Creepshow, and why shouldn’t you, you’ll remember a story called The Crate. That story has a character named Henry Northrup, played by Hal Holbrook. This is important because Henry Northrup only appears in one other story that I know of, and that’s The Dark Half. Yet, Henry is not in the movie. He’s replaced by a female professor played by Julie Harris. Since both movies are directed by Romero, one can only speculate as to why Holbrook didn’t reprise the role. It just strikes me as odd is all. Of course, since I don’t think any reoccurring character has ever been played by the same actor in all of Stephen King’s adaptations, I suppose it doesn’t matter.

The old man learned the horror of being in a King story as his pants were suddenly filled with demonic egg salad.

But never mind all that extraneous stuff, lets get down to the meat and potatoes of the matter. Does this movie work? What works, what doesn’t work and is it an effective piece of filmmaking? Well, yeah, the movie mostly works for me. About 75% of the time the movie is pretty good. The ending is a little rushed, and a few bits stand out as needing improvement, but over all it’s a good movie. It’s got some spooks, some creeps and a pretty good amount of blood, but it also has some serious flaws. About halfway though the movie, you start to wonder if this has suddenly turned into a slasher picture, as Stark kills four people in quick and bloody succession. Having Timothy Hutton play both Thad and Stark works pretty well, but you’re left wishing that they’d gone with the book where the two looked different from each other. Twins tales where one actor plays both parts always have a problem with veracity. Or do I want to use verisimilitude there? Point is, not everything works, but part of that is the source material and part of that is the way they adapted it. Some things that work only work for me, at least I suspect as much. Parts of the movie have a cheap, B-Movie feel to them, which is fine since those parts are fairly b-picture material anyway. George Stark walked out of a crime novel after all, before stepping into this horror story.

Best bumper sticker ever.

If you like the book The Dark Half, you’ll probably like the movie well enough. It’s got some good visuals, there are some really creepy moments, and it balances the reality and unreality of the story fairly well. The ending is sort of abrupt, and that makes it work less well, since you’re very much left wondering what the human outcome will be after the supernatural part of the story has been taken care of. In that way, it’s sort of disappointing, since the movie has no follow up at all, just the sparrows vanishing into the same vortex that swallowed American Pride Flight 29 and then the credits. There is no resolution of the human element, which I will always find sort of annoying and probably led to the movie being less than successful. Still, it works when it works, it just really fails when it doesn’t work. Not the best King adaptation out there, but far from the worst. Give it a look, it probably won’t change your life but it also won’t cut any of your fingers off and make you eat them. So… you know… there’s that.

That George, he’ll put a zombie in even when it’s not a zombie movie.

Official Score: 32 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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