Once upon a time (I can’t find the original post), I reviewed the 2004 miniseries version of Salem’s Lot, starring Rob Lowe. The miniseries was pretty good, and was able to successfully tell a horror story in about 3 hours – when by comparison most horror films tend to work better in the 90 minute range. So, I was looking forward to checking out The Dark Half, as it was adapted by legendary director George Romero, and with several actors who I’ve come to really enjoy – Timothy Hutton and Michael Rooker.
As with much of Stephen King’s work, The Dark Half focuses on a writer – in this case Thad Beaumont, who lives in the area of Castle Rock, Maine. Thad is working as an English professor while also writing various literary novels. Earlier in his career, when he was smoking and off the wagon, he’d written a bunch of potboiler novels under the pen name of George Stark. After a fan of the Stark novels shows up in his class and threatens to blackmail him over his Stark pen name, Thad decides to go public and “bury” the Stark pen name, doing an interview with People Magazine, along with a photo shoot with his family and a mock funeral for the pen name.
Except George Stark doesn’t want to die, and comes back – with a physical form resembling the author’s photos and author’s bio, and goes to seek revenge on those who were responsible for his “death”, and to make sure he can’t be killed again. Meanwhile Thad is having recurring headaches that he hadn’t had since he was a kid, and has been hearing the sound of sparrows.
Even casual fans of King and his work will probably recognize that The Dark Half is playing off the duality of King and his earlier pen-name of Richard Bachman (I’m slightly surprised that he never used some variation on Turner as a second pen name), both in terms of the tone of the books of the counterparts and in terms of where King was in his life at the time he wrote the earlier Bachman books.
Because the story is so heavily based around dual personalities of the same person, it means that there is a great deal of importance on the actor who plays Beaumont and Stark. In this case, Timothy Hutton plays the dual role, and does a great job of getting across how completely different Stark and Beaumont are, with a great combination of performance and costume – Beaumont is very laid back and casual in his attire, while Stark is much more tailored with his shoes shined and his hair slicked back. Beaumont feels more human, while Stark is more clearly an image and a character, something that you can get across on the page, but which comes across more clearly on the screen.
Also, considering that this is Romero’s second time doing a major motion picture, and once again working through Orion pictures, there’s a strong enough sense of coherence here that I get the impression that Romero had a much better experience with the studio – though Orion’s bankruptcy would mean that this was his last film with the studio.
The film is also shot and light incredibly well – lighting is incredibly vital when it comes to making horror films work, especially ones with a bit of a sense of mystery. Tony Pierce-Roberts in particular does a great job at presenting some really atmospheric lighting in this film.
In all, while I admit I’ve only really seen 2 King adaptations – namely The Shining and and the 2000s adaptation of Salem’s Lot – it’s a very well done horror story and definitely worth your attention.