A handful of Stephen King adaptations from the 1990s are quite good – The Shawshank Redemption and Misery remains classics. Despite its lack of impact, Needful Things is also much better than its reputation suggests. Not surprisingly, there’s a few dreadful cinematic works based on King’s work from the flannel decade. Graveyard Shift, The Lawnmower Man, and Sleepwalkers – we’re looking at you. But there were also some middling results. Following the outing of his own pseudonym Richard Bachman, King wrote the successful The Dark Half. Just a few years later, George A. Romero adapted the novel into proved to be a pretty lackluster effort both critically and at the box office.
Author Thad Beaumont’s works have always been a little too highbrow to sell many copies. But the seedy, violent novels Beaumont writes under his pseudonym, George Stark, are crowd pleasers. When someone tries to extort Beaumont in exchange for keeping his secret, Thad sees it as an opportunity to finally ditch his alter-ego. He even goes so far as to stage a mock funeral for Stark. Yet somehow George Stark become a living and breathing physical entity intent on revenge against the man who purged him.
The Dark Half Can’t Quite Invest Its Premise With Genuine Scares
At the heart of Stephen King’s novel – and George A. Romero’s adaptation – is an intriguing hook. On one hand, Romero teases out what is a mostly compelling psychological study of the character, Thad Beaumont. Much of what works in The Dark Half is Beaumont’s exploration of how George Stark wasn’t just a fictional creation. That is, Romero delves into how each of us hides a dark side that creeps out in unexpected ways. For Thad Beaumont, George Stark and his nasty works allowed the more cerebral writer to express dark urges he may be comfortable acknowledging as his own. King’s idea of that dark side inevitably taking a physical form should be the perfect fuel for a horror movie.
At just over two hours, The Dark Half feels sluggishly paced, which is exacerbated by the lack of of atmosphere.
Nevertheless, Romero can’t translate the premise into a genuinely scary movie. At just over two hours, The Dark Half feels sluggishly paced, which is exacerbated by the lack of of atmosphere. While there’s sporadic spread out over this runtime, The Dark Half isn’t a consistently scary horror movie either. In particular, a finale with such personal stakes should feel tense, but Romero just isn’t able to invest any urgency into the scene. Moreover, the thriller’s attempt to honor King’s use of sparrows exceeds the grasp of the available effects. And in spite of his history pushing boundaries, Romero doesn’t push the envelope nearly enough even though we’re repeatedly told George Stark ‘isn’t a very nice guy’.
The Dark Half Finds Timothy Hutton Enjoying His Own Dark Half
Yes, there’s an interesting idea behind The Dark Half’s narrative. However, the mechanics of the premise are left woefully underdeveloped. Neither King’s novel nor Romero’s screenplay articulate much of a reason as to how Thad’s excised fraternal twin later becomes the physical embodiment of the fictional George Stark. There’s Julie Harris’ (The Haunting) playing a college colleague of Thad whose sole purpose in the movies is to at least try and offer some expository dialogue. To say it’s an underwhelming explanation would be an understatement. In addition, clunky dialogue just makes the problem worse. King’s dialogue works well on the written page, but it rarely translates well to the big screen. And Romero leaves most of that dialogue intact.
Maybe Hutton was chomping at the bit to play against type because he’s clearly having a blast playing George Stark.
Arguably, Timothy Hutton’s (The Temp) performance proves to be the thriller’s highlight. Anyone familiar with Hutton’s work won’t be surprised at how well he embodies the earnest Thad Beaumont. Maybe Hutton was chomping at the bit to play against type because he’s clearly having a blast playing George Stark. Watching Hutton’s polar opposite characters play off of one another gives The Dark Half its best moments. As the local town sheriff, Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead, Fantasy Island, Brightburn) also plays against type in what’s an oddly subdued role. Too bad Amy Madigan (The Hunt) has little to do for most of the movie.
The Dark Half Wastes An Interesting Premise on Bland Thrills
Who would have thought that the combination of George A. Romero and Stephen King could result in such a forgettable horror movie. Certainly, The Dark Half boasts a unique premise – and one that would have been deeply personal to King himself. Moreover, Timothy Hutton acquits himself quite well in a dual role, particularly as the wicked George Stark. But that’s where the positives come to an end. Romero fails to generate much atmosphere or suspense. And there’s a lack of scares alongside a story that’s too vague on details. Though we’re told George Stark ‘isn’t a nice guy’ – and he does his share of killing – he’s rather tame as compared to what you’ll find in other movies.
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