Saturday, October 09, 2010
THE DARK HALF (1993)
The other night I rewatched George Romero’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel THE DARK HALF again for the first time in years. I first caught it in its brief theatrical run in 1993 and really liked it then but I’ve been surprised to note that the general consensus seems to be that it’s terrible. This perception of the movie was reinforced recently when I was listening to a couple of podcasters discuss King adaptations and bad mouth THE DARK HALF while praising PET SEMATARY (1989). I only finally caught up with PET SEMATARY about a year ago but I can tell you plainly that it sucks. Its dull, flatly directed, indifferently cast (save for one role), over obvious and at several points it’s rather stupid. To prefer that film to THE DARK HALF is to invite charges (from me, at least) of being completely blind.
THE DARK HALF is a beautiful shot, expertly directed & edited, well paced and brilliantly acted terror tale that taps into a host of adult fears. The horror of having the darker side of your creative nature manifest itself and demand to be paid heed is an amazing idea and although King is far from the first writer to play with it his take (filtered through Romero’s script) is fascinating. By making the two half’s fight for the single life they are afforded a physical confrontation of dark and light played out over the creative act of writing itself the movie literalizes the battle every one feels when faced with a deadline and a blank page. But beyond that idea the film is just a joy to watch as the story unfolds. This was made when Romero was at the height of his power as a director and his surefooted choices in every single scene are amazing to see. There were several times I backed the movie up to watch a particular sequence again just to marvel at how perfectly he chose his camera placement to best communicate what needs to be known. His framing is fantastic throughout and I think he must have loved working with such a strong cast capable of taking advantage of the uniformly great dialog.
Timothy Hutton has always been a good actor so it’s no surprise that he brings great depth and nuance to the central dual role. Romero is able to use tight close-ups of Hutton to get across a host of emotions that a lesser actor would have had to brush past to get the job done. He’s always believably real as Thad Beaumont (nice nod to one of my favorite writers Charles Beaumont) and also believably scary and threatening as his vicious, razor wielding alter ego George Stark. Amy Madigan as Thad’s wife is very good as well even though I found it strange that she sports a hairstyle and seems to have been dressed in a way that makes her look a bit like Romero’s wife Christine who shows up in a brief role. Interesting choice George- identify with your central character much? Michael Rooker as the local sheriff and friend of the family tasked with protecting the Beaumonts and their twin sons (another nice touch) is very good in a role that could have been one note. Smartly, Romero gives Rooker’s character a few scenes of his home life as well to provide context for what he sees as the best way to do his job.
And have I mentioned the fact that the movie was filmed in the fall? Oh my goodness is this the perfect time of year to watch this movie! Colorful leaves being blown along the ground, bare tree limbs stretching to the sky like skeletal hands grasping at the dark clouds overhead, jackets and sweaters worn to ward off the visible chill in the air- its gorgeous and I long for a high definition version of this film to better appreciate the lovely autumnal color scheme. This is a great movie and one ripe for rediscovery.
I have to admit, though, that rediscovery of THE DARK HALF is not made easy by the rather indifferent DVD available from MGM. Issued years ago the movie is presented full frame and has clearly not been remastered with much care. After a few minutes I realized that the image was meant to be cropped to roughly a 1.85:1 aspect ratio so I blew the image up on my TV screen to those dimensions and found the film was framed perfectly and played much better without the extraneous material at the top and bottom. This is a great movie and deserves a new DVD or even a Blu-Ray release – if Romero and King could be convinced to sit down for a commentary track I’d be thrilled as well. This film was the second of their collaborations and although I love the EC Comic’s inspired CREEPSHOW a lot, this is the one that best blends their two separate styles of storytelling in a way that creates something stronger than they might have made apart. Its certainly one of the best horror adaptations Mr. King has ever been afforded and deserves much more respect than it receives.