The Dark Half has never exactly had the greatest of reputations. On the scale of George Romero films that no one really gives a fuck about it ranks well above Bruiser but below Survival Of The Dead.
After watching The Dark Half I can’t help but feel that this is at least just a bit unfair. I wouldn’t go so far as to call The Dark Half a lost gem or anything. It certainly is a flawed film. But it is not without merit and it certainly doesn’t deserve to be dismissed as completely as it has.
Of course The Dark Half has never exactly been what you would call a beloved Stephen King novel. Not bad certainly, but not great. It’s the kind of book you shelve next to The Tommyknockers and oh I don’t know- Insomnia. Not bad not great, just one of the books that King puts out so he can be sure he has a book out every year. The kind you devour and then struggle to remember any specific detail about when you pick up the next one a year later. The Dark Half is notable for it’s unusually dark ending and not much else.
Not that it doesn’t have a good hook though, Thad Beaumont is an unsuccessful literary writer who happens to run a cottage industry publishing hardcore pulp novel’s written by “George Stark”. Thad Beaumont also had an ingrown twin removed from his skull when he was ten. I leave it to you to piece together whether those two events are connected.
When a fan finds out what Beaumont is up to and tries to blackmail him, Beaumont decides to “kill” the pseudonym rather than pay up. You get three guesses to figure out how well that goes and the first two don’t count.
For the most part this is pretty effective. Hitchcock’s Wrong Man syndrome is always going to be effective on a very primal level unless the filmmaker is incredibly incompetent, which Romero is not. The film actually has more in common with the likes of Season Of The Witch and Martin than it does the Romero’s Dead gorefests. Most of the violence is offscreen, and what does end up happening on screen is heavily implied more often than it is explicitly shown. It’s a smart approach in many ways running counter to the ultra violent novel that King wrote, with winning results. Romero builds an unseemly amount of tension in the film.
That said, the movie is not without its flaws, Timothy Hutton (or Princess Timothy as I have it on authority that he is known) is fine as the beleagured yuppie who finds his security threatened, but is a lot harder to swallow as a stone cold sadistic badass who will strike the fear of God into you with a single look. The film ends abruptly and tones down the darkness of King’s novel just a touch too much. All leading to a muddled home stretch.
Yet as a whole the film works surprisingly well. It might not be Dawn Of The Dead, but Romero fans who have had much to shake their heads at post Land Of The Dead would do well to check it out.