• Dark Half, The



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: November 18th, 2014.
    Director: George A. Romero
    Cast: Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan, Michael Rooker
    Year: 1993
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    The Movie:

    George A Romero's THE DARK HALF - based on a Stephen King novel, came to the screen in 1993 with a troubled production behind it and a shaky studio promoting it. Romero's previous effort MONKEY SHINES was a dud at the box office but an artistic success. THE DARK HALF is more of an interesting failure.

    Writer Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) and his wholesome wife Liz (Amy Madigan) live in a quiet suburb where Thad churns out highbrow novels that sell like crap. He has a profitable sideline however. Using the pen name George Stark, he pumps out deliciously lurid crime novels featuring a killer nicknamed "The Machine". These, unlike his more genteel works, sell like hotcakes. You know the old adage. Nothing sells like sex and violence, right? But when a nasty blackmailer shows up, threatening to expose Beaumont's faux identity unless paid off, the writer decides to spill the beans in an exclusive magazine article and photo shoot. But something, or more precisely someone, isn't happy about this. And soon everybody around Thad who had a hand in the "death" of George Stark starts winding up brutally murdered. Thad falls under immediate suspicion, but the local Sheriff (Michael Rooker) is willing to cut the writer some serious slack and hold off on an arrest until he can do some investigative digging.

    Up until this point, THE DARK HALF hasn't crossed into the realm of the fantastic. The film's prologue however hints at what's coming. As a child, Thad suffered from debilitating headaches, seizures and blackouts. After a particularly alarming episode he is taken to the doctor and discovered to have a large brain tumor. When the growth is seen in surgery it is found to be a malformed horrific twin that is still inside the cranial cavity. Though the operation was a success, some questions remain about just what affect that twin had on Thaddeus's future development...

    To be brutally blunt, "The Dark Half" was never one of King's stronger novels. The theme of dual identity and evil twins isn't the freshest premise to begin with. Throw in some silly stuff about psychic connections with birds and a plot that forces the actors into a few suspension of belief nightmares? You wind up with some pretty wonky dramatics. Rooker suffers the worst from being a cop forced to break every common sense rule imaginable but actually delivers a nuanced and commendable performance. Hutton is excellent as mild-mannered Thad but when he's doing the evil altar ego he's a bit much. The slicked-back hair and Elvis gone down home satanic act veers dangerously close to parody. Unlike the deft dark humor that laced MONKEY SHINES so effectively, THE DARK HALF gets downright goofy at times. When it all comes to a predictable head, you feel a little underwhelmed. The pieces are all there individually. They just don't fit that well together making for an interesting but minor effort in the Romero canon.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Shout! Factory's 1.85.1 framed 1080p AVC encoded presentation is another organic and well rendered transfer from the company. The print itself is in nice shape, color detail is good and the many darker scenes in the film have strong black levels. I didn't see any sharpening tools or DNR at play either. This is a solid HD presentation with no notable problems.

    Audio is presented via a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track and a DTS-HD 5.1 one. Both of the Master Audio tracks sound very good but aside from spreading out the sound field, I didn't notice a huge difference in the surround and stereo experiences. LFE isn't exactly running hog wild in this film and directional sound fx aren't much in use either. Subtitles in English are provided however. Overall both audio tracks have no issues of serious concern.

    The extras kick off with one of Romero's more candid commentary tracks. Orion pictures at this juncture was a bit of an unholy mess financially and Romero's film suffered for that. The director talks frankly about studio interference and his initial problems with some of the cast and their approaches to the material and the craft of acting in general. "The Sparrows Are Flying Again!: The Making Of The Dark Half" is an approximately half hour documentary that brings together almost all of the key players (except Hutton and Madigan) and gets occasionally quite blunt. Rooker is really interesting in this regard. He talks about how the stars were not his "friends". Hutton appears to have been both a dedicated "method actor" as well as a pain in the ass initially who's methods clashed with the more relaxed approach of Romero and Rooker. Technical and fx issues in the film are also covered by interviews with makeup artists Everett Burrell and John Vulich and video effects supervisor Kevin Kutchaver. Add in some comments from producer Declan Baldwin and you have a pretty well-rounded mini-history of the production.

    Some deleted scenes (running at about eight minutes) are included in the supplements as are a few short featurettes. One focuses on the films special effects and behind the scenes footage (sixteen minutes), and another covers life on the set (nine minutes) and yet another shows off some animated storyboards that relate to the film's ending. Finally, you get the movie's original EPK and some short interview clips (this is where Hutton and Madigan finally make an appearance in addition to Romero and Rooker). And yes, the almost obligatory theatrical trailer, still gallery and TV spot are thrown into the extras pot here as well.

    The Final Word:

    THE DARK HALF is no MONKEY SHINES in need of serious reappraisal but it isn't the total dog that Romero's later BRUISER is either. A flawed but interesting project hampered by its source material but bolstered by some strong performances and involving dramatic elements it's worth a look for most genre fans. Shout! have served up a solid technical presentation and a very nice plateful of extras for fans so I'm going to go ahead and give this a recommendation - with reservations.

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    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      Nice review, Horace!I actually like BRUISER: we'll have to agree to disagree on that one THE DARK HALF is an interesting film, not wholly successful, but interesting nonetheless. I've got the French Blu-ray but this new disc looks like a solid upgrade - I'm interested in the commentary and documentary, particularly. Think I'll have to import this release.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I just watched it recently....actually, Hutton's turn as Stark was the only part of the film that I really enjoyed. :D