The Dark Half (Arrow Recommends)

The Dark Half (Arrow Recommends)
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"Arrow Recommends is a column that has my sorry ass advise older movies to your royal asses. I will be flexible in terms of genres i.e. I will cover whatever the bleep I want. For now, it will be the way to keep my voice on the site."

PLOT: Respected novelist Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) also writes trashy and violent books under the pseudonym of "George Stark". When he’s forced to reveal his alter ego to the media and kill the Stark name – it seems that his later-ego has somehow manifested itself physically and he’s in a peeved off mood. The bodies begin to pile up while Thad tries to get to the bottom of shit, clear his name and protect his family.

“Remember, when you f*ck with me, you're f*cking with the best. “ George Stark

LOWDOWN: Growing up on horror, there were names that meant more to me than others and one of them was GEORGE ROMERO. The man sadly recently passed on. Gone way too soon. I got the chance to meet him a couple of times over the years (right down to walking the red carpet with him at Cannes) and he was nothing short of the sweetest guy you’ve ever met. Now George will always be remembered as the Godfather of the Zombie subgenre with his classics NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, DAY OF THE DEAD and to a lesser degree LAND OF THE DEAD.

Personally I always found it a tad of a shame that he wound getting pigeonholed in the Zombie subgenre (I heard that late in his career he couldn’t get anything non Zombie related financed) as the man had much more to offer creatively. Anybody that’s seen Season of the Witch, Martin, Creepshow or the Studio tampered yet still effective Monkey Shines knows what I'm talking about. So in honor of George and his legacy I wanted to recommend a film of his that wasn’t a freaking Zombie flick and THE DARK HALF (WATCH IT HERE  or nab the SCREAM FACTORY BLU-RAY HERE) popped in my brain like a twin brother tumor. I gladly revisited the flick yesterday and holy f*ck on a Sunday morning has it aged well. It’s even better now than it was then (I was so-so on it when I tapped in theaters eons ago)!

Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name (the last novel King wrote before quitting booze/drugs, hence the thematics in the book/film), THE DARK HALF didn’t get the respect it deserved when it was first released in 1993 and to this day it is not a title that folks name drop on a dime if one says ROMERO – well it should be. Adapted for the screen by Romero himself this bad boy was akin to watching a Stephen King book play out before one's eyes and that is the best compliment I can give it. Romero nailed the attention to detail that comes with a King book, the somber and oppressive mood, the layered characterization, the unsettling imagery, the bold attitude (edgy dialogue, babies in peril) while delivering genuine chilling moments that gave me the willies.

The slow burn unraveling of the story and the old school rhythm charmed me as well. There’s something to be said about a movie that takes its time to build its house brick by brick, no rush, just doing what needs to be done and in this day and age of ADD filmmaking, it was refreshing to digest a picture of this ilk. Casting wise, you couldn’t have asked for a better group of actors. The lovely Amy Madigan, Michael Rooker (who was trying to shake his evil Henry image at the time) and slime-ball extraordinaire Robert Joy all shined in their respective roles.

But at the end of the neck snap this was Timothy Hutton’s show all the way. Hutton played the nuances of his Thad Beaumont character ideally and to say he owned it hardcore as the whiskey guzzling, drawl speaking and utterly badass George Stark would be an understatement. What a memorable horror character! Loved him! Dude should have gotten an Oscar nomination for his dual performance but alas it was not to be. Topple on top of that; arresting imagery, some pretty gross practical effects (by the late John Vulich and Everett Burrell), brilliant sound design (all about them sparrows singing), visceral suspense charged set pieces, an eerie use of Elvis Presley's "Are You Lonesome Tonight" and an evocative score by the always reliable Christopher Young and you get a horror masterpiece that was criminally overlooked then and is way too ignored now.

Any drawbacks? Some but nothing major. There were a couple of dumb moves to serve the plot (mostly having to do with inept police procedure) and some of the visual effects at the end looked dated by today’s standards - but I was able to roll with it. THE DARK HALF brought up quite the interesting theme – the dark side that we all have – the one we hide from the world. I thought the film handled said theme brilliantly. Moreover, tagging that dark side with the art of writing was something that fascinated me and that I could somewhat relate to. I know some people out there were confused as to the HOW when it came to the physical manifestation of Stark – but I wasn’t – all the answers were there, not spelled out – but there, you just have to use your grey matter to piece it together.

As the end credits rolled on THE DARK HALF, I thought DAMN, now THAT was a well put together horror film for grown ups. If you haven’t seen it – CHANGE THAT ASAP, and if you have – I urge ya to re-visit it in the name of honoring Romero beyond his undead gems. RIP George – your legacy lives on. And thank you for the inspiration.

PS: Did you know there was a videogame released in tandem with the film? You do now.



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