The Dark Half was set to be George A. Romero’s big step into mainstream studio filmmaking, but due to various factors, that wasn’t the case. It’s based on a deeply personal novel from Stephen King, who Romero had collaborated with previously on Creepshow—they were friends to the day Romero died in 2017. King has never been afraid to inject some of his worst personality traits into his own work, going all the way back to The Shining, but in the late ’80s he wrote almost back to back two roman-à-clef novels (although with all the supernatural horror elements you would expect with King) with Misery and The Dark Half. Both were adapted to the screen, with Misery being to date the only Stephen King adaptation to win an Oscar.
Timothy Hutton plays Thad Beaumont, an author of literary novels that don’t sell very well. However, on the side he writes violent thrillers under the pen name “George Stark.” King himself wrote some of his most pessimistic work under the pen name Richard Bachman. The names Richard Bachman and George Stark are a very obvious nod to Richard Stark, the pen name of crime writer Donald E. Westlake, who is a favourite writer of King’s; Stark was the author of the novel that Point Blank was based on. Both Starks’ writing is considerably more violent than what they produce when writing under their true identities.
Beaumont is threatened that he will be outed as George Stark, so he has a mock funeral for his alter ego. King himself faced a similar dilemma when Steve Brown, a Washington D.C. book clerk, figured out the obvious resemblance of King and Bachman’s prose. King was good-natured about it, and actually encouraged Brown to write an article on cracking the mystery behind Richard Bachman, and was willing to be interviewed. However, in The Dark Half (as the title suggests), Stark has a life of his own, and soon bodies connected to Beaumont are piling up. He is the prime suspect, but who do you think is responsible?
The finished film of The Dark Half is undoubtedly one of Romero’s weaker movies, no doubt due to endless studio interference, and eventually Orion going bust right before the film was set to be released. It was shelved for two years. The special effects in the final moments leave a lot to be desired as well, but they were simply told to stop at a certain point, sadly a too-common occurrence in Hollywood. Romero tries his best, and Hutton gives an incredibly committed performance… maybe too committed. He was in character the whole time, and his co-star, Michael Rooker, is incredibly frank about how much of a prick Hutton was to work with on the retrospective making-of documentary on the disc. Rooker is also very good in the film as the local cop investigating Beaumont. Romero actually wanted him for the dual lead role of Beaumont/Stark, but the studio nixed that idea. The cast is full of great character actors, like Amy Madigan, Julie Harris, Robert Joy, Royal Dano and even Beth Grant in an early role.
If you are a Romero fan and/or a King fan, it’s an absolute must, although it’s a flawed film that under the right circumstances could’ve been great. The disc from Eureka has a healthy splattering of special features, including a retrospective making-of made for the US Scream Factory disc, archival behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, deleted scenes, and a commentary from Romero himself. The usual trailer, TV spots and photo galleries are also included on the disc. The booklet includes new writing on the film from Simon Ward.