The Dark Half

The phrase is that life imitates art, but every artist is similarly influenced and inspired by the events of their own lives, and the novelist Stephen King has always had a affection for writers in his work, understanding their quirks, their working practices, their obsessions and what drives them to create.

From Ben Mears of ‘Salem’s Lot and Jack Torrance of The Shining to Bill Denbrough of It and Paul Sheldon of Misery, perhaps none have been so close to King as Thaddeus Beaumont of Ludlow, Maine, a university lecturer in English literature whose literary works have met with critical success but whose income principally comes from the horror novels he has published under the pseudonym George Stark.

Confronted by an overzealous fan who has put the pieces together and threatened to blackmail the respectable Thad, he decides to call his bluff by choosing to out himself to the media and effectively kill the George Stark identity and the series of violent novels featuring serial killer Alexis Machine, seizing control of the situation with the blessing of his publishers.

Instead, Thad finds himself at the centre of a multiple murder investigation led by his friend, Castle Rock’s Sheriff Alan Pangborn, when a series of people he knows are killed, his editor, his agent, the photographer who suggested a tombstone for Stark, all of them linked in some way directly back to Thad and his novels: George Stark is not going to die easily.

Published in 1989, The Dark Half was in some measure informed by King’s own dual identity; his huge success having established him as a “brand,” his publishers were aware that his prolific output would produce more than their preferred schedule of one novel a year, so in order to keep up with him four of his books were published under the name Richard Bachman until the similarities between their styles led a bookseller to make the connection, effectively ending Bachman’s existence.

King’s novels always rapidly making their way to screen adaptations, The Dark Half was released in 1993, the second collaboration between King and director George A Romero over a decade after the E C Comics inspired anthology Creepshow, the rights a favour from King to his friend after the commercial failure of his previous film, Monkey Shines.

Romero still associated with Night of the Living Dead quarter of a century after its release despite his diverse body of work, he understood King’s desire not to be pigeonholed and his version is one of the most faithful of the many translations of King’s work in structure and tone, an analysis of the creative process and compromises of commercial success overlaid with dialogue which is pure King, replete with local phrasing and colloquialisms, though this does mean the weaknesses of the source material are also carried over.

Now making its UK Blu-ray debut courtesy of Eureka Entertainment, The Dark Half is overlong, particularly in the final act when tension is crucial, though in the dual roles of Thad and Stark it is in their direct confrontation that Timothy Hutton is best, the strength of his opposing performances overcoming the jarring appearance of the prosthetics and slicked back hair of Thad’s vengeful doppelgänger.

The central trio of the cast made up of Hutton, CarnivĂ le‘s Amy Madigan as Liz Beaumont and Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Michael Rooker as Sheriff Pangborn, the supporting cast includes Donnie Darko‘s Beth Grant, House II‘s Royal Dano and The Haunting‘s Julie Harris as Thad’s friend and confidante Reggie, her abundance of personality making the small role seem much larger than it is.

The new edition containing a “making of” documentary from 2014, the insight into the technical challenges of swarms of sparrows and body doubles is enlightening, as is Romero’s frustration with his lead actor’s process (“I don’t appreciate method actors as a filmmaker who needs to get through the day with a degree of efficiency”), and there is also a commentary, deleted scenes, behind the scenes material and an episode of Jonathan Ross’ Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show focusing on Romero and his career.

The Dark Half is available from Eureka from Monday 14th October as a dual format DVD/Blu-ray package



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