Friday, November 5, 2021

The Sparrows Are Flying Again: The Dark Half (1993)

The Dark Half (1993)
Rating: ***
Starring: Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan and Michael Rooker

In 1963, aspiring young writer Thad Beaumont finds himself under constant blackouts, headaches and seizures accompanied with, strangely enough, the sound of wild sparrows. As his condition worsens over time, he's soon set up for surgery where the doctors discover, much to their horror and amazement, the source of the boy's pain: a growing teratoma inside his skull, formerly a twin absorbed in utero. 

Decades after the removal of this parasitic mass of eyeball and teeth, Thad grows up to be a creative writing professor, a loving husband to his wife and a proud father of two infant children. It's a good life, though he further make ends meet by writing hyper-violent novels about a “high toned son of a bitch” named Alexis Machine under the pseudonym "George Stark", a dirty secret only his wife and agents know about. So when an opportunistic dink finds out about Thad's private life as a trash novelist and blackmails him for a large sum to keep it his mouth from flapping, the author ponders about and ultimately makes the choice: out himself out as "George Stark" and metaphorically kill off the persona as a publicity stunt, fake tombstone and all

Something "George Stark" isn't happy about.

No soon after the mock burial, those involved with the stunt starts to get killed off, starting with the photographer who gets bludgeoned to death with his own prosthetic leg and then the blackmailer who is later found de-tongued and de-groined. Investigating the killings is Sheriff Alan Pangborn who suspects Thad as the one responsible for the deaths seeing his fingerprints were found in the scenes, but is unable to completely pin the crimes on the author as Beaumont is able to give solid proof that he's elsewhere during the murders. 

Stranger things are abound, however, when Thad starts to think the killer hunting down his colleagues is none other than "George Stark" himself, describing him down to the mannerism and hairstyle which perfectly fits the eyewitness descriptions of the killer. Has Thad somehow willed the pen name into a murderous existence, now out for revenge for "killing" him off? Or is the author finally succumbing to his darker id?

Reading through most of Stephen King's horror novels, his 1989 outing The Dark Half, which was written in response to the time he himself was outed to be Richard Bachman, a supposed "real" author who wrote darker, more cynical horror novels compared to King's usual gothic, psychological style, is technically the closest to the man penning slasher literature with the book's macabre story of a murderous nom de plume out to torment and kill the people surrounding an author's life. The film adaptation, produced and directed by Night of The Living Dead (1968)'s George A. Romero, playfully maintains the duality of the book's tone, mainly the horrors of the unexplainable and the brutalizing slasher flick cynicism lensed with dark humor, done here with a mostly straight face that's occasionally cheesed from time to time. 

At most, The Dark Half (1993) is pretty well made as a production looking into its sleek visuals and adequate special effects, especially during the finale of the film wherein we get a gruesome death involving birds. Talent-wise, leading actor Timothy Hutton plays both Thad Beaumont and George Stark in a cheeky dual role, though I do find him more memorable as the psychopathic Stark with his Elvis Presley-esque get-up, drawl Mississippi accent and grimly fun lines, a far stronger presence compared to his approach on the Thad Beaumont character who predominantly feels like a walking stereotype of a mild-mannered yet awkward family man. Cult favorite Michael Rooker is also here, doing a swell enough job as the determined Castle Rock sheriff Alan Pangborn, though unlike in the book where he developed a much closer relationship with the Beaumonts, his character feels mostly removed from the plot and acts more like your typical horror trope law enforcer.

If there's any real issues to speak here, it would be The Dark Half (1993)'s problem with its pacing; while there is a good build-up towards and within Stark’s killing spree, the narrative soon falls a bit uneven when it comes to the ongoing investigations into the murders, as well as the last act leading to the eventual confrontation between Beaumont and Stark. It's mostly talks of psuedo-metaphysics regarding manifestations and will, implemented in time with Beaumont sitting it down with a decaying Stark in an attempting to literally write out the other from existence in a scene that feels too talky and drawn out than necessary. Fortunately, the supernatural aspect of this third act is a welcome take (albeit it lacks of solid explanation to how all of this happened to begin with) which I like further when it all ends with an impressively gory and creative demise to note.

On the whole, The Dark Half (1993) is simply an okay movie. A pretty good swing on a story that runs on basic slasher bodycounting and supernatural-lensed pop psychology, doing enough scares and thrills to be at least an agreeable watch despite the flaws. Though I won't mark this as one of the best Stephen King adaptations, nor is it a slasher title worth losing sleep over, it is certainly among the better horror titles out there that you can check out, nothing more, nothing less.

1 male beaten to death offcamera with his own prosthetic leg
1 male found slaughtered, castrated and his tongue cut out
1 female had her throat cut with a razor
1 male had his head kicked against a building heater
2 males found murdered
1 male had his throat cut with a razor
1 male had his throat cut with a razor
1 male seen murdered
1 male pecked apart by birds
Total: 10


  1. "is technically the closest to the man penning slasher literature"

    Sometimes They Come Back is probably the next closest thing, with the film and its first sequel really leaning into things.

    1. I beg to differ with the first film but the second, yeah, pretty close. Especially the lawnmower kill!

    2. And, of course, the infamous, "Would you like to know what my Tarot cards have to say?"

      Admittedly, most of what I remember about the first one was students being chased around and popping up dead in the woods or barns, which, as it turns out, was only the first half (if that...)

    3. No, that's just about right. Pretty tame, more of demon horrors than psycho slasher.

    4. And then they went from demonic greasers and Satanic punks to... IDK.