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  Dark Half, The Alter Egomaniac
Year: 1993
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan, Michael Rooker, Julie Harris, Robert Joy, Kent Broadhurst, Beth Grant, Rutanya Alda, Tom Mardirosian, Larry John Myers, Patrick Brannan, Royal Dano, Glen Colerider, John Ponzio, Chelsea Field, William Cameron, Rohn Thomas
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In 1968, Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) was a kid with aspirations to become a writer, and his mother (Beth Grant) was good enough to buy him a typewriter so he could create his stories. But there was a cloud falling across him, for the boy suffered from severe headaches, so his mother took him to the doctor who could find nothing wrong - then a while later, Thad collapsed on the way to the school bus. Rushed to hospital, the surgeons cut open his skull to identify the ailment and were shocked to see an eye open in the brain... the vestiges of a twin that was starting to grow...

If Misery was Stephen King's casting of the reader of fiction as the villain, then its counterpart The Dark Half, published soon after, placed the writer as the source of the mayhem. For many it was a letdown after the career highpoint of his previous book, with the paperback cover depicting the title in black lettering on a black background the most memorable thing about it, but as usual there was someone who wanted to make a film of it and that someone was director George A. Romero. He stuck commendably close to the text, or as far as he could in the circumstances, and there were hopes that this collaboration between two greats of the horror genre would spawn a gem.

Alas, the movie was ill-fated as its production company Orion found its debts catching up with it and after the last gasp of putting out the huge hit The Silence of the Lambs, it was not enough to save the studio and already made works like The Dark Half limped out in a handful of cinema screens and then to video, with many unaware it had been shot at all. Those who did catch up with it found that Romero had not made the more enduring effort that the King script for Creepshow had, but that really this wasn't too bad, and did not deserve to languish in the unfair obscurity that it had been cursed with. If there was a problem, it was in the casting, as Hutton made for a convincing writer...

...But was not so realistic as a psychopathic hardman, no matter how often he put on that Southern accent. Who is this George Stark, the bad guy in this tale? He starts out as the nom de plume of Thad, a name used for a series of bestselling and extremely violent thrillers that nobody but his publishers and close family know he is behind. That is until Thad, who works as a lecturer, is approached in class by a sleazy fan (Robert Joy), who has figured the subterfuge out and asks for a lot of money to keep quiet. This is actually a blessing, as Thad was planning to give up the Stark pseudonym in favour of writing a serious, literary work, and he embraces the chance to go public. Yet there is one person who doesn't like this idea one bit.

That person being the fictional Stark, who rises from his supposed grave to start killing off the people in Thad's life with a razor until the author agrees to forget this whole arty-farty ambition and go back to penning the shockers. Naturally, this was inspired by King's own literary alter ego Richard Bachman, who he tried to keep secret until the cat was let out of the bag, except he didn't have quite the mixed feelings about creating gruesome fiction that Thad does. If anything, the theme here is how those who choose to deal with fictional violence as entertainment would be utterly unable to deal with the real thing, as if in this case their books are running out of control, which might have applied to the first Bachman book Rage which King believed to be implicated in real life school shootings. Romero is content to present a slow-burning suspense piece that muses over these themes before finally allowing the effects to take over, but The Dark Half was a respectable try at adapting the often tricky to successfully realise King. Music by Christopher Young.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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George A. Romero  (1940 - )

American writer/director and one of the most influential figures in modern horror cinema, whose ability to write strong scripts and characters match his penchant for gory chills. The Pittsburgh native began his career directing adverts before making Night of the Living Dead in 1968. This bleak, scary classic ushered in a new era of horror film-making, but Romero struggled initially to follow it up - There's Always Vanilla is a little-seen romantic drama, and Jack's Wife was butchered by its distributor. The Crazies was a flop but still an exciting slice of sci-fi horror, and while the dark vampire drama Martin again made little money but got Romero some of the best reviews of his career and remains the director's personal favourite.

In 1978 Romero returned to what he knew best, and Dawn of the Dead quickly became a massive international hit. Dawn's success allowed Romero to make the more personal Knightriders, and he teamed up with Stephen King to direct the horror anthology Creepshow. The intense, underrated Day of the Dead, spooky Monkey Shines and half of the Poe-adaptation Two Evil Eyes followed. The Dark Half, based on Stephen King's novel, was Romero's last film for nine years, and he returned in 2000 with the strange Bruiser. A fourth Dead film, Land of the Dead, was released in 2005, and lower budgeted fifth and sixth instalments rounded off the decade.

 
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