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The Dark Half captures suspense of original novel

The Dark Half

Written and Directed by George A. Romero.

Based on the Novel by Stephen King.

Starring Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan,

and Michael Rooker.

Loews ???

By Douglas D. Keller


In a class on fiction, Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) explains to his students that in everyone's mind there is a "dark half" and that, while most people suppress that half, the fiction writer does not. Through writing, the author is able to exorcise the demon within, and Beaumont, a "serious novelist," knows what he is talking about, having written several very successful graphic novels under the pseudonym George Stark. The Dark Half is about what can go wrong when the demon within begins to want a material life of its own.

Confronted by an opportunistic blackmailer about his secret other identity, Beaumont, after consulting with his wife, Liz (Amy Madigan), decides to go public. Beaumont has already begun a new novel that will put him on the literary map, so he decides to literally bury his pseudonym. With a fake gravestone and shovels in hand, Thad and Liz "bury" George in the family plot in an event that generates a story and pictorial in People magazine.

The couple think nothing more of the whole incident until Castle Rock Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Michael Rooker) shows up at their door with two state troopers. Seems the writer and the photographer of the People spread, the blackmailer, and one of Beaumont's publishers are all dead and Thad stands accused. George Stark has come to life and is just taking a little revenge for his pal Thad. But George also is coming apart physically as Thad distances himself from his pseudonym. George kidnaps Liz and the Beaumont twins in order to force a writing showdown with Thad. In the process, George hopes that he will be able to take over Thad's body and life. The movie is not too clear on exactly how this is to be accomplished except to say that it involves mysticism and enough sparrows (symbolic soul conveyors) to blacken the daytime sky.

Writer and director George A. Romero (Creepshow, Night of the Living Dead (1968)) has done an admirable job of bringing Stephen King's unique blend of visceral and psychological terror to the screen. There is a lot of blood shed in the film, and like the plot, the volume builds to a climax. The joy of watching The Dark Half comes in trying to figure out, along with Sheriff Pangborn, whether George Stark actually exists.

Timothy Hutton is strong in his roles as both the pensive Beaumont and the purely evil Stark, showing a firm grasp of the motivations and emotions of each character. Amy Madigan plays the reserved yet determined wife who knows her husband is innocent, but has also experienced Thad's "dark half" whenever he is writing as Stark. Madigan's performance is realistic but it is a shame that her part wasn't bigger. Michael Rooker, who played the title role in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, finds himself on the other side of the law as the unbelieving Pangborn. Rooker is reserved and powerful in his portrayal of the sheriff who unwillingly becomes Beaumont's confidant and supporter.

The Dark Half is a complex, gripping mystery/horror film. The acting is tight and believable. The script is at times incredulous and varies from the original novel, but works as a whole. The suspense will bring you to the edge of your seat while the bloodshed will make your regret the $3 box of Goobers you just downed.