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Dark Half, The
Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name and directed by George A. Romero, 1993's The Dark Half tells the story of an author named Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) who toils away writing what he considers to be classy, highbrow fiction and living a decent life with his wife Liz (Amy Madigan). This, sadly, does not pay the way he'd like it to, which is why he's invented an alter ego of sorts in the form of George Stark, a pen name he's employed to churn out trashy crime novels. This is where his bread is buttered but when someone figures out who the real George Stark is, he nips the problem in the bud by killing George off in a series of interviews. He figures after going public with all of this the idea has run its course and he tries to put the George Stark novels behind him and move on.
Shortly after Thad does this, however, people near and dear to him start turning up dead, each one the victim of a murderer with a thick southern accent. Thad is unsure what's going on but it's starting to look like he may in fact be the killer himself, something that isn't lost on the local sheriff (Michael Rooker). The southern man, who is going by the name George Stark, only seems interested in killing off those who helped Thad come clean about the crime novels he wrote under that fake name, and this becomes even more unusual when it seems to tie into Thad's childhood and a strange condition that he thought he had been cured of years ago.
The Dark Half is an interesting movie, particularly when you figure it's based on something that King wrote (it's not hard at all to see a little bit of both Thad and George in King himself) and how many barbs towards what ‘those in the know' acquaint with being ‘good' in terms of writing are in the film. Likewise, it's easy to see a fair bit of Romero inhabiting both characters as well, given that he has been responsible for directing a few of the most influential horror films of all time but still to this day has trouble getting funding for new projects. Reading this into the dual nature of Hutton's character(s) makes this a more interesting movie than it would have been otherwise, but it's there and it's an important part of the movie. Don't fight it.
Though the film is far from perfect, it builds quite nicely and does a fine job, for the first hour and a bit at least, of exploiting an interesting premise and taking it in some decidedly eerie directions. Once we head towards the ninety minute mark, Romero does lose control of things a bit and has trouble maintaining the atmospherics he obviously worked quite hard to create. Things do get visually darker but there's a bit more emphasis on action and racing towards a resolution, putting action over suspense to ill effect. It winds up a reasonably successful film in spite of this, but it's not the classic that it could have been given the talent involved.
Romero has a good handle on the characters here at least. Rooker is very good in his supporting role, the sheriff who wants to believe Thad is innocent but who can't deny the hard evidence he comes across while investigating the crimes. Those who know him only for his work on Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer or The Walking Dead might be a little taken aback to see him play a good guy but he does it well. Amy Madigan is also just fine here as Thad's caring wife. Not surprisingly though, Timothy Hutton is the one that really stands out here. His work in the dual role is quite solid and he does a very good job of bringing both characters to life in very different and distinct ways. There are also some interesting and subtle elements of twisted black humor that work their way into how he plays these parts and the movie is better for it.The Blu-ray:
The Dark Half makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Shout! Factory in a fine AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Eagle-eyed viewers might spot a scratch here and there and the odd white speck but generally speaking the image on the disc is free of print damage and whatever is visible is certainly minor enough that it won't likely cause anyone any problems. Colors look quite good here, from the sickly sanitized green of the hospital room scene through to the solid blacks in the later part of the movie. Some minor crush can be seen in some of those darker scenes but it's not particularly overpowering. Skin tones look lifelike and accurate and there are no signs of any noise reduction or edge enhancement. If this isn't the pinnacle of the Blu-ray experience from a visual sense it's certainly a solid upgrade over the past DVD release.Sound:
The audio options provided on the disc is are a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track and a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track with optional English closed captioning provided. The 5.1 track spreads out the score and the effects pretty nicely in a few scenes but otherwise doesn't get too fancy in terms of how it remixes dialogue placement. Both tracks are properly balanced and free of any hiss or distortion. No complaints here.Extras:
Extras on this disc start off with a new audio commentary from George A. Romero in which he talks about what drew him to this story, what it was like adapting King's novel for the screen, some of the original casting choices he had in mind for playing that part that wound up going to Hutton and what it was like collaborating with cast and crew on the picture. He also talks about the state that Orion Pictures was in when he made this movie for them and a lot of the difficulties that arose because of their situation. Romero's commentary tracks are almost always interesting and this one is no exception.
The disc also features a new featurette entitled The Sparrows Are Flying Again!: The Making Of The Dark Half that includes interviews with Romero, special makeup effects gurus Everett Burrell and John Vulich, VFX supervisor Kevin Kutchaver, cast members Michael Rooker, Rutanya Alda, Robert Joy, John Amplas and producer Declan Baldwin. It does a fine job of exploring the history of the movie from a few different perspectives and at thirty-six minutes in length there's enough material here to appease most fans, not just the interviews but clips and archival photos too.
Also found here are a collection of Deleted Scenes running just under eight minutes, some Animated Storyboards for the film's original ending, a few minutes of Behind The Scenes Footage showing off both the Special Effects (just under sixteen minutes) work and a general look at life On The Set (just under nine minutes), a vintage Original EPK piece that runs just under seven minutes, some additional interview clips totaling seven minutes featuring Hutton, Madigan, Rooker and Romero, the film's original theatrical trailer, a TV spot, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.Final Thoughts:
The Dark Half doesn't end as strongly as it starts but it's still a pretty entertaining horror picture with a really strong performance from Hutton and some good work from the supporting players as well. Shout! Factory's Blu-ray offers a decent upgrade over the DVD in the audio and video departments and contains a really impressive selection of extras features. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.