Everywhere you look recently it seems you cannot escape Stephen King. From the huge hit that is IT Chapters 1 and 2 to the original new series from King and J.J. Abrams Castle Rock to the upcoming sequel to The Shinning, Doctor Sleep, it seems the Master of Horror has been having a resurgence.
Did he ever go away though? Now 72 King has penned 61 novels, 6 non-fiction books and approximately 200 short stories and he is still going strong. Interestingly 7 of those novels where not by Stephen King but Richard Bachman a pseudonym he used to wiggle free from the view of his publishers that more than one King book a year would over saturate his brand.
King also commented in his introduction to The Bachman Books that it was a way of making sense of his success and a test to see if he had become so famous and critically renowned because of talent or luck. His first book as Bachman sold 28,000 copies during its initial limited run but went on to sell 10 times that when it came out who really wrote it so perhaps the jury is still out on that question.
This nicely leads us to The Dark Half a 1993 adaptation of Kings 1989 novel about a writer attempting to distance himself from the pen name he has used to write trashy mainstream murder novels.
Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton from Leverage) is about to release the book of his career but on the brink of success a slimy low life shows up at the college where he teaches to blackmail him. Threatening to tell the world that Thad is also the man behind the violent and salacious George Stark series he demands payment however the inventive author decides to turn the menace into marketing going public and killing off his alter ego in a publicity stunt involving his wife Liz (Field of Dreams Amy Madigan).
Believing he is free of Stark and all the negativity that related to him Thad goes about his normal life that is until Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Michael Rooker from Guardians of the Galaxy) arrives at his door accusing him of murder. Someone is taking out all of Thad’s enemies, someone with his DNA and now this dark half is awake it will not go back to sleep.
Adapted by the amazing George A. Romero, who also directs, The Dark Half blends the archetypal Jekyll and Hyde plot line with a deep delve into the artistic process. Brought up early on in one of his lectures Thad discusses how a writer must tap into his dark half to bring out the truth in his work. We also hear later from his wife Liz that when he is writing a George Stark book he almost becomes another person smoking, drinking and verbally abusing his wife none of which he does the rest of the time.
As well as discussing inner demons the film offers up dualism in a physical form not just via the twin babies Thad and his wife have but also in the opening set in 1968. As a child Thad is obsessed with writing but also plagued by mysterious headaches and bird sounds that no one else can hear. When his fainting fits become too much he is taken in for surgery and the doctors discover an absorbed twin literally growing in his brain with a working eye and all.
This takes us into the murder mystery blissfully unsure if George Stark is real, a figment of Thad’s paranoia or actually his alter ego taking over. Romero plays all the scenarios out just enough to be enjoyable before giving us the big reveal earlier on than many other movies would but upping the ante for the final act tenfold.
The performances are all great with some classic King cocky locals brought to life alongside the main cast. Hutton carries most of the movie treading the fine line of sanity throughout while remaining relatable. Rooker is also great as the Sherriff who as Thad’s friend constantly questions if his decision to take a light touch on the prime suspect of a series of gruesome murders is the right decision or not.
Romero is a competent and accomplished director and keeps the story moving along nicely never letting it lull. The effects are affective especially at the start and Starks sick and spooky deterioration is wonderfully well realised.
Best of all the brand new Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment features audio commentary with George A. Romero, a making of retrospective, deleted scenes, behind the scenes and archival material and more.
An entraining and insightful look at the writing process that reveals more about Stephen King than you may have first thought The Dark Half brings to light what it truly takes to become the Master of Horror.