The Dark Half

(George A. Romero, USA, 1993)


It is a typical Stephen King set-up. Literature teacher Thad (Timothy Bottoms), who is also a respected, serious novelist, stands before his adoring class and speaks about the need for a writer to contact his or her “inner self”. This secret personality might be “passionate, uninhibited … even lustful!”

But King rarely displays any interest in the radical possibilities of unfettered lust. The dark half of the human psyche, around which so many of his stories revolve, is essentially a place of dirty, murderous evil. So when Thad writes sensationalist pulp fiction under the pseudonym George Stark, he is possessed by this rather lurid alter ego.

King’s novel, as adapted by writer-director George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead [1968]), is a riot of fantasy-projections concerning social class and cultural taste. While middle-class Thad produces sensitive novels about “yuppies and faggots”, Stark is a pencil-scribbling, proletarian, rock’n’rollin’ hoon – imagine Fonzie from TV’s Happy Days as the villain in Scorsese’s Cape Fear (1991).

Romero struggles with a slow, plodding plot structure and a lot of very ordinary scenes between Thad, his worried wife (Amy Madigan) and a cop (Michael Rooker) who is unbelievably sympathetic even as corpses bearing the hero’s fingerprints pile up all around.

But when the “psychopomps” (birds who take souls to another world) gather, and Thad finally faces his evil twin, this moralistic horror movie at last loses its own sorry inhibitions.

MORE Romero: Land of the Dead

MORE King: Carrie, The Tommyknockers, Thinner

© Adrian Martin December 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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