The Dark Half (1993)

A lot of people have a darker side to them. I certainly do. However, writers often have an interesting relationship with their particular brand of darkness. One thing that a lot of writers will be familiar with is being guarded about one’s tabs in Internet browsers. We tend to research a lot of weird things while we are in the midst of writing. I would think that horror and mystery writers would probably be the most extreme. There might be tabs open that detail how to commit murders, how to mix poisons, and all sorts of details that would normally be swimming around in the head of a serial killer. We have to research these things to maintain the integrity of the writing. If we get the details wrong, it could take somebody out of their immersion in the story and ruin the narrative. Of course, a lot of this research does not make it onto the actual page. It is a tightrope to make sure you get it right but also do not provide detailed instructions on how to murder somebody.

Related to those decisions is how dark we let our characters get. Villains have been part of the story narrative since the very beginning. However, if you let the villain go too dark, you could turn off a large part of your audience. There are movies that I have reviewed for this blog that I would not show a large portion of the people I know in person (looking at you Terrifier). People have different sensibilities and connect differently to darkness, violence, and other negative energies. Some writers will get upset when you critique them for going too far. “Well, that’s what the character wanted to do,” They’ll say. “It’s not me doing it.” I understand that characters can be voices inside your head and want to speak up for themselves and guide their story. However, the writer is and must be ultimately in control of the story. They need to rein in the villain if they get out of control. For example, Michael Myers does not kill children but the characters in Beware, Children at Play do. This is something the writer has to get a handle on if they want to please their audience.

The first thing I noticed is how psychological and creepy this movie was going to be. The strange build and ominous tone are set up right away. The practical effects are creepy and I am not sure how some of them were accomplished. The wildlife effect in particular had me really creeped out early on. The practical effects for gore, later on, are really well done and are on par with a good crime show, I would say. This movie does a lot with tone, build, and a little bit of music making for a more traditional psychological horror movie. There are plenty of jump scares but they feel earned instead of cheap. A lot is done with the correct framing and timing of things. 

The acting is great in that dreamy Stephen King kind of way. Timothy Hutton plays the lead, a writer-turned-teacher and he is as magnetic and charming as he always is. Amy Madigan plays his wife and she is so clever and fun. Robert Joy steals scenes with his manic performance. Kent Broadhurst and Rutanya Alda play a comedy team in the bodies of literary agents. Glenn Colerider plays a goofy photographer, backwoodsy and full of humor. The way the villain is done is just so perfect and menacing. I do not want to give it away but they did such a great job. Michael Rooker plays the now legendary Sheriff Pangborn who delivers the part with a gruff yet sarcastic sensibility. Royal Dano (in his last role) is so perfect as the stereotypical confused and dusty gravedigger. 

Overall, I really liked this movie. It is very dramatic and spooky in a cerebral kind of way instead of a visceral way. It helps that the movie was directed by the legendary George Romero who has a real eye for creepiness and tension. It is important to remember that Romero could do more than just zombie movies and this movie is definitely proof. King and Romero have worked together before and their sensibilities seem to match up even though Romero leans quite a bit more left. I recommend this movie as it went places that I did not expect and was fairly spooky.

(A note: I was unaware that Timothy Hutton was accused of sexual assault two years ago before I chose and watched this movie. He was cleared of all charges by Canadian police but, if the claim was indeed true, his behavior is and was unacceptable.)

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