Published Jan 12, 2015The good thing about boutique distributor Blu-ray releases of older, mostly forgotten, films are the candid supplements that are often included. With George Romero's The Dark Half, the interviews with the cult director and various crew members are extremely frank and honest, giving some context to just how much of a shit-show the production of the Steven King adaptation really was.
At the time, King adaptations were a fairly bankable investment. Even though Romero had just come off Monkey Shines, which was poorly marketed and ultimately failed at the box office, his name still had a strong cult following. This is why, theoretically, the melding of two masters of horror seemed like a sure-fire formula for success.
Still, there were a few problems complicating this theory. First, The Dark Half wasn't one of King's more cinematic books. It was more of a personal story about the internal struggles writers have with the internal repressed self that comes out on the page. As Romero saw it, the story was a classic Jekyll and Hyde admonition about the dangers of embracing the inner animalistic self, something that all of his films dabble with in one way or another. But, as a text, the main motivators and dramatic ire stemmed from within, which is difficult to translate onto film, even for more experienced and accomplished directors.
Another issue was Romero's lack of experience with the studio system. Prior to Monkey Shines and The Dark Half, he'd worked within the lexicon of independent film, where he had full creative control and told the stories that he wanted to tell. But with a padded studio budget comes studio expectations. Still, Romero managed to thwart some of their criteria by casting Timothy Hutton as Thad Beaumont, a writer whose evil doppelganger emerges when he attempts to kill off his trash-writing pseudonym, George Stark. Hutton still wasn't the first choice, but he was a compromise that Romero was willing to make.
Hutton wasn't a celebrity at the time despite turning some heads in Ordinary People and Taps a few years prior. And while these stories of directors casting unlikely actors usually have a positive spin, it actually turned out to be a huge problem here. As the many interviewees note on the Blu-ray supplements, Hutton was very method and very difficult to work with. Amy Madigan and Michael Rooker really struggled with the situation and Hutton's constant demands and accusations, as he attacked other actors for not having the same level of discipline.
With tensions high on set and a less than smooth production timeline, the added issue of managing visual effects exacerbated the issues. In trying to film swarms of killer birds, the effects team tried a variety of tactics that ate up a lot of time and money, neither of which Romero had enough of. This meant that corners were cut and compromises were made to get the project done.
Despite these problems, the end product was quite cohesive and very faithful to the source novel, but it was missing a sense of tension and consistency. In simply trying to get the project done, the basic thematic vein of man battling his inner-repressed impulses — something quite common in the late '80s and early '90s as the role of man was changing in households and offices — came across, but with little effect. There was no real subtlety or intimacy despite the story being quite personal, leaving only the basic plot machinations to play out and shape an impression. And since The Dark Half is notable more for what it implies about identity than its actual plot points, the adaptation ultimately turned out to be merely serviceable and competent.