The Dark Half (1993)
I'd both read this book and watched the movie back in the day and so decided to take another look at it. The first thing I noticed was who directed it. In fact the first thing you see is A FILM BY GEORGE ROMERO. Huh. George Romero does Stephen King. On a book that really didn't lend itself to a movie - at least not a horror movie. Then they picked an unlikely cast (Michael Rooker included which was actually nice), and did their best to try to make this psychological thriller something that horror buffs would want to watch. It wasn't, by and large. The movie actually lost about a million dollars in theaters although I'm sure since then DVD sales have narrowed that down quite a bit.
If I may stick my neck out a little and pretend to be somebody with a working brain - I believe that this story worked much better as a book than a movie because it was more about philosophy and beliefs than about visual scares and gore - in other words, you'd have to add a lot or change a lot to make the story visual.
I believe what Romero tried to do - without Kubrick-ing the story - was attempt to bring a visceral and horrific vision to King's book. And that effort took Romero two hours worth of film. Although the movie was overlong, I felt the attempt was decent for its day. Here's the movie's version of the story (pared down quite a bit):
Thad Beaumont is a creative little kid in 1968. He likes listening to Elvis and writing stories with his favorite pencil, a number two Black Beauty. Thing is, he gets headaches - a lot. And when he gets them he hears birds, always birds. The doc can't find anything wrong with him and sends him on his way. But when Thad collapses on the front lawn, it's time to open his noggin to find out why.
After opening his skull in a move that has an operating nurse run screaming from the room they find - a twin, lodged in his brain. No, not a whole one, or even partial. The book says there's part of a nostril, some fingernails, some teeth, and a malformed human eye. In the movie it merely shows the freaky eye (looks like a cow's eye to me but meh) and the doc mentions a couple of teeth - one with a cavity. What? Brains eat away enamel?
Okay, so Thad's mom's pregnancy experienced what is now called Vanishing Twin Syndrome. It used to not even be a THING, much less a BIG THING, until docs started doing ultrasounds earlier in pregnancies. Now the movie (can't remember if the book does) claims that one in ten pregnancies start with twins and one absorbs the other. This in utero cannibalism has been happening forever - but let's update the information.
I'm gonna quote from an article here since I'm too lazy to look this up and present a dissertation myself: Scientists have confirmed that the number of twin conceptions greatly outnumbers the number of actual twin births. Some estimates offer that 1 in 8 people started life as a twin, while in reality only 1 in 70 actually are a twin.
In the book Having Twins, author Elizabeth Noble claims that 80% of twin pregnancies result in the loss of one or both babies. Other studies predict that Vanishing Twin Syndrome occurs in 21 - 30% of all multiple pregnancies in the United States. It is estimated that Vanishing Twin Syndrome will play a role in 50% of assisted ovulation pregnancies.
In other words yeah, it happens. But does part of the vanished 'twin' live on inside you? Nope. You've got to have a brain for that at the very least. An eye, a couple teeth, and part of a nostril isn't a person - it's a tumor. But Thad's parents apparently wanted their 'deceased' child to be treated like a person and so they interred it in the family plot without telling Thad. All he knew is he had a brain tumor, and that's it.
Now in King's book the pondering was aimed at the thought that we all carry our 'twin' inside ourselves - is that what makes us good or bad? It seems silly but actually is a credible thought. If that 'twin' affects things like our brain chemistry, is it actually the one in control?
Okay, back to the Romero movie: Skipping ahead to Thad (Timothy Hutton) becoming both an adult and a writer. Now he's a teacher and has written some deep books but the projects that really seem to sell are a series of violent and vice-filled novels about a dude named Alexis Machine. His pseudonym is Richard Bachman... whoops, no, that's King's. Thad's writing under the name George Stark.
The books are cheesy but they make money. But Thad doesn't want to just write violent stuff - besides, it affects his behavior. While writing them he drinks too much, smokes too much, and is a general asshole. And they're penned by hand using only No. 2 Black Beauty pencils. He realizes it and decides to 'kill' George Stark. He's been found out anyway by a guy who wants to blackmail him to keep quiet.
So he kills him - by putting an article out that he is Stark. He and his wife, Liz (Amy Madigan) pose for a picture on his family plot over his own empty grave (uh huh) and even have a fake headstone: George Stark 1985 - 1991, Not A Very Nice Guy. Now somehow (because King said so) that makes Thad's twin brother, buried unknown there, to come to life and dig his way out. And the killing will now begin.
What Thad knows about George Stark is only what he wrote while pretending to be him. Stark goes around slicing people up while Thad gets the heat but not arrested because he's nowhere near where Stark is. At least that's the reasoning that Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Michael Rooker) uses when he refuses to put Thad in jail. That and Thad's the father of twin babies and he'd hate to lock up their dad if he doesn't have to.
And Stark keeps killing. Why? He wants Thad to start writing his stuff again of course. Looking just like Thad, he contacts him and demands that the writing begin immediately. He has another reason too: Looking into the mirror, Stark sees that he is slowly 'coming apart' and will be gone if the books don't start again.
And Thad is hearing the sparrows again. Stark can't hear them though. This is where they try to get complicated - the movie asserts that sparrows are 'psychopomps' and that's why they came when Thad got headaches, when the 'tumor' was removed, when Stark was 'buried' and now they're getting thicker as Stark gets worse. Does that make sense?
Okay quick info this time 'cause I'm freaking tired: A psychopomp can be basically any animal you want (although birds are popular) and means different things to different people of different cultures. The most basic explanation is that they are supposed to transport souls. Understand? No?
After a mind-numbing amount of time as we watch more people we don't care about get killed, George Stark getting ickier looking, Thad looking puzzled and bored at the same time, and toddlers being fussy, we finally cut to the chase: Stark has found Thad's family and so if Thad doesn't write, the family dies.
Thad has an idea - make Stark write himself. That kind of backfires though - the more Stark writes himself, the more he heals and it is Thad that begins to fall about. But the sparrows are flying again. Now here's where the IMDb says something really stupid:
"Suddenly, a huge flock of sparrows comes and tears Stark apart, and take him back to hell where he belongs. The sparrows are agents of Satan that come and collect evil souls that were not allowed to live. Thad and Liz are spared and they and Pangborn watch as the sparrows disappear into the night."
|This is hell? Really?|
Apparently whoever wrote that synopsis didn't bother to look up... you know what? Who cares. Point being that Stark was never really 'alive' in the first place, did not go to 'hell' so how could he 'go back'? He can't. He was never REALLY real. But this movie is REALLY over.