Film review: Dark Half, The

Published: Tuesday, April 27 1993 12:00 a.m. MDT

Stephen King is in for quite a year, not counting whatever dozen books he may see published. No less than four of his novels will see the light of celluloid this year:

— "Needful Things" will hit theater screens this summer.

— "The Tommyknockers" will air as a television miniseries May 9-10.

— "The Stand" (currently shooting here in Utah) will play as a TV miniseries in the fall.

— And finally, the long-on-the-shelf "The Dark Half" opens in theaters across the country this weekend. (Long on the shelf because of Orion Pictures' bankruptcy, not through any fault of the film.)

And the good news is that though it is one of King's least original stories, "The Dark Half" is one of his better movies. (Though, to some, that may be faint praise.)

Scripted and directed by horrormeister (and King's pal) George A. Romero (the "Night of the Living Dead" films, "Creepshow"), "The Dark Half" is sort of a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" variation, in which, initially, the "Hyde" character may or may not be a separate person. (It also incorporates an "inside" nod to King's former pseudonymn, Richard Bach-man.)

The film opens with young Thad Beaumont writing stories feverishly but finding himself beset by strange headaches. Doctors discover that he has a bizarre brain tumor, made up of the remains of an unformed twin settled into his brain tissue. And while Thad is in surgery, the hospital is strangely attacked by hundreds of sparrows.

Years later, Thad (now played by Timothy Hutton) is a university English professor, though he seems to live a most comfortable life with his wife (Amy Madigan) and their baby twins.

It isn't long before Thad is confronted by a strange young man (Robert Joy) who attempts blackmail. It seems Thad has been writing sleazy best-selling novels, using the pseudonymn of an even sleazier creation named George Stark. But before his blackmailer reveals this secret, Thad decides to go public himself, and figuratively buries Stark.

This doesn't make his "Dark Half" very happy, and soon Stark is killing people with a straight razor, leaving Thad's fingerprints in blood at the scenes of the crimes.

Romero is quite successful at achieving atmosphere and tension here, even if there are allusions to too many other movies, from Hitchcock's "The Birds" to De Palma's "Sisters" to Paul Newman's character in "The Prize" to "the id" of "Forbidden Planet" to "A Nightmare on Elm Street." And Hutton's central performances, as both Thad and Stark, are quite good — much better than the hapless executive he portrayed in "The Temp" earlier this year.

In addition, there is fine support from Madigan as his wife, Michael Rooker as the local police chief, Julie Harris as an eccentric college professor, and the always reliable Royal Dano as a cemetery worker, among others.

But as it progresses, there are fatal lapses in logic, primarily that Thad's fingerprints can show up at gruesome murder scenes and he's never arrested. In this regard, Romero's direction is more effective than his script.

Still, fans will want to check it out.

"The Dark Half" is rated R for violence, profanity and some vulgarity — and it should be noted that the gore is somewhat more restrained than most of this ilk.