From Michael Rooker

The Dark Half: One Part King, One Part Romero Equals a Sweet Bit of Horror

The Dark Half. 1993. Directed & Written by George A. Romero; based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name.
Starring Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan, Michael Rooker, Julie Harris, Robert Joy, Kent Broadhurst, Beth Grant, Rutanya Alda, Tom Mardirosian, Larry John Meyers, Patrick Brannan, Royal Dano, Glenn Colerider, Sarah Parker, & Elizabeth Parker. Orion Pictures.
Rated R. 122 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★
POSTER I’ve long said that George A. Romero and Stephen King go together like coffee and pie. Is that a thing, is that what people say? Well, I like coffee and pie. A nice treat. Just like I dig some Romero and King. They’re sweet together, as sweet as horror can get. You fans know what I’m talking about. Usually people associate Romero with the zombie sub-genre, and rightfully so: he single-handedly reimagined the zombie in modern terms giving birth to a trend that’s still going on today, which will undoubtedly continue until the end of time. Yet Romero made some really good work outside of the zombie structure. Long before 1993, too. But The Dark Half is one of those King-Romero collaborations that isn’t only interesting on paper. The whole film is a dark, gorgeous joy. Previously the two powerhouses of scary shit did well working on 1982’s Creepshow. Most will say that’s their best work together. I love that one, have it on the shelf alongside this and other Romero, as well as other King. I have to say, this one is my personal favourite of the two movies. Most of all because the book is so good, and for better or worse this adaptation nails most of the important aspects right on the head. The visual style is quite what we come to expect from the master of horror in Romero. King’s story matches the darkness of the director in his story examining duality, the lure of addiction in the sense of it creating an entirely other identity in one person, a quasi-monster movie about a man’s evil side literally appearing out of thin air. This is on the top of my lists for favourite King adaptations. There’s a lot to enjoy, even if it isn’t perfect. In the second half of the film things get riveting. Romero always goes for the jugular, this is no different.
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Love the idea of duality. We’ve seen it many times before in literature, most famously in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. What’s most interesting about the King novel and this adaptation is how we look at the dual identities of George Stark v. Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton v. Timothy Hutton). This is a parallel of several things. Of course on the surface there’s the idea of literally mirroring King and his own pseudonym, Richard Bachman. This whole film can act as a metaphor about how King and his feelings of the success involved with Bachman’s writing, in that it became this whole other entity that needed to be dealt with, and King’s wild imagination concocts this whole story. On a deeper level there’s the fact King wrote The Dark Half right before going sober. His own feelings of the drugs and the booze taking over, the addiction becoming an entire entity all of its own, his need to rein in control as himself and be a sober man going forward, these are the biggest drive for the ultimate differences between Thad and George.
The whole visual difference between Hutton as Thad and George is awesome. When I read the book I really got such a feeling of uncanny terror when imagining the two versions of this one man. Particularly later on when things get very intense, the practical makeup effects used make the divide between Stark and Beaumont bigger. Added to all that there’s Hutton. Now apparently he was a horror to work with, even quitting the production at one point. Can’t say he doesn’t play the part to near perfection. He has the feeling of a writer torn in two from the start, not sure whether to keep riding on the success of a part of his identity which clearly causes trouble in his real day-to-day life. Then as we get further into the plot Hutton’s able to seamlessly transition from just a writer in distress to a man having one devastating existential crisis.
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Something I’m very interested in personally is the Eastern belief in the concept of tulpa. Essentially, this is the concept that the mind is so powerful that it can will something into existence through pure thought. Further than that there’s often the idea that collectively, enough people might be able to will something into existence due to the amount of people expending mental energy on conjuring it up. Such is the case today with phenomenons like Slender Man and others. Certain occult thinkers might suggest these entities can become real, of flesh and blood, if enough people believe in them and will it so. In a way, George Stark is such a tulpa. Thad has not only thought him up, he’s effectively become a real person in that Beaumont hands his work over to the pseudonym, making him a part of the world. Then there’s the fact Thad had a malformed twin in his skull as a boy, this plays into more ideas about duality and further almost twists this into a monster movie – horrific images in the mind conjured up concerning a leftover bit of brain, bits of human matter not fully formed, waking up and growing into a whole man, wreaking havoc on a town in Maine. King, adapted well by Romero, takes a wild look at what happens if a murderous, hateful, vengeance seeking guy like Stark were to be willed into existence. There’s an equal part of camp much as there’s depth to the story. It’s all great, though there is quite a good helping of a sort of 1950s-style. There’s nothing wrong with that. Mostly it comes in the form of Stark who is appropriately a sort of typical 50s gangster with a razor blade, a slick-haired, leather jacket wearing, kinda Elvis copy. He’s no West Side Story sort, he’s much more dangerous than that. Along with his creepiness comes an awesomely throwback sense of camp that adds a dark humour to many of the kill scenes. All in all, the way King’s story and characters bring out the idea of the tulpa is lots of fun. Romero does his best to make that work and does a bang up job.
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I can forgive a movie’s mistakes if most everything is compelling enough. King wrote a great novel, one to which I found myself glued until the last page turned and that back cover slapped shut. The Dark Half is in good hands with Romero. His directorial choices match his capabilities as a writer, each side complimenting the other. More than that I think he does well with adapting King. Not everyone can fit a novel of his into one screenplay properly, though I’m inclined to feel as if Romero does just that. Rather than make this into a half-assed attempt at jamming every little idea King had in the novel into the script, Romero opts to choose the best material, condense it, then make sure the lead character and his story gets brought out powerfully. The adapted screenplay works, and Timothy Hutton sells the Thad Beaumont character, in turn doing a fantastic job with George Stark in a highly opposing role; all the duality rests on him here, he carries that responsibility nicely. Throw in some nice effects, a couple nasty horror kills and blood to boot, this keeps things on the level for those genre fans out there. I forget how good this movie is then each time I put it on I remember, so quickly. If you’ve not seen it and call yourself a King fan, or one of Romero’s legion, then get on it, now. This is better than many will try and tell you.

The Walking Dead – Season 3, Episode 7: “When the Dead Come Knocking”

AMC’s The Walking Dead
Season 3, Episode 7: “When the Dead Come Knocking”
Directed by Daniel Sackhelm
Written by Frank Renzulli

* For a review of the previous episode, “Hounded” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Made to Suffer” – click here
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This vicious entry in the third season starts with Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) interrogating Glenn (Steven Yeun). As Maggie (Lauren Cohan) listens on in the next room, strapped to a chair, her man is being tortured, as Merle looks to find where they’re living. He wants to find his brother Daryl (Norman Reedus), but wouldn’t mind getting his hands on Officer Friendly, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln).
Speaking of Rick, he’s watching Michonne (Danai Gurira) right outside the fence of the prison. The walkers finally tune in to her being around, so Rick and Carl (Chandler Riggs) stand there as she fends off a group of them. Her wound is getting worse then she passes out, which prompts the Grimes men to intervene finally. Or at least Carl does, anyways, surprising his father. They both head out and clear a path, hauling Michonne to safety and taking in the goods she brought. Best of all, they determine she was shot and not bitten by walkers. They take her inside. At least for now. Rick has her locked out of the cellblock for the time being.
Then, Daryl reveals to them all that Carol (Melissa McBride) is alive. She is happy to see them all, receiving hugs and all sorts of love. But also she discovers the baby without Lori, as she and Rick and Carl each share a few tears. Emotionally charged scene with a whole lot going on, which is something Michonne sees and you can tell it affects her. Perhaps this is a group she might someday be able to belong to, in her own mind.


Slippers and a robe on, The Governor (David Morrissey) receives Milton Mamet (Dallas Roberts) at the door. Apparently Mr. Coleman is ready – whoever that is.
At the prison, Michonne reveals Glenn and Maggie were taken and that’s why she had the formula when she arrived. Nobody trusts her, which is understandable. We do because we’re privileged with all the information. Slowly, she reveals the presence of survivors in the town of Woodbury, talking of The Governor and even calling him a “Jim Jones type“.
Swing back to Merle, who has Glenn’s face beat in, bleeding, purple and puffy. Except Glenn is one tough cookie. He warns of Rick coming to find them, what he’ll do. Merle isn’t afraid, but Glenn says: “Weve been on the road. Not hiding in some dungeon.” Problem is he doesn’t know about Andrea, which gives Merle a slight advantage he’ll use in some way.
The plan at the prison is for Rick and a few others to go to Woodbury and find the lost couple. Even the remaining prisoners agree to help, as best they can. Carl and Beth (Emily Kinney) are ready to do their part, too. Everybody is helping and doing what they can. Another brief father-son chat happens between Carl and Rick, starting out surrounding the boy having to finish off his mother; Rick trusts his boy to protect the people at the prison, which is a great thing to see. They end up deciding on a name finally, coming from Carl’s third grade teacher: Judith. A touching moment in between the harshness of their world.


Milton is experimenting in his little lab at Woodbury. The Mr. Coleman he spoke of is a subject they’re using to test where reanimation happens, how it does, and so on. Apparently the older gentleman is doing Woodbury “a great service“, or so The Governor fawns over him. Andrea’s brought in to help things along with Milton, which involves the playing of a record, the slight ringing of a bell and specific commands and statements from Milton. It is all meant to test the boundaries of the zombie virus, the functions of the brain after death and going into the void of the undead. All sorts of scientific stuff Milton hopes to understand. See, Mr. Coleman is dying and they’re trying to figure out more about walkers.
More disturbing things are happening in the room where Glenn is held. Merle lets a walker loose in the room with him. Glenn fights it off, still duct taped to a chair. He manages to bust out slightly and keep the thing from biting him. Very cool scene with an interesting zombie kill, also showing how resourceful Glenn is, and what a survivor he has become over time.
The most disturbing is when The Governor goes to see Maggie, tied to the chair. For a moment I was sure he would inflict some terrible kind of treatment, sexual abuse, on her. It is an ominous few moments between the two, as he puts a terrible fear in Maggie. And us. But she is defiant and refuses to give in to any of his tactics, telling him to do what he wants and to “go to hell“.


Out on the road, Michonne leads Rick and Daryl towards Woodbury. A large horde of walkers comes from the woods to keep everyone busy. With too many bearing down the group slips further into the trees where they find a lodge of some sort. Inside, a rotten dead dog stinks the place up. Better than outside where the dead line every inch of the lodge’s exterior. Rick finds a crazy man sleeping under a blanket on a bed. He threatens everybody’s safety ending in a shot fired and then Michonne putting her sword through the man to prevent walkers getting in. “Remember the Alamo?” quips Daryl looking out at the thicket of walking corpses crowding them inside. They feed the dead man to the walkers out front and sneak through the back, as the distraction works perfectly.
The heat turns up in Woodbury with The Governor threatening death against Glenn in order to illicit a response from Maggie. She obviously gives up the prison, its location, how many survivors are left there, and anything else they need. Sad to hear the information given up, but what else would you do? Maggie clearly doesn’t want to watch the love of her life die, not after everything. And Glenn almost explodes seeing a topless Maggie being treated how she is by The Governor. They’re left alone. Except now things are getting wilder, as The Governor’s paranoia sets in. At the very same time, Rick and his small crew have arrived at the gates of Woodbury. They stand ready to take back their people, to infiltrate.
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The episode ends with Andrea strolling back to the new place she seemingly sleeps at night, everything appearing fine, The Governor wringing his hands and worrying about the next step, and just outside Rick Grimes poises to mount his offensive on the sleepy town of Woodbury.
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Next episode is titled “Made to Suffer” and is sure to bring plenty of madness, excitement, paranoia, and naturally… death.

The Walking Dead – Season 3, Episode 6: “Hounded”

AMC’s The Walking Dead
Season 3, Episode 6: “Hounded”
Directed by Daniel Attias
Written by Scott M. Gimple

* For a review of the previous episode, “Say the Word” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “When the Dead Come Knocking” – click here
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Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) is leading the charge searching for Michonne (Danai Gurira). He’s got a couple people from Woodbury with him, including a young guy he calls Neil (Dave Davis). Out of the woods Michonne comes killing the others, leaving Merle and Neil alive. After the confrontation, Merle stands defiant: “Are we having fun yet?” he calls out into the forest, as she slips away after their fight.
Back to Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) in the tombs of the prison, among the dead walkers, in the place where his wife dead. He received a phone call from someone who won’t say where they are, who they, who is with them. Rick pleads with them for help, but the woman on the other hangs up. Meanwhile, Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), Hershel (Scott Wilson) and the others eat together. When they do see Rick again he’s slightly better. But not near well. Glenn (Steven Yeun) talks about making a run for supplies, Daryl gives Rick an update on other plans. Yet off Sheriff Grimes goes again, by himself. Into the tombs.
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In Woodbury there’s a better relationship brewing between Andrea (Laurie Holden) and The Governor (David Morrissey). She wasn’t impressed with their big show the night before, having Merle give off a big three-ring circus style act with walkers. Although, she wants to stay, and to contribute. The Governor agrees to have her.
Rick continues to talk to other voices on the phone. This time, a man. Again he gets hung up after a bit of conversation. Frustrating, no? Or is it all in Rick’s head?
Andrea proves her worth in the new town by taking down a walker, jumping over the Woodbury wall to get it. Only the girl she’s on guard with doesn’t seem too impressed. “This isnt a game,” she tells Andrea, who only looks confused. And she ought to be, having turned the world outside into just as much of a game, a “release” as she put it, as the circus Merle was putting off the night before.
Hershel finds Rick in the prison tombs. He tries to talk with the distraught father and widower. Rick reveals the call he received and Hershel tries listening to the phone; we don’t hear any dial tone, does he? Either way, Rick sends Hershel off and wants to stay alone.


Coming across Michonne, the team of Merle and Neil find Michonne. Then a zombie attack breaks out. Everyone fends for themselves, as poor Michonne slices one walker open and its guts pour onto her stomach, chest, face. Nasty, and amazing makeup effects done by the KNB wizards.
At the prison, Daryl talks with Carl (Chandler Riggs), as he and a couple others explore the tomb-like tunnels. We get the story of Mama Dixon burning herself to death in bed after falling asleep with a cigarette. Then Carl tells Daryl about having to kill his mom: “I ended it. It was real. Sorry about your mom.” “Im sorry about yours,” replies Daryl.
Meeting with The Governor, we hear Andrea admit to enjoying the fights, as opposed to her earlier sentiments. He seems to have her pegged, to know what she’s all about. He also believes he’s “growing” on her. In other news, Merle is trying to get Neil back to Woodbury. The younger guy is giving Merle a bit of hell over what they have to tell The Governor re: Michonne. She’s been shot by Merle, and he’s sure she’ll die. Nevertheless, the oldest Dixon puts a bullet between Neil’s eyes and leaves it at that. Always a survivor.
Michonne is covered in the walker guts after crossing paths with Merle. Lucky for her: the zombies don’t even notice her.


While on their run, Glenn and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) end up being watched from afar by Michonne. For her part, Andrea’s lounging in a lush green garden drinking booze with The Governor. They’re becoming closer and closer with each passing scene.
The most interesting is when Merle shows up where Glenn and Maggie are scavenging, Michonne still waiting in the wings. When Merle starts a fight things get tense. He makes Glenn drop his gun, Maggie at gunpoint in his own grip, all with Michonne watching. When they drive off she’s left alone, shot, and wondering what to do next.
Another call for Sheriff Grimes. He picks up the receiver and hears a familiar voice – Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies). The whole time he’s been talking to Amy, Jim, Jacqui. All their dead friends. This is a devastating scene for Rick, as he sort of compounds all his failures, crying and telling Lori: “I couldnt put it back together.” His breakdown is tough to witness. He’s meant to be that never-wavering alpha leader. But that’s also why Rick is a well written character, whose faults and stumbles are present, always. Yet further he soldiers on in the hardest, most trying times of this new life in the post-zombie apocalypse world.


With Andrea in bed, The Governor’s successfully conned her into his life. Sad, as she’s one smart character. Usually. At the door Merle tells his boss about losing the three people in his search party, or, he lies about what happened. He says Michonne is dead, claiming the head and her sword were “torn up” in the scuffle. Things are lightened when The Governor is made aware of the new hostages, Glenn and Maggie. Merle is apparently getting ready to extract a little info.
Finally, Rick goes back to his son, his daughter, and the rest of the group. He looks long at his new child before picking her up out of Hershel’s arms. The light slowly returns to his eyes and brightens his soul a bit. We can sense a change in that moment, more of the incredible acting talent Andrew Lincoln brings to the role.
In the tombs, Daryl holds the knife belonging to Carol (Melissa McBride). He gets angrier and angrier, opening the door they’d noticed earlier was pushing open slightly and finds Carol herself, right there. A happy reunion in all of the bitter brutality. Outside, Rick notices something off in the distance. He gives the baby to Carl and heads down to the fence where he finds Michonne, carrying formula in a small handcart Maggie and Glenn were stocking up. They lock eyes before the episode cuts to back.


Next up is “When the Dead Come Knocking”. Stay with me.

The Walking Dead – Season 3, Episode 5: “Say the Word”

AMC’s The Walking Dead
Season 3, Episode 5: “Say the Word”
Directed by Greg Nicotero
Written by Angela Kang

* For a review of the previous episode, “Killer Within” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Hounded” – click here
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We start by seeing The Governor (David Morrissey) with a small girl, a walker. Her name is Penny. He’s obviously caring for his daughter even after death has come for her, then brought her back. It is a creepy, unsettling sight. Then, from his window, he sees Michonne (Danai Gurira). She is always watching now, waiting. She knows something is rotten in the town of Woodbury.
Over at the prison, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is having a tough time dealing with the loss of his wife. Carl (Chandler Riggs) handles it like a tough young man. Everyone else is trying to help the new baby. Hershel (Scott Wilson) says they need baby formula soon, so Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) agree to go on a run. Glenn (Steven Yeun) tries his best to take charge.
But Rick goes back inside the prison on a warpath, chopping down zombie after zombie. He is loosening at the seams, no doubt. And who wouldn’t be at that point?

 


The Governor’s busy not worrying much about other things in the new post-apocalypse life. He toasts his town on the doorstep, reminiscing on times of “Spam and saltine crackers“. Upstairs, though, Michonne slips into his apartment to get her samurai sword back. She finds a book with a bunch of names marked down. The final one? Penny, underlined. Followed by pages of small ink strokes. By the hundreds. She has to hide away before slipping out of the apartment as Merle (Michael Rooker), Milton (Dallas Roberts) and The Governor come in to grab a few supplies. Seems there’s a big party of some sort planned for that night, although Milton isn’t impressed; his experiments need power these little shindigs are leeching.
We see Michonne out investigating other areas of Woodbury. She finds a big cage locked up and full of walkers. Letting them out, one by one they fall by her sword. A bad motherfucker. This puts her in trouble with The Governor, as he scolds her for “poking around other peoplesthings“. Their moments get tense after she brings up Penny, nearly stopping his heart cold. Only that leadership attitude and demeanour comes out, he fawns like some zombie apocalypse Ronald Reagan, smiling for the cameras and doing quite another thing behind closed doors. Maybe even more like a Nixon. Or any number of nasty U.S. Presidents. Either way, he is a politician. Just a different kind in the new wasteland. He and Michonne have their confrontation, which puts strain not only on her whole existence but also her friendship with Andrea (Laurie Holden), who still remains consistently blind to what The Governor is underneath it all.

 


Digging graves, Glenn is busy working. He and Hershel mourn the life of T-Dog. They also worry for Maggie sharing a beautiful moment together, embracing hands through the prison yard’s fence. It is sad to see them always having to lose someone. The new life of the wasteland is unfair and cruel.
Andrea and The Governor are having a few words now. She doesn’t necessarily see eye to eye with the man, but there is a part of her which doesn’t fully trust Michonne either. Even though Andrea owes her life to that woman, for saving her among the vast loneliness of the forest. Michonne knows there is something else behind the facade of Woodbury, and Andrea won’t simply leave. She says “I think we need this“. “This place is not what they say it is,” replies Michonne.
In the tomb-like tunnels of the prison Glenn searches for Rick. Only walker bodies lay strewn along the floor. He finds Rick standing in the dark, bloody axe by his side. Blood everywhere. Rick looks terrifying. Glenn tries talking to him, reasoning, to save the man from any further grief. But when Glenn touches his arm Rick loses it for a second and throws him against a wall. Actually frightened me for a second. He tosses Glenn aside before heading back into the dark hallway nearby.
Merle has Milton out hunting for new walker specimens. They take one down, then start pulling out its teeth. What’s the deal here? Are these just for experiments, or what were all those “captive biters” for earlier – the ones Michonne found?

 


On the road, Maggie and Daryl find a nursery with some supplies: bottles, diapers, all sorts of things. Even a possum for dinner.
In Woodbury, we watch as Michonne and Andrea begin to leave. Only they aren’t on the same page. Then there’s Merle trying to sweet talk them into staying. Andrea says she’s tired, she doesn’t want to go out on the run surviving like they did. Their dream once upon a time was “a refuge”, but Michonne knows there are hideous things lurking beyond the periphery there in that makeshift town. The Governor is a dangerous man. Michonne leaves saying “Youd just slow me down anyway“.
When Daryl and Maggie return to the prison they bring formula, which calms the baby down. He even cradles the child, feeding her. Carl suggests naming her Sophia, maybe Andrea, Jacqui, Patricia. Only Daryl suggests “LilAss Kicker” sounds better.
At the same time Rick is down in the spot where Lori died. His mind is unraveling. He finds a a walker, shoves his gun in its mouth and pulls the trigger. It’s a real visceral, nasty kill.

 


Finally, some of the dirty undercurrent of Woodbury comes out when The Governor takes Andrea to a large arena style show they’ve got going on. Music is playing, fire blazes and everyone is sitting in stands clapping, yelling. Then the lights come up on several chained walkers. Out comes Cesar Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo) and Merle Dixon. They’re fighting, surrounded by the zombies. In the stands a man hoists his little boy up on his shoulders to watch the show. Merle and Cesar square off in the ring looking like they’re having the time of their lives. When Andrea is sickened by the spectacle The Governor says it’s how they “blow off steam” in Woodbury. He reveals it’s all staged – that is what the teeth pulling earlier was, as if ‘sports entertainment’ is a required part of their camp. Maybe it is, but the whole thing seems a tad morbid to me.
In the boiler room where Rick sits by the dead walker he brutalized, a phone begins to ring. It’s sitting nearby and Rick goes to it, confused. “Hello?” he answers, as the episode cuts to black.

 


Interesting development. Next up is “Hounded” where we’ll see Michonne more, as well as the new state of mind in which Rick finds himself.