Here is the transcript of Darrell Buxton’s introduction to George A Romero’s The Dark Half from the 24th August 2017 at QUAD, Derby.
Hello and welcome to QUAD for tonight’s Fright Club. We had intended to bring you NEKROMANTIK 2, along with a guest appearance by that film’s notorious director Jorg Buttgereit, this evening, but unfortunately Jorg’s visit to the U.K. has been temporarily suspended. All being well, we may get him here early in 2018.
Our replacement offering tonight marks a rather sad occasion. Here at Fright Club we are huge fans of director George A. Romero – we’ve shown his NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, and DAY OF THE DEAD here over the years, and just a few weeks ago we brought you his 1982 compendium of comic book carnage in collaboration with Stephen King, the anthology movie CREEPSHOW. So we were shocked and upset to hear the news of George’s passing.
George died in his sleep, surrounded by his family and listening to the soundtrack of one of his favourite movies THE QUIET MAN, on June 16th following what was described as “a brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer”. He had been preparing a seventh movie in his long-running Living Dead series, to be titled ‘Road Of The Dead’.
We wanted to show our appreciation of Mr. Romero and express our admiration for his work – out of the pack of new horror talent to spring out of North America and Canada in the late 60s and early seventies, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, Bob Clark, John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, David Cronenberg and more, George was probably the most important. Without the groundbreaking NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD paving the way for independent production, these other guys might not have even taken the first step in their careers.
So, what to screen by way of a tribute? Well we’ve already shown his classic zombie trilogy as stated earlier, and CREEPSHOW. So we decided to go for something a little less familiar and less celebrated. George was great friends with Stephen King, these guys were also fans of each other – King would be first in line for every new Romero movie, George would eagerly await the latest hardback from the King literary conveyor belt – and of course they worked together whenever possible, though not frequently enough. In the early 90s King’s novel The Dark Half was published – a typically modern spin on the old Jekyll-and-Hyde concept, perhaps also with a nod towards Anthony Armstrong’s book ‘The Strange Case of Mr. Pelham’ – and at that time we were still in the era where every new arrival from King on the bookstore shelves meant that a big screen adaptation wouldn’t be far away. To the delight of horror fans, Romero signed up to direct the movie of THE DARK HALF – however, it turned out to be his last film for eight years, wasn’t a hit, didn’t exactly wow the critics, and is rarely spoken of today. So we thought it would be a perfect title to drag out of mothballs and give it another spin – it’s a bit of an undiscovered, forgotten jewel in the George Romero filmography.
Romero will of course always be remembered for his sextet of zombie movies, the three stone cold classics we’ve already mentioned plus the latter day trio LAND OF THE DEAD, DIARY OF THE DEAD and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD. But the director himself always professed a love of those projects in which he could focus on a single tormented character, be it SEASON OF THE WITCH, the is-he-or-isn’t-he-a-vampire internalised conundrum of MARTIN, the paralysed central figure being assisted by a trained primate turned psychotic in MONKEY SHINES, or the literally faceless, blank-masked office drone of his massively underrated turn-of-the-century stunner, BRUISER.
THE DARK HALF fits right in with this lonelier, more intense area of Romero’s career and makes him a near-perfect fit for King’s source material. Tim Hutton’s performance as struggling author Thad Beaumont offers a typical low-key Romero figure, who would be a laid-back and relaxed dude were it not for the particularly unusual troubles that beset him. This is vintage Romero, throwing an element of the truly bizarre into otherwise ordinary lives and sitting back to see what happens.
Stephen King’s immense success, beyond his wildest dreams, had led the multi-million selling author to begin to doubt his own abilities. Were people buying Cujo, The Stand, The Dead Zone due to the quality of the prose or simply because the name of the guy who wrote Carrie and Salem’s Lot was emblazoned across the cover? In an attempt to prove to himself that his writing, not his name, was the big selling point, King created an alter ego – and wrote five novels pseudonymously under the moniker ‘Richard Bachman’. As the eighties progressed and King’s output became ever more autobiographical, with the likes of Pet Sematary and Misery touching on concerns from his own life or at least his innermost thoughts, the Bachman years resurfaced as a topic for his final novel of that decade – The Dark Half would tell of Maine-based writer Beaumont, whose highbrow fiction achieves limited sales, leading him to work in the sleazy pulp arena with a series of hard bitten, violent crime stories penned under the name ‘George Stark’. This Mickey Spillane type stuff proves phenomenally successful – but somehow the phoney Stark seems to have come to life, and what’s more he’s embarked on a killing spree worthy of Alexis Machine, the chief character in the Stark canon.
The Dark Half is ideal material for Romero – a chance to do a Jekyll-and-Hyde split personality movie, adding a new string to his bow, while allowing the director to examine the psyche of an internalised, introspective personality in the manner of MARTIN or the disabled protagonist of MONKEY SHINES. Alongside Hutton, sterling support is provided by Amy Madigan as his suffering spouse – who it has to be said rather resembles Romero’s own wife at the time, Chris Forrest. The cast also features Michael Rooker, fresh from the stunning HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, and the near-legendary supporting actor Royal Dano, a regular in 1950s westerns and enjoying a big career resurgence in science fiction and horror in his later years. His appearance as Digger Holt in THE DARK HALF marks Royal’s final onscreen credit prior to his death in mid-1994.
THE DARK HALF received mixed reviews from the critics in 1993, though Hutton’s dual performance won much praise – it had middling results at the box-office too. Romero was seemingly out of action for the rest of the 1990s, although the reality of the situation was that he spent years developing ‘The Mummy’ for Universal Pictures, ultimately unfilmed and then of course weirdly mutated into the Brendan Fraser fantasy action flicks and the recent Tom Cruise vehicle. George was also attached to a proposed movie version of video game Resident Evil for a while, and did indeed film a Japanese commercial for ‘Biohazard 2’, the second instalment of the Resident Evil gaming franchise – you can take a look at that on YouTube. He joked that he had made more money from failed and unrealised 90s projects than he ever made from actual production during the rest of his career!
Time, then, to sit back and celebrate the life and career of George A. Romero. Perhaps the most important film director of his generation – and just try to imagine a cinema landscape without him. Instead of having three new zombie movies released every week, we’d have none. No Lucio Fulci, no 28 DAYS LATER…, no SHAUN OF THE DEAD, no GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, and certainly no ‘Walking Dead’ on telly – horror would be a wasteland offscreen instead of on. Thank you, George, for everything. Let’s honour the memory of this great, great man by taking a look at one of his most unheralded and under-discussed offerings. The easygoing, laid-back side of you may like what you are about to see. The twisted, dangerous part of you will love it. Raise a glass to Mr. Romero, and enjoy THE DARK HALF. The sparrows are flying again.
Fright Club is back on it’s regular Friday night in September with some more Stephen King inspired goodness with the new adaptation of IT screening on Friday 29th September at 8:45pm – Tickets on sale soon.