Matthew Lickona 12:30 p.m., March 25
The Dark Half
Stephen King's Jekyll-and-Hyde variation is as convoluted and garbled as we have come to expect. A college Lit. professor and writer of "serious fiction" is threatened with the exposure of his pulp-novelist pseudonym. Why on earth — given the heritage of Kenneth Fearing, Nicholas Blake, Michael Innes, et al. — would this commonplace literary phenomenon be thought grounds for blackmail? And why, when the secret is made public, would it be thought necessary to "kill off" the pseudonym once and for all? Well of course it's necessary only to facilitate the plot. The "buried" pulp novelist won't lie still for it, springs to life as a greasy-haired, snakeskin-booted separate entity (nice change of pace for the actor, Timothy Hutton, trading in Young Henry Fonda for Not So Young Claude Akins), and takes off on a serial-killing spree to compel his "serious" counterpart to allot him equal time. In order to "explain" this Doppelgänger, there is some unsatisfactory fast-talk about an unformed twin surgically removed from the hero's brain in childhood. And in order to "develop" the theme, the hero now has a set of twins of his own (identical ones, cute as buttons: metaphoric dead-end). Whatever the weaknesses of the story, they are swept aside by the strength of its treatment in the hands of George A. Romero: assured, polished, unrushed, no pandering to the Lowest Common Denominator, no worrying about living up to his past reputation (Dawn of the Dead, etc.), no attempting to top himself, but yet no branching out into uncharted territory, not even any moving away from his Pennsylvania stamping ground. There are atmospheric effects and lighting effects of great beauty: see (Exhibit E or F or so) the car lot at night, with its varicolored plastic pennants fluttering in the wind; or see (Exhibit V or W) the flickering chiaroscuro caused by the massing sparrows outside the windows at the end. And the murders, not nearly as graphic as some tastes crave, are expertly cranked jack-in-the-boxes of slow coil and sudden jolt. One hesitates to say we are here witnessing a master at work. But Romero's a long way from a slave. Amy Madigan, Michael Rooker, Julie Harris. 1993.
- Rated R