Then & Now: The Dark Half

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Geoff Harris

The Dark Half (1993) is the film of Stephen King’s novel with the same name. Thad Beaumont was born with chronic headaches and a constant reoccurring auditory hallucination that sounded like a flock of sparrows ringing in his ears. Ultimately he is taken to a doctor who discovers Thad’s unborn twin hadn’t been fully absorbed and bits had grown as he had grown. These were removed and the headaches and sounds went away. Thad lives a fairly normal life. He takes up writing as a profession but just can’t quite break even until he starts writing under a pseudonym, George Stark. Stark’s works are brutal and often filled with depictions of torture and violence. Thad begins to slip away and he is replaced in his daily life by George’s abusive hard-drinking ways. After several best sellers Thad seems to grow weary of this “bad boy” life and starts to clean up both his act and his writing. He writes his first successful novel as himself and participates in a mock funeral wherein he buries George stark, literal gravestone (fake as George was) and an empty cemetery plot.

Until someone rises from that fake grave and goes about ripping Thad’s life apart. One person at a time.

Then

The Dark Half was one of the first movies that really fired me up to also read the book it was based on. I left high school with dreams of being a writer and by 1993 I was a ball of depression and burned out ideas. Seeing a story of someone become something more sinister to excise their demons really resonated. Why should Geoff Harris bang his head against the wall and growl at the keyboard when he could just write as someone else? Because I was a coward and very close to the inward collapse which would kick-start the second half of my life. In a way, this is the ending of my “dark half” or at least its dying quakes. It was a fair story with a few jump scares and a massive WTF ending. Thad gets his life back and I was just about to restart mine.

Now

Sometimes you are able to see something with fresh eyes. The Dark Half isn’t a perfect movie. It has its flaws but holds together pretty well. Timothy Hutton, as it turns out, had his own journey into drink and depression and he brings a bit of that to the role of Thad Beaumont. George Stark, I learned over the years, was an allegory for King’s own dark self, Richard Bachman. Bachman was a drunk, an abusive husband, and an all-around prick of a human being. His stories are angry epics. Visceral attacks on decency and good taste. Admittedly, some of the better stories King has written. The Dark Half is a watchable, if predictable, film. In a lot of ways, I was a predictable person.

Before I go all weepy-creepy on you and you start rolling your eyes saying how much you hate when I share too much, let’s take a moment to talk about horror as a genre and a concept. Horror fiction is meant to induce/generate fear and/or terror in the audience. Fear and terror are similar but differ in intensity and how they affect us. Fear can be understood; terror is a primal gut-punch. Of course, a fear of spiders incites terror in some. It’s a twisting wicket of psychological responses. Horror is the name given to works that cause such a reaction. The boogeyman under the bed. The creaky floor in the empty house. We get scared and our brains become flooded with hormones making our  fight or flight instinct go into overdrive. It’s like being stoned while jumping out of a plane. For just that slice of time you are elevated to a state of awareness and then come crashing back down. It’s quite addicting and harder and harder to reach each time.

Really good horror can fuck with you for a longer stretch. It will ratchet you up and down like a really compelling guitar solo or a neck-breaking roller-coaster. It gets inside your head and stirs up emotions other than just fear. If done correctly, you sympathize for the victims or, in some cases, cheer on the baddie as he swipes his way through dim-brained dumb asses. Thad Beaumont isn’t exactly a good example per say. You are lead to sympathize with his desire to “start over” but the narrative is a bit weak about that. Book to film adaptations often have holes where you can tell there are details which aren’t or cant be filled. Most modern horror is made up with jump scares and music-cue set-ups or deliberate acts of gore for more shock than scare. For me, the horror of The Dark Half, and by extension why it pertains to me personalty, is the Jeckel/Hyde of theme at its core. Thad was the “Good” twin and George the “Bad.” Seeing past the supernatural aspect of the story, each of us has a light and a dark side. Some lean in one direction or the other. Our inherent selves and moral values are based around that duality. Thad excised his as a persona he adapted to break his block. He just had the misfortune of living in a world where malevolent forces gather and influence events. I live soundly in “The Real World”. There aren’t any monsters except the ones we create.

In many ways I spend half my life asleep. My depression was my horror story. Crippled by social anxiety. Unable to relate to others without feeling persecuted. Ultimately I created another version of myself; My dark Half. I didn’t change my name but I certainly pulled a 180 in how I treated others. I was a jerk. I would rant and rave about total horseshit and demand to be recognized for points that made no sense to anyone. I told off-color jokes in restaurants, often in the presence of children, because I wanted someone to challenge me. I wanted pain so I sought out abuse. No best-selling author here, kiddos. I was turning into a human shit-stain and I didn’t care.

The Dark Half always reminds me of those days. Every time I watch it I am thrown back into that frame of mind again. My George Stark days. My horror story has a happy ending. I got away from that other me. I have been spending my days now seeking peace and inner redemption. I know I’m no Stephen King; He is a master storyteller. I’m a hackneyed key-banger at best. Life shouldn’t be about regret. It should be about growth and learning to love oneself. I make my snarky jabs but they are the barks of a toothless dog. Horror leaves scars. Sometimes, when it rains, mine itch.

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