The Dark Half is a mem­o­rable entry in the George Romero fil­mog­ra­phy for a few rea­sons: it might be the most pres­ti­gious project of his career and it was the last film before a long gap in his fil­mog­ra­phy (he didn’t make anoth­er fea­ture until Bruiser in 2000).  That said, the sto­ry of this trou­bled pro­duc­tion has nev­er been touched on in its past video incar­na­tions.  Scream Factory recent­ly filled this gap by cre­at­ing a new blu-ray edi­tion of The Dark Half that fills you in on its strange his­to­ry while giv­ing it the high-def bump.

DarkHalf-iconThe trans­fer for this title looks nice: the film off­sets win­try exte­ri­ors and dark­er, mood­ier inte­ri­ors but the video qual­i­ty here cap­tures both extremes well, with a nice rich­ness to the col­ors and a good lev­el of detail.  2.0 and 5.1. loss­less stereo mix­es are includ­ed for this trans­fer: the 5.1 track was lis­tened to for this review and it’s a sub­tle but effec­tive remix that pumps up the music and makes great use of direc­tion­al bird-cry sounds in a few key sce­nes.

This blu-ray is fleshed out with plen­ti­ful bonus fea­tures.  A com­men­tary track pair­ing Romero with Stuart “Feedback” Andrews starts the extras pack­age off. Like the Romero/Andrews com­men­tary on Scream Factory’s Monkey Shines disc, it deliv­ers a lot of info in a relaxed way.  Romero is frank about his con­flicts with actor Tim Hutton and cin­e­matog­ra­pher Tony Pierce-Roberts, talks about cast­ing choic­es that almost hap­pened and dish­es out a DarkHalf-05scathing indict­ment of how stu­dios use the test screen­ing process to bul­ly film­mak­ers.  You’ll also learn about what hap­pened in Romero’s career dur­ing that long gap between The Dark Half and Bruiser.  In short, it’s a treat for the director’s fans.

There’s also a nice 36-min­ute fea­turet­te called “The Sparrows Are Flying Again.”  It was pro­duced by Red Shirt Pictures, which has long-stand­ing ties to Romero, and incor­po­rates the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Romero as well as actors Michael Rooker and Rutanya Alda, pro­duc­er Declan Baldwin, FX design­ers John Vulich and Everett Burrell plus many more.  It offers a fast-mov­ing but very detailed por­trait of the devel­op­ment, chal­leng­ing pro­duc­tion and trou­bled dis­tri­b­u­tion for this film.

DarkHalf-06Romero defines the tone for this piece by describ­ing mak­ing the film as stress­ful.  As its his­to­ry unfurls, you see the only easy part of the film was get­ting the rights for the book and set­ting it up at Orion.  Otherwise, there was noth­ing but prob­lems: Timothy Hutton’s method approach made him a dif­fi­cult lead­ing man, Rooker admits his act­ing style clashed with the oth­er leads and the film’s finale demand­ed spe­cial effects that out­paced the tech­nol­o­gy of the era.  There’s also some juicy stuff about dis­trib­u­tor Orion’s mis­be­hav­ior on the film, includ­ing demands for a reshoot of the finale and how their sud­den bank­rupt­cy adverse­ly effect­ed the scor­ing process.  Overall, the piece gives you an insight into how dif­fi­cult it is to make gen­re mate­ri­al in the high-price Hollywood sys­tem.

DarkHalf-07An array of short­er spe­cial fea­tures fol­low.  Eight min­utes of delet­ed sce­nes include alter­nate ver­sions of sce­nes that show more cut­aways to George Stark, an inter­est­ing scene of con­flict between Stark and Liz and the film’s orig­i­nal end­ing.  There are also an ani­mat­ed set of sto­ry­boards for that orig­i­nal end­ing.  Fifteen min­utes’ worth of the behind the sce­nes spe­cial effects footage focus­es on the finale, show­ing off its mix of minia­tures, make­up effects and a mix­ture of real and fake birds.  Around nine min­utes of behind the sce­nes footage focus­es on the set, includ­ing Hutton act­ing with dou­ble John Amplas and Madigan hav­ing ener­get­ic inter­ac­tion with RoDarkHalf-08mero.

Next up are a series of pro­mo mate­ri­als.  A vin­tage EPK runs under 7 min­utes and fea­tures Romero and the lead­ing cast mem­bers dis­cussing the idea of dual­i­ty that dri­ves the film’s sto­ry­line.  A the­atri­cal trail­er pitch­es the film as a classy, high-end thriller and a t.v. spot offers a con­densed ver­sion of the same pitch.  Seven min­utes’ worth of extend­ed inter­views fea­ture longer ver­sions of the clips used in the EPK: a sur­prise involves Hutton speak­ing warm­ly of Romero’s direct­ing.  A 47-image still gallery rounds the disc out, fea­tur­ing lots of behind-the-scene shots and a few pro­mo pho­tos (includ­ing a fun­ny image of Romero with some spar­rows).

All in all, this is worth­while spe­cial edi­tion that will scratch a long-stand­ing itch for Romero fans — and they’ll all want to add this edi­tion of The Dark Half to their video shelf.