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.
The 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 scathing 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.
Romero 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.
An 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 Romero.
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.