Scream Factory gives us an early Thanksgiving treat this week! Not one, but TWO wonderfully done Blu-ray releases of the George A. Romero films, Monkey Shines and The Dark Half.
Monkey Shines tells the story of Alan Mann, a quadriplegic who gets a Capuchin monkey as his little helper. At first, Ella the monkey is very useful. She can make phone calls, get Alan drinks and even do cute dances to make him laugh. However, unbeknownst to Alan, the monkey has been part of a genetic experiment which makes her a little…nutty. Things start to go sour when Alan and Ella begin to connect telepathically and wreak havoc when Alan gets angry.
I hadn’t seen the film in many years. It plays more as a drama than straight up thriller. Not that I hate drama, but I always felt this film could have been a little more fun with the creepy monkey parts. That said, Romero always does a good job at building tension and the film’s violent crescendo is totally off the rails.
Based on a book by Stephen King, The Dark Half stars Timothy Hutton as an unsuccessful novelist writing under his own name, Thad Beaumont. However, under his pen name, George Stark, he’s a wildly successful crime fiction writer who tells violent and trashy stories. Once Beaumont’s two-faced career is revealed, he decides it’s time to literally and publicly kill George Stark. He holds a burial, complete with a headstone that dons Stark’s name. This is all in hopes for Beaumont to move on and start a legitimate career writing important works.
So, it comes with great shock and terror when a physical presence of George Stark rises from the fake grave and starts to kill everyone connected to Beaumont. The film leads us on a supernatural cat and mouse as we learn the secret of why George Stark has been born into the real world and how Beaumont’s writing will keep him alive.
Both films are clearly Jekyll and Hyde stories. The Dark Half is more literal regarding man’s duality and I think it’s a more successful film and one of Romero’s better works after the dead trilogy. I had not seen the film since it came out in 1993 and I really enjoyed watching it again. It’s very polished and the acting is superb. Michael Rooker has a nice role as a good guy, which is something we don’t see too often in his career.
Both films look beautiful on Blu-ray. The Dark Half’s gorgeous photography really stands out. There is a nice balance of grain and crispness. When Romero goes old school with big, bold color washes, the transfer is very vibrant without any desaturation that you might have seen in previous versions.
The people at Red Shirt Pictures, who put together the docs on these releases, have stepped up their game here. In the past, I’ve commented on how sometimes the docs can be a little light in content. Of course, many times that’s chalked up to what or who is available. However, BOTH Blu-rays have excellent docs on the making of the films and are chock full of new interviews, behind the scenes material and interesting stories. Romero is the best subject. I’m a big fan of his and he’s great at discussing the making of his films, always jovial and upbeat even when telling the more annoying moments in his career.
Both discs come with a nice serving of vintage behind the scenes footage, deleted scenes, a Monkey Shines really weird alternate ending, trailers, stills and a brand new audio commentary with George A. Romero. I could listen to him talk about films all day. Maybe I’ll put the commentaries in a loop.
Between the two, solely on the films alone, I prefer The Dark Half. However, due to the wealth of great extras, any Romero fan worth their zombie wound would want to own both these Blu-rays in their collection. So, grab your Black Beauty pencils and write down your orders today!