Maitland McDonagh

''The Dark Half'' behind the scenes

It took more than 4,000 cheeping finches (masquerading as sparrows) to manifest the plague of tiny beating wings in The Dark Half. It also took a flock of special-effects experts — and a gaggle of faux feathered performers.

”George [Romero] wanted a ton of birds. He used the term ‘bird soup,”’ says visual-effects supervisor Kevin Kutchaver.

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''Misery'' gets company

Nightmarish, bizarre, outlandish: Lots of words come to mind when you think of Stephen King’s books, but true-to-life? After years of writing about monsters in the closet, the author is finding plenty of trouble right at his door. As most readers and moviegoers know, King’s Misery concerns a best-selling writer who is kidnapped and tortured by an insane ex-nurse (a role for which Kathy Bates won an Oscar).

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Capturing killers on film

The formula fiction of stalk-and-slash movies would have us believe there’s a knife-wielding psycho lurking behind every tree and inside every conveniently darkened room. The facts are less dramatic and in many ways more frightening. Actual serial killers often live undetected for years, perpetrating unspeakable crimes while maintaining their cover of apparent normality. Their terrible deeds hold us grimly fascinated precisely because the killers seem so much like us on the surface.

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Making ''Silence of the Lambs'' authentic

Fact meets fiction in The Silence of the Lambs, and the intersection is 20-year FBI veteran John Douglas, head of the division on which the film’s Behavioral Science Unit is based. A consultant to novelist Thomas Harris for both Silence and its predecessor, Red Dragon, Douglas also worked closely with director Jonathan Demme, and he’s the model for the character of Jack Crawford, played by Scott Glenn.

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Talking with ''The Grifters'' director

For The Grifters, English director Stephen Frears may have taken a chance with the subject matter — Jim Thompson’s low-rent con games are a long way from the rarefied duplicity of Frears’ earlier Dangerous Liaisons — but he didn’t gamble on the casting. He knew that in order to believe The Grifters, audiences would have to believe the grifters. ”I looked at Annette (Bening) and thought, ‘My God — Gloria Grahame!”’ he says, referring to the blond-on-the- make from 1953’s The Big Heat.

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Why an X rating?

It has been a tough 1990 so far for Miramax, the small independent production and distribution company whose recent successes include the much-talked-about sex, lies, and videotape and this year’s Oscar-winning Best Foreign Film, Cinema Paradiso. In the space of a few weeks, two of the films Miramax picked up for distribution in the United States — The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! — received X ratings from the Motion Picture Assn. of America (MPAA).

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