Darkman (BluRay Review)

After directing the low budget cult classics Evil Dead 1 and 2, Director Sam Raimi signed on to make his first big studio feature. It was a film based on a short story he wrote that paid tribute to some of his favorite Universal horror films such as The Invisible Man and Frankenstein. Darkman was a blending of the crime, horror, comedy and super hero genres that exploded onto the screen and was a direct precursor to what he would later do with his most successful films to date: the Spider Man trilogy.

Trying to perfect the formula

Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a brilliant bio-engineer working on a new skin replicating formula, his only problem is the fragile material deteriorates after a certain amount of time. Along with his faithful assistant Yakatito (Nelson Mashita), Peyton knows that if he can only figure out the missing piece of the puzzle that’s causing it to fail (he suspects an adverse reaction to sunlight), he can change the world forever.

Meanwhile, his girlfriend Julie (Frances McDormand) has discovered a document called The Belasarius memorandum at her business. If fallen into the wrong hands, the piece of incriminating paper could destroy everything her boss Mr. Strack (Colin Friels) has worked on to make his dream project of turning the cities delapidated waterfront property into a thriving new attraction. When Strack finds out Julie knows about his dealings with the underworld (as noted in the memo) he confronts her but she makes it clear she understands its importance and won’t tell anyone about it. The only trouble is she’s left it at Peyton’s apartment…

In timely fashion, Peyton and Yakatito are paid a visit by Strack’s main henchman Robert Durant (Larry Drake) a known criminal but also his partner in the new waterfront venture. The two nerdy scientists don’t know the reason for this unannounced confrontation but are tortured violently by Durant and his thugs. Yakatito takes a karate stance (this shot always makes me laugh) but his bluff is called and he’s shot in the head. Peyton is tossed around like a ragdoll and his hands are burned badly after which he is catapulted into the nearby lake from the force of a gas explosion set off by Durant.

Julie attends Peyton’s funeral, not knowing that he has actually been taken to the local hospital (thought to be a homeless person), where his extremely charred body is beyond recognition. The doctors also use him as a kind of experiment, severing his nerves which cause him to not feel pain. The side effects of this create an increase in physical strength but also psychological and emotional complications.

Paulie gets fired

Peyton escapes from the hospital and finds out he has become a severely deformed human being. With no place to go, he covers himself with bandages, a black cloak and hat and relocates to a deserted factory where he begins to try to fix his skin replicator. After successfully getting the machine to work, he uses the artificial material to create a variety of masks to help him see Julie again as his old self while seeking revenge on Durant, his thugs and Strack, the men behind all his anguish. With his newly found powers, his only obstacle is the skin formula that he hasn’t perfected yet. If the masks he wears are worn over a 99 minute limit, they begin to melt.

By 1990, Director Sam Raimi had established himself as a very interesting genre filmmaker (along with his friends The Coen Brothers). His eye for comic book type visuals/sight gags mixed with his Three Stooges inspired “splatstick” violence and a distinct over the top humor provided a fresh experience for movie audiences.

Darkman may owe a great deal to Universal horror, The Elephant Man and Hunchback of Notre Dame but you can also see nods to other movies such as House of Wax, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Phantom of The Paradise, Robocop and strangely enough: The Grapes of Wrath!

Strack and Durant

Liam Neeson gives another incredibly dynamic performance as the good hearted, gentle soul who is transformed into a monster against his will. His tragic circumstances are often played for laughs with Sam Raimi’s trademark ironic and pitch black humor. In one scene Darkman puts an oil funnel on his head and dances like the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz in anger about his being a “freak”. In another he attacks one of Durant’s underlings (Ted Raimi) and sticks him up through a manhole cover during rush hour. The movie is loaded with these kinds of extremely comical and violent moments.

The score by Danny Elfman (who had previously worked on Tim Burton’s Batman) is another highlight bringing equal amounts of gloom, doom and exhilleration to the movie’s atmosphere.

When I screened this Blu Ray, I hadn’t seen Darkman (an old favorite) in a few years and was surprised to notice a certain scene may have inspired another from one of my favorite action films. Next time you watch Mission Impossible’s climactic train sequence, you’ll see Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) hook a helicopter onto a moving vehicle (train). This is something Darkman also does only with a truck. Whether or not it was actually taken from this film, I’m not sure.

Look for a fun little cameo by Evil Dead’s Bruce Campbell at the end of the film.

Darkman is everywhere

BLU RAY REVIEW

– Picture: Presented in (1:85:1) – The high-definition transfer brings a whole new level of clarity to the film and since it isn’t very old, it looks great.

– Audio: English DTS Master 5.1 Surround Sound. – An excellent audio mix that compliments the explosive action and dialogue on screen.

Final Word: I was dissapointed that there were no special features on this disc as I would’ve loved to hear a commentary by Liam Neeson and Sam Raimi along with other cast and crew. A Making Of featurette would’ve been cool too!

mm

Peter

Editor-In-Chief of The Grindhouse Cinema Database/Furious Cinema contributor. Pete is a rabid movie geek who enjoys everything from wild n' crazy exploitation/cult flix to big budget mainstream classics. His other interests include: graphic design, cartooning and music.

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