Saturday, January 20, 2018


One of the most underrated superhero movies ever made, DARKMAN is also the most underrated film directed by Sam Raimi, helmer of the original EVIL DEAD and Spider-Man trilogies. Raimi created the Darkman character for Universal and shares screenplay credit with his ARMY OF DARKNESS collaborator (and brother) Ivan Raimi, Chuck Pfarrer (HARD TARGET), and OUT ON A LIMB’s Daniel and Joshua Goldin. Inspired more by the Universal horror movies of the 1930s, William Gibson’s The Shadow, and EC comic books of the 1950s than by mainstream superhero fare, Darkman has no superpowers per se, but uses his scientific genius to strike back against the criminal underworld.

In Raimi’s origin story, Darkman is Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), a scientist who is nearly burned to death in an attack by crime kingpin Durant (Larry Drake). Though believed to be dead, Westlake survives and uses his experimental synthetic flesh — which dissolves after 99 minutes — to both re-create his old face and create new ones, so he can infiltrate Durant’s organization (think Martin Landau in the old MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series). Based in a secret warehouse laboratory, Westlake seeks revenge against both Durant and Durant’s employer, corrupt real estate magnate Strack (Colin Friels), who uses Westlake’s attorney girlfriend Julie (Frances McDormand) as a hostage.

The first big-budget studio film by Raimi and producer Robert Tapert, DARKMAN soars in large part because of Neeson, who suggests Boris Karloff in FRANKENSTEIN, creating a sympathetic character while mostly swathed in bandages or trapped under layers of hideous makeup. Using gestures and his expressive eyes, Neeson delivers a compassionate portrait of a mad genius split between vengeance and self-pity.

Beyond the performances, Raimi’s direction of the action sequences (on a relatively low $16 million budget) and the makeup effects are well done with a dark comic flair (some of the visual effects are shaky). Danny Elfman, just coming off his pioneering work on BATMAN, produces a satisfying soundscape to punctuate the heroics. Not much of a hit — the R-rated adventure opened in first place, but was out of the Top Five in under a month — DARKMAN inspired two direct-to-video sequels (without Neeson or Raimi), as well as action figures, video games, comic books, and even an unsuccessful television pilot.

1 comment:

Abraham said...

I too like Darkman, to an extent, but would argue that Rami's most overlooked movie is his screwball comedy Crimewave. A critical and commercial flop, it is nevertheless pure visual candy based on allowing the camera to play with possibilities. Watch it and realize how staid Rami's eye has become over the years....