04/14/2023 09:32

Film: Darkman

Year: 1990

Director: Sam Raimi

Writers: Chuck Pfarrer, Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Daniel Goldin and Joshua Goldin

Starring: Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand and Colin Friels



This is a movie in a series that I knew about but had never actually sat down to watch. I’m not sure if this original one was on the movie channels or if it was just one of the sequels. What intrigued me was that this is a semi-horror film and that it was directed by Sam Raimi. I didn’t realize that this is also Liam Neeson’s first foray into action, which he’s made a name for himself in.

Synopsis: a brilliant scientist, left for dead, returns to exact revenge on the people who burned him alive.

This scientist is Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson). He works with Yakitito (Nelson Mashita). Their experiments are trying to make synthetic skin. They’ve been unable to keep it stable for more than 100 minutes though. It is frustrating, but they continue to try.

Peyton is seeing a lawyer by the name of Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand). She is working for Louis Strack Jr. (Colin Friels) who is a businessman. She discovers a memo that shouldn’t see. It is detailing payoffs and different illegal activities. She brings this up to him and he laughs it off, wanting her to leave the memo there to cover it up.

What I neglected was the opening sequence of the movie. There is a gangster named Robert G. Durant (Larry Drake). He shows up to a business deal and double crosses the guy. In his crew are Skip (Dan Hicks), Rick (Ted Raimi), Pauly (Nicholas Worth) and Smiley (Dan Bell) to just name a few of them. Durant is ruthless and his M.O. is to use his cigar cutter to remove fingers that he keeps as a trophy.

Durant and his guys then visit Peyton. They want that memo, but he doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Durant roughs him and Yakitito up, leaving the latter dead. They rig the laboratory to explode. This throws Peyton into the water. He isn’t dead though. He’s badly burned and escapes from the hospital. They thought he was homeless due to where they found him. They also did a procedure on him that severed nerves so he’s not constantly in pain. This allows pure adrenaline to pump through him.

Peyton then sets up a make-shift lab elsewhere. His goal is to create a new face, but he’s unable to make the cells stay stable when they’re exposed to light. This causes Peyton to become Darkman. He sets out to find out who attacked him and as the synopsis said, get his revenge. He’s able to make skin that he uses as masks for a limited time. This makes Durant and his crew confused, not knowing if they’re talking to the real person or our hero. This plot runs deeper than he realizes, which puts Julie in trouble as well.

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduce of the characters. What is interesting about the set up here, I read that Raimi wanted to secure the rights to The Shadow and Batman but failed. He then wrote this own character that pays homage to The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera and The Elephant Man. What I thought was funny is that the way the bandages looked and him operating in this lab in secret felt like Phantom of the Opera to me. It was something I took note of. This feels like a more violent comic book movie which is interesting that Raimi would go on to helm three Spider-Man movies.

Moving from there, I like that we set up what Peyton’s experiment is. It is interesting that they’re trying to create synthetic skin. This comes into play to give Peyton something to strive for when he’s Darkman. I thought it was intriguing that the experiment works in the dark. They figured it out by tripping the breaker. It stays stable then. These elements just play into the overall concept of this ‘superhero’. He doesn’t have powers outside of how smart he is. The procedure that causes adrenaline to flow does make him abnormally strong. It just isn’t done in a way that is outrageous though and I appreciate that.

There is an elephant in the room that I need to address. I’ve heard Mr. Parka say that he doesn’t consider this horror. I’m only covering it here because it appears in The Horror Show Guide Encyclopedia. I personally think that it has dark elements. This flirts with horror, but the most I can personally say is that this is adjacent. This is more of a dark action film with a bit of noir elements.

Now other than that, we are getting a simple story. There are just variations on elements we’ve seen before. What I think makes this is the acting. Neeson is good as our lead. I can believe him as a scientist. Now that’s he’s disfigured, I feel the rage for his revenge. McDormand is also good as his female counterpart. What surprises me though is that she takes a bit of a backseat. I say that since she is a great actor and could have been used more. There are solid character actors here with side roles like Drake, Hicks and Ted Raimi. I liked seeing all of them. This movie has caricatures of characters, but I think it fits the tone.

Other than that, I’ll go to the filmmaking. I think that the cinematography is good. This does feel like Raimi prepping to take on the bigger budget movies that he did after this. The practical effects we get are good. That is with blood and gore. That is limited, but we still get it. What I was impressed by was the look of Darkman. It is gross and creepy. There are computer effects. They look cheesy, but not enough to ruin this. Other than that, I’d say the soundtrack fit for what was needed.

In conclusion, this is a solid movie and one that was a blind spot for me in the Raimi filmography. I enjoyed my time here. We got a good cast with the likes of Neeson and McDormand. There are also character actors like Drake and Raimi regulars with Hicks and his brother Ted. The story is simple enough. I think that it works though. This is well-made with only the computer effects bringing this down slightly. I still enjoyed this movie as it feels like an audition for what Sam Raimi would do later in his career. Worth a viewing at least once in my opinion.


My Rating: 7.5 out of 10