Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Darkman (1990)
















This is probably one of the best comicbook characters that didn't actually start out as a comicbook character, he was in fact created by director Sam Raimi. Thinking about that its actually pretty impressive really, Raimi wanted to make a comicbook movie adaptation of one of the more well known existing characters but couldn't, so he just made up his own...kudos. What's even more impressive is the fact this character has gone on to become a popular cult comicbook  franchise alongside Raimi's other famous creation Ash.

The whole premise behind Darkman in my opinion is a humble beauty and the beast tale really. Obviously Liam Neeson's character gets horribly mutilated but what follows is very similar to that French fairytale. On the other hand you could also say the character is very similar to The Phantom of the Opera both in plot terms and visualisation. I think its fairly easy to see how Darkman is visually similar to The Phantom with his face mask of bandages and black sweeping attire. His appearance also harks back to other classic dashing heroes of the 30's such as The Shadow and more so The Spirit in the 40's, the age old dark coloured fedora always looking the business. Yet another influence (in my opinion) for Darkman's look could be Universal's sci-fi horror icon The Invisible Man who literately wears the same outfit with bandages of course.

The plot does kinda run along the same lines as Beauty and the Beast or The Phantom. A disfigured man who hides in the shadows existing away from civilisation but watching them from a far at the same time. He has strong feelings for a woman whom he tries to protect and at the same time attempt to open up to her, but of course he cannot, he is conflicted inside over his hideous appearance. He is haunted by inner demons, how he is now treated and looked upon, and of course In this movie there is the added revenge and rage element against the mobsters that destroyed his life and face. Its the old winning formula of a hero (or anti-hero) who is scary for whatever reasons...but that fear draws you in, it intrigues you and makes you cheer for him.

I remember when I first saw this movie back in my teen years I wrote it off as a blatant Batman-esque wannabe (foolishly). Back then I wasn't totally aware of Raimi's work and hadn't seen his Evil Dead movies so I thought the effects were crude and poorly done. Watching now, being wiser and more experienced with movies, its easy to spot those typical Raimi effects and sequences, his way of directing that had become his signature. Yes the effects are still crude looking (carnival mans obvious rubber fingers getting twisted by Westlake), much of the movie showcases really bad bluescreen and some of the movie just looks cheap, but it all has that glorious Raimi style that peaked with 'Army of Darkness'. The most expensive looking aspect of the movie to me seems to be the use of a helicopter towards the end.

Did anyone notice that Darkman's burnt up face looks remarkably similar to Evil Ash's undead face in 'Army of Darkness'? The bottom of the jaw especially looks to be an almost identical design, still great looking though, the makeup and prosthetics are really effective in this film. I also really liked the tiny scene where Westlake's hands get fried in a wicked little stop-motion sequence. Its little touches like that that are pure Raimi and they look marvelous, plus its always nice to see the old methods being used. Looking back now the rage sequences in Westlake's mind are quite amusing too, its all very basic.

On the whole this movie is in all honesty a bit poor visually and not exactly an original concept. The acting is passable throughout but clearly hokey, its a good job Larry Drake is so fantastically cool, evil and distinctive looking as the main bad guy Durant otherwise this may have sunk without a trace. I think the film could of done with some more action sequences at night, hence Dark...man. I realise this title isn't suppose to simply mean a dark brooding gothic type character, its more to do with his damaged psyche and where it leads him. But if ever a character did need some murky menacing action set amongst neon lit skyscrapers its this. Still, you gotta give big kudos to Raimi for thinking this colourful character up out of thin air, to look at this film you could easily be mistaken for thinking it was an adaptation of an already established comicbook character. That is a pretty solid achievement right there.

7/10