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Darkman (Blu-ray)

Darkman (Blu-ray)Starring Liam Neeson, Francis McDormand, Larry Drake, Nicholas Worth

Directed by Sam Raimi

Distributed by The Scream Factory


Long before Sam Raimi became the creatively bankrupt Hollywood big shot some genre fans have grown to dislike, he was spilling his creativity onto the screen with some of the most inventive projects in cinema. Coming hot off the heels of Evil Dead II (1987), a film that garnered a positive response from both audiences and critics, Raimi was given the proverbial keys to the kingdom and called up to the majors (in this case, Universal Studios) to make a picture with something he frequently lacked: money. He had interest in helming adaptations of either The Shadow (which Universal already had in development with another team) or Batman (we know who had that at the time). Undeterred by these dead ends, Raimi did what creative directors do: he created a character that embodied the qualities he admired in The Shadow and Batman, but also one that would have been right at home with Universal’s classic monsters of the 1930s. His creation was The Darkman, a character whose origin story went through over a dozen drafts before Darkman (1990) was given a go from the studio brass. The resulting picture was Raimi operating within his wheelhouse, using his signature camera work and frenetic action to tell a gothic love story that, once again, was a hit with audiences and critics.

Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a scientist working on a synthetic skin to help burn victims, operating out of his lab near the river in L.A. His girlfriend, Julie (Francis McDormand), is an attorney who uncovers corruption within the city’s largest real estate developer, run by Louis Strack (Colin Friels), when she inadvertently finds a document detailing bribery. She confronts Strack, who does the rational thing by sending his henchman, Robert Durant (Larry Drake), and some thugs to retrieve the document and kill everyone in the vicinity. At the time, that happens to be Peyton and his lab partner. Durant has his goons disfigure Westlake before setting a time bomb and blasting his charred body into the river. Presumed dead, Peyton somehow survived the blast, with horrifying burns covering almost half his body. Doctors performed a procedure that neutralized any pain he could feel, but as a side effect it allows his adrenaline to go unchecked and his mental state to become unstable. Peyton escapes from the hospital and rebuilds his lab in an abandoned factory. The synthetic skin he’s been working on only lasts for 100 minutes in sunlight, but that’s all the time he needs (usually) to disguise himself as Durant and his toughs. He rechristens himself Darkman, dedicating all of his efforts to seeking vengeance against all those who were responsible for creating him.

Raimi came up with an awesome story that could only have worked in his hands. He and director of photography Bill Pope, frankly, shot the shit out of this thing. There hadn’t been a movie since Creepshow (1982) that so emulated and perfectly captured the essence of a comic book. Raimi’s work had always showcased impressive camera movements and acumen for visual style, but the massive increase in budget afforded to him on Darkman meant nearly any of his lofty ideas could be achieved. All of the crazy shots that made Evil Dead II so memorable are accounted for here. I love when Darkman goes into a fit of rage and we feel like we’re inside his mind as fiery cracks appear in his head, everything goes red, and the camera moves in a hypnotic/nauseating way. There’s so much life in the camera that cause scenes to pop and stick in your mind more than any standard direction could have done. The scene of Peyton’s attack is particularly impressive, with Neeson’s face smashed into glass cabinets as we watch from within. The camera swoops and zooms and pulls all around as he’s tossed, burned, nearly drowned, and finally blow sky high and into the river.

That scene also showed just a small indication of make-up artist Tony Garder’s excellent work to come, when Peyton grabs two poles that look like they belong in Phantasm (1979) and his hands melt away down to the muscle and bone. They did it the old-fashioned way: stop-motion. And it looks great. Gardner’s prosthetic work here should have earned him an Oscar nomination because it can be hard to tell where Darkman ends and Liam Neeson begins. For such a large piece worn over a head, the result is something so lifelike you’ll forget there’s a man underneath. The movement is about as fluid as a guy with no lips and a well-done face can get.

Speaking of which, Neeson really gives his all here as a once noble man who so desperately wants revenge because these guys ruined his chance at having just a normal life. That’s all he wanted. He has to live knowing he’s a hideous freak while his girlfriend is out there, alone, and he knows they can never be together. At its core, Darkman is just as much a love story as anything else. And to make that work, you need a guy who can do sympathetic and “I will find you and I will kill you”. And that guy is Liam Neeson. As Peyton, he’s jokey and casual, just happy to be alive and doing a little bit of good in the world. As Darkman, all of his inner rage comes bubbling to the surface like liquid hot magma and he has little control over the beast he’s become. Neeson portrayed the character with a genuine sincerity, giving him the ultimate tortured soul. He even went so far as to make sure the FX department had the teeth in tight so they wouldn’t move while he spoke, since it would compromise the authenticity. His performance is a standout in a film full of memorable roles.

Lots of credit needs to be given to Larry Drake, Nicholas Worth and Dan Bell, who are all “impersonated” by Darkman using his synthetic skin masks. I use quotations because these guys all do such a phenomenal job of playing their doppelgangers, who we’re supposed to believe are actually Peyton when he’s trying to trick the mob. Drake is especially good, showing two very different sides to Durant at the same time. I really love how Raimi used this as a plot device because it’s so damned fun watching Peyton use his skills to screw with everyone.

All these years later, Darkman holds up exceptionally well as one of the greatest comic book movies to ever hit the screen, and it’s not even based on one. Raimi was in his prime here, using all of his abilities to make the film not only memorable from a story standpoint, but just as unforgettable thanks to a wide range of visual flair. The excellent casting is anchored by strong performances from Neeson, McDormand, and Drake. Gardner’s makeup is outstanding is every scene. Elfman’s score is typical, but great if you forget all the stuff he did that sounds like it since. It’s superb. Since Universal doesn’t see it that way, though, Scream Factory has come along to deliver a package full of features that should please fans.

I say “should” because this is the same transfer used by Universal for their release in 2010. Anyone familiar with how Universal treats their titles on blu-ray knows this isn’t necessarily a good thing. How about the positive stuff first? The print sourced here was in good shape, and there are no visual defects. Black levels are stable & rich, important since the title implies much of the film won’t be well lit. Colors are nicely saturated despite a lack of pop. The downside here is the picture is very inconsistent. Let’s forget about the optical effects shots (like the credits) because they look rough on nearly every picture that’s used them, with no exception here. There is definitely some DNR going on during most of the film. Neeson’s face lacks fine details and appears slightly waxy in a couple scenes. Fine detail and background elements seem to lack focus. It’s not always apparent, with some shots later in the film looking sharp and much more filmic. Some people are going to hate how this looks, some won’t care, and many probably won’t notice. It could have used a restoration, but whether that was cost prohibitive to Scream or Universal simply didn’t want to let them isn’t known. If it’s the former, however, I could’ve done without some bonus features if it meant money for a new transfer. Again, it’s not bad by any means but there is undoubtedly room for improvement. Audio comes in the form of an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track. This is a heavily front-loaded track, with virtually nothing stemming from the rears. Even Elfman’s grandiose score is relegated to the front end of things. Since previous editions have suffered the same, I can only assume the problem lies in the original multi-channel mix. Still, for a glorified stereo track there is good separation and balance between dialogue, effects, and music.

The supplements section is practically bursting at the seams here. Scream Factory has included not only a ton of newly-created features, but also many vintage features that have never shown up on any previous versions. And before anyone complains that Raimi didn’t participate, he did – back in 1990, when he was interviewed at length about the film. The vintage footage appearing here is probably much more interesting than anything he’d have to say today. Would it have been nice to get a commentary out of him? Of course it would, but it wasn’t in the cards and such an exclusion shouldn’t mar what is otherwise a spectacular release.

Starting things off on the new side is an audio commentary with director of photography Bill Pope, moderated by Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felscher. Pope has a lot to say, talking about how this was his first movie, how much fun the set was to work on, shooting locations, and much more. Very informative track. Dissecting Darkman is a new interview with actor Liam Neeson, who recalls what attracted him to the script, and how much he enjoyed working with Raimi, among other things. The Name is Durant is a new interview with actor Larry Drake. He talks about his acceptance of being typecast to a degree, his audition process, and how he viewed his character. The Face of Revenge is another new interview, this time with makeup FX artist Tony Gardner, who recalls that it was Campbell he expected to lead the film, causing him to rework the makeup he had sculpted for The Chin. Henchman Tales features new interviews with both Dan Bell and Danny Hicks, two of Durant’s lackeys. Both men have some great stories from on set. Dark Design is a new interview with production designer Randy Ser. He talks about how Raimi wanted the film to look like a Universal horror movies from the ‘30s, with Darkman’s lab something akin to Dr. Frankenstein’s. An Interview with Francis McDormand is exactly what the title suggests, with the Oscar winner recalling how she got the gig, what it was like working with her friend Raimi, and the qualities in Julie she appreciated.

On the vintage side of things, there’s a Darkman Featurette, which is essentially an EPK from around the time of the film’s release. Cast & Crew Interviews features some face time with Neeson, McDormand, Raimi, and Drake, with everyone talking up the project and their respective roles. A Vintage Interview Gallery contains extended interviews with Colin Friels, Frances McDormand, Liam Neeson, and Sam Raimi.

Finally, the disc includes the theatrical trailer, a handful of TV spots, and still galleries for behind the scenes/makeup effects, posters & artwork, production stills, and storyboards. And, as with most Scream Factory Collector’s Edition releases the disc includes the original theatrical key art on the reverse side of the cover, with a slipcover containing some new artwork from Ghoulish Gary Pullin.

While there are no doubt going to be some fans who are disappointed with the lack of a new transfer, the picture quality isn’t nearly as bad as some Universal catalog titles have been treated. Scream Factory more than makes up for this by loading the disc up with a plethora of extras that combine both new interviews and classic footage that hasn’t been seen in years.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with director of photography Bill Pope
  • Dissecting Darkman: Interview with Liam Neeson
  • The Name is Durant with Larry Drake
  • The Face of Revenge with Makeup Designer Tony Gardner
  • Henchman Tales
  • Dark Design
  • An Interview with Francis McDormand
  • Darkman featurette
  • Cast & Crew Interviews
  • Vintage Interview Gallery
  • Theatrical trailer
  • TV spots
  • Still galleries
  • Reversible cover art
    Film:
    4 1/2 out of 5

    Special Features:
    4 1/2 out of 5

    Discuss Darkman in the comments section below!

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Anthony Arrigo

  • aliensharkboy

    I only saw this for the first time a day ago (after Reginald D Hunter recommended it during his stand-up).

    From Raimi’s usual in-jokes (anyone else pick up on the American Werewolf in London reference?) to probably some of the most ambitious action scenes I’ve seen in a film of this age, I’m deeply annoyed with myself for not having seen it sooner… and I call myself a Raimi fan. Pffft!

    Awesome film.

    • Matt Serafini

      All that’s important is that you’ve seen it and appreciate it now.

      Love me some DARKMAN!

    • GODFLESH69

      Hard for me to understand why it’s taken so long to see this classic, I’m a bit older saw in theater Kidd hasen’t seen this or Robocop think he’s a geezer like me ,what’s up with that? Glad you finally got around to it, a kid at my work considered himself to be a Horror fan he had never seen Carpenter’s The Thing after seeing it he loved it.Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s not good .

      • aliensharkboy

        I do consider myself a horror fan though!
        I mean, I find it fairly easy for a cult film like Darkman to slip under the radar, but I did find it eventually, right? That tends to be the case with a lot of 90s films.

        And I’ve been growing up on movies like Robocop and The Thing since the age of 7… hell, I was watching The Haunting and Rear Window around then too, and I loved them. Fair to say, I was well raised haha ;)

        Take the Friday the 13th films, or Return of the Living Dead 2 – I don’t like those movies, and it has nothing to do with their age.

        Ya know, I think I just haven’t been alive long enough to find time to watch all of these classics. :P

        • GODFLESH69

          Glad you dug Darkman it’s a true classic, i’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to catch most of the 80’s -90’s classics in theater, i’m 43 now so guess i have a few years on you, enjoy the classics!!!!

  • kiddcapone

    True Story: Darkman is another one of those popular films like Robocop that for whatever reason I missed watching during my long journey through life.

    • Gus Bjork

      I can’t predict what you like or not but it’s pretty hard to go wrong with Darkman. It’s a lot of fun. And Scream does such a great job. I just ate up They Live. Good work on the special features Red Shirt Productions. They’re perfect. Enough to get some good info but short enough that it doesn’t go into drone mode.

      And why the hell do people shit on Sam Raimi? 2 out 3 Spiderman films were great. I haven’t seen Oz yet (even though a puppeteer friend of mind did China Girl and a monkey. Shhhhhh)so I can’t comment. But Jesus the guy takes some time out, makes Drag Me to Hell just for his fans and people still whine like bratty spoiled kids. Can’t we be happy for a guy who’s loved films his entire life and did something with it?

      And if I try to enter this comment one more time and end up on Amazon with this goddamn Black Water Vampire film I’m going to be pissed.

      And you kids better get out of my yard!

  • GODFLESH69

    Scream Factory delivers AGAIN another classic I was fortunate enough to be able to see in theater way back when,wish Raimi would have continued this franchise instead of Spiderman way cooler to me those DTV sequels really didn’t cut it.

  • frank_dracman

    TAKE THE FUCKING ELEPHANT!! As much as I love Bruce Campbell I think The Neeson was the right choice. Bruce would have inadvertently came off goofy whereas Neeson gave it a more serious feel. Love dat movie.

    I’ve never met anyone who resented Raimi. I think that was either a poor choice of words or you’re one of the people who do. Spider-Man 3 was hardly his fault and Oz…well, everyone makes mistakes. Resenting someone who made something of himself sounds more like jealousy. Other than that the review made me want to go watch it again so job well done.

    • Anthony Arrigo

      I agree “resent” may have been the wrong word, so I modified it.

      And thank you for quoting the film’s best line that I didn’t reference.

  • Uncle Creepy

    Great review, but I don’t think Raimi is creatively bankrupt. I loved Drag Me to Hell, and two of his three Spider-Man movies were great. Oz the Great and Powerful was shit though.

    • Sirand

      Yeah, I think the people who say he’s creatively bankrupt are the ones who just want him to only make low-budget splatter films for the rest of his life.

      • The Buz

        ANTHONY IS GOING TO TAKE A FALL AT HORROR TRIVIA TOMORROW NOW BECAUSE OF YOU! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE KASCH!?

      • Anthony Arrigo

        I’d be fine with that. Drag Me To Hell aside, he hasn’t done a good picture since A Simple Plan. I dislike all his Spider-Man movies, and Oz was the Alice in Wonderland 2 no one wanted.

        He’s just a cog in Hollywood’s big wheel, and only the faintest spurts of his former self are allowed to ooze out from time to time.

    • aliensharkboy

      Thank you for saying that before me. I’m a huge Spidey fan (of the first 2) and DMTH was one of the most intense and funnest horror experiences of 2009.

      • frank_dracman

        I was worried that Drag Me To Hell was PG-13, but when I first saw it it was pretty good. Then he goes and drops a fucking anvil on the witch’s head. Boom. Sold. One of my favorite Raimi movies ever. If you know the guy’s sense of humor and inspirations you’d know he had complete control over things and made the movie he wanted to make.

        And really, should Army of Darkness have been an R? Hell, my mom’s seen that movie. So before fanboys cry “oh he sold out and made a PG-13 movie”, think about my mom.

        • aliensharkboy

          IKR! I saw Army of Darkness at a far younger age than DMTH (6-years-old, as I recall), and I was loving that film back then. I don’t remember being scared once.

          But I’m in the UK, so DMTH’s age certificate is a 15 to me. In other words, no crying UK fanboy over here… and no needs to think about frank’s mother either.

          • Chernobyl Kinsman

            Yeah and AoD was rated 15 here as well, whereas the other two were both 18s.

    • Cinemascribe

      Agreed, Creepy. Here’s a list of his films since 1998’s brilliant “A Simple Plan”:

      For Love of the Game
      2000 The Gift
      2002 Spider-Man
      2004 Spider-Man 2
      2007 Spider-Man 3
      2009 Drag Me to Hell
      2013 Oz the Great and Powerful

      Now ,except for Spiderman 3 and Oz, most of the films on that list can reasonably be regarded as good movies. For Love of the Game and The Gift could be argued I suppose, because reviews for both were mixed (Each split critics with 54% and 56%on RT). Yet, while they may not all soar to the heights of regard as his earliest work, nothing here is universally despised. It’s more of a matter of to each their own with his work. Even the audiences are divided..look at the audience rating for The Gift. It’s the same as that of the critics: 56%. So filmgoers were also split down the center. Given the type of movie it is, that’s not unreasonable.

      I’ll even take it a step further and say that Spiderman 3 is more of a mixed bag than a total failure. It was definitely a disappointment in comparison to the brillaint Part 2 (which is still my favorite comic book inspired film, even in the face of the juggernaut that is The Avengers), but there’s still a lot in the film that works. It has some truly spectacular action sequences, an incredible scene where Flint Marko is reborn as the Sandman and surprisingly solid performances from the cast.

      The problem is that the film was overburdened with too many villians and subplots for one narrative (not too mention an ill considered sidewalk dance sequence. It was obvious Peter’s dark side was emerging in that scene. No decent human being would dance like that in view of the public) and – aside from Harry Osborne jr’s story arc (which I thought they handled quite well, save for the all knowing, “inexplicably silent for two films while people are being murdered and a city terrorized” butler they tossed in at the end there) – they didn’t connect or resolve them well. Not only was this unsatisfying on a storytelling level, it also meant that the most anticipated character- Venom- got short shrift.

      While I wont give Raimi a complete pass on some of the awful writing ( again,that butler’s speech and that sidewalk dance),it’s also important to remember that he never originally intended to have Venom in the movie. The studio forced that in case it turned out to be the final film, so they could “satisfy the fan base”, and he found himself suddenly having to make a different film with a whole new character storyline in the mix. All things considered, SM3 could have been much worse. All one has to do is look at Batman and Robin, X Men 3, Superman IV or Wolverine:Orgins to know I’m right.

      Go back in Raimi’s career prior to A Simple Plan and you have work like The Evil Dead trilogy and Darkman to his credit.

      If this is what it means to be a creativly bankrupt cog in the wheel, sign me right the f**k up.