Hey kids! Let's play spot the influences in Sam Raimi's DARKMAN (1990), which I watched yesterday. This B-movie pulp adventure yarn is part classic Universal Studios monster movie, part Stan Lee-Jack Kirby Silver Age Marvel super-hero comic book. It's a wonderfully entertaining mash up that features nods to The Invisible Man, The Phantom of the Opera, Dr. X, The Shadow, The Incredible Hulk and The Chameleon (the old Spider-Man foe). Is it a great film? Hell no. But it is a ton of fun to watch.
DARKMAN was director Sam Raimi's first big budget film for a Hollywood studio (appropriately, Universal). Raimi made a name for himself as a genre master with his break out hit THE EVIL DEAD in 1981, followed by CRIMEWAVE (1985), and EVIL DEAD 2 (1987). With DARKMAN, his fourth full length feature film, Raimi put his kinetic, over-the-top visual sensibilities on display in a tale of dark revenge.
Liam Neeson (before he became a bonafide action film star) is a scientist experimenting with artificial flesh. His girlfriend, Frances McDormand, is a lawyer standing in opposition to a crooked real-estate developer played by Colin Friels (a dead ringer for University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban). Larry Drake is Durant, one of Friels goons. In order to put the squeeze on McDormand, Durant and his men beat up Neeson and blow up his lab, leaving the good doctor for dead. That was their first mistake.
Neeson survives the explosion but he's horribly disfigured. He somehow manages to salvage most of his lab equipment and, setting up shop in an abandoned foundry, sets out to put his artificial skin technology to use in exacting his revenge against Durant and his henchmen.
There are some well-staged action sequences (including a helicopter chase with Neeson swinging on a cable beneath one of the choppers) before the final showdown at a construction site. At the end of the film, Neeson disappears into a crowd of people, dubs himself "Darkman" and appears on screen as Bruce Campbell (Raimi's go-to guy) in the final shot of the film.
DARKMAN is all hyperbolic, pulpy fun. Produced one year after Tim Burton's seminal BATMAN (1989), DARKMAN employs a BATMANesque score by composer Danny Elfman. Raimi further cemented his reputation as a comic book film auteur with his three Spider-Man films: SPIDER-MAN (2000), SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) and SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007). DARKMAN did well at the box-office, prompting a slew of spin-offs and tie-ins including a Marvel Comics series, video games and action figures. Two direct-to-video sequels followed, THE RETURN OF DURANT (1994) and DIE, DARKMAN, DIE (1996).
I saw DARKMAN in the theater when it was first released and loved it. I hadn't seen it since then until I watched it yesterday afternoon when I enjoyed it again all over. Recommended for both horror film and comic book fans.