Friday, October 12, 2012

31 Days of Halloween: Darkman

Though I did not know it at the time, Darkman was the movie that made me fall in love with Sam Raimi.
The movie was released in 1990 in the wake of Batman, though Raimi had been working on it for a few years. He had wanted very badly to write and direct a movie about Batman or The Shadow, but couldn’t get the rights to either of those. So he decided to write his own superhero.


I feel positive I saw this in the theater, but it was rated “R” and I was fourteen at the time. I almost wonder if my mom went to see it with me. She had cool moments from time to time, even once I turned into a dickhead teenager. Or maybe I just went and bought a ticket and nobody questioned it. I’m not sure. I previously wrote that Hellraiser III was the first R-rated movie I saw in the theater, but now I’m thinking it wasn’t. And I still wasn’t seventeen when it came out, so it wasn’t even the first one I legitimately saw.
            But anyway, I very specifically remember seeing Darkman on the big screen. The rooftop chase and the helicopter ride are always HUGE in my mind. When I visualize that scene, it is always projected onto a massive screen, not on a TV. It’s funny – when my brain throws up images from movies, it’s always in whatever format I first saw the movie. No matter how many times I’ve watched beautiful, HD transfers of Evil Dead 2 on my screen at home, when I think of it it’s always a shitty, grainy TV screen.
I loved Darkman from the moment Liam Neeson got blown into the sky by the lab explosion. From then on out the whole movie is just madness the likes of which you only find in comic books and the most lurid and low budget of B-movies. Yet this was no B-movie. It had a full Universal Studios budget behind it, a new (but very skilled) director, and a cast of gifted actors in Neeson, France McDormand, and Larry Drake.
The film clearly combines elements of the aforementioned Batman and The Shadow, but with a heavy helping of Phantom of the Opera. I won’t do a full recap, as that’s not my intention and you should really just see the movie if you haven’t, but here’s a brief synopsis:
Dr. Peyton Westlake (Neeson) is working on an artificial skin that will revolutionize the treatment and recovery of burn victims. His girlfriend Julie Hastings (McDormand) stumbles across an illegal real estate deal involving a high-ranking city official and mobster Robert Durant (Drake). Durant and a group of his goons confront Westlake – who unknowingly has the proof of the deal – in his lab and blow him the fuck up when he can’t help them.
We next find the unfortunate Doctor Westlake in a hospital with burns over ninety percent of his body. Nobody knows who he is and the hospital staff have treated him to the best of their ability, deadening his nerve endings so he will not be in constant pain. This also removes his tactile senses and increases his adrenal output, so his brain is destabilized and prone to intense fits of rage and increased strength.
He breaks out of the hospital and cobbles together a laboratory that Doctor Frankenstein would be proud of so he can continue his experiments with artificial skin and hopefully repair the damage to his own body. Also, REVENGE.
Eventually Westlake is able to digitally recreate faces and synthesize masks of not only his own face but others as well. He begins to infiltrate Durant’s gang with the intention of destroying the whole operation. He is visiting Julie at the same time, explaining his absence as being in a coma and his lack of availability as part of rehab. His synthetic masks only last 99 minutes in sunlight, the maximum time he was able to achieve before his research was so violently interrupted.
Many incredible action sequences later, we get to the big showdown between a fully revealed Westlake and Durant. The epic conclusion proves that Darkman is no Batman, and Westlake leaves Julie for a life of anonymity; knowing that he cannot give her the life she deserves.
The last face he uses is that of Bruce Campbell, who is listed in the credits as “Final Shemp”.
Overall the movie is fantastic to watch. The makeup effects are gruesome and Neeson’s performance under them is outstanding. I’m still impressed that he was willing to spend as much time as he did with the prosthetics on. He’s virtually unrecognizable. It’s not like he was the hot shit he is now back in 1990, but not a lot of actors would go for that.
Frances McDormand was excellent as Julie – very smart and independent. She was an unconventional choice for the female lead, but the one Raimi wanted in the role. Larry Drake was amazing. I can’t help but compare his work as Durant to his role as the mentally disabled character he played on LA Law. I was a teenager so I didn’t actually give a shit about LA Law, but I had seen enough of it to be familiar with Drake’s character and think that the actor was not actually acting. I was absolutely shocked at his portrayal of Durant. He is an amoral thug with no regard for human life. Actually, that’s not true – he gleefully manipulates and destroys human lives. The character is pure evil. The gimmick of collecting fingers he has removed using a cigar trimmer is sick and brilliant; one of the more memorable villain habits to come out of the movies.
Drake’s performance as Robert Durant is the only reason I gave Dr. Giggles a chance.
So after I saw Darkman I was a little obsessed with it. I put together a Darkman costume one Halloween, but I can’t remember if I bought a mask or did some kind of makeup. I feel like it was probably makeup because I still have most of my masks.
I collected Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the time. I made a lot of custom figures to go with them out of C.O.P.S. figures since they were correct scale-wise. I made a Joker out of Bullets McBoomboom, Batman out of that SWAT-type guy, and Darkman out of somebody else. I can’t remember who. But I cut up his face with an X-acto knife, painted it, and cut up little pieces of white masking tape to use as bandages. I painted Bullets’ hat black to use and I cut up a black t-shirt to use as his coat. I think the coat even had the upper portion that hangs over the sleeves. I made a lot of custom figures back then. I had a Batman for every scale of figure I had. I wish I had pictures of all of them. They weren’t great or anything, but I’m impressed with myself that I took the initiative to do it.
Darkman was well-received by critics and made a reasonable amount of money, but the sequels went straight-to-video. Despite that, they are very good and even more comic booky than the original.
Darkman II: The Return of Durant brought Larry Drake back as the titular villain. He is even more maniacal then he was in the first movie and is super-pissed when he finds out that Peyton Westlake is still alive. Arnold Vosloo stars as Westlake and is great. When this one first came out I was very disappointed that they had recast the lead because I am always against recasting. I didn’t really know what I do now about how Hollywood works and stuff, so I was just pissed that Neeson wasn’t in it. I have since come to appreciate Vosloo’s take on the role. He isn’t quite as manic, but he has a more powerful presence than Neeson.
The third movie – Darkman III: Die Darkman, Die – has the best title of any movie, ever. Okay, maybe not, but I love it. Arnold Vosloo returns as Peyton Westlake and Jeff Fahey plays the villainous Rooker. I haven’t seen this one or the second one in a while, but I can tell you they are both worth your time. Both are available OnDemand right now, so check ‘em out.
Obviously I can’t discuss something I love without talking about merchandising. Sadly, Darkman does not have much. SOTA produced this very nice action figure:
I know the only other thing I had was a Darkman movie poster that I lost years ago. I don’t know of any other stuff that came out. I used to have a Fangoria and a Starlog with stories about the movie. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen t-shirts, though I doubt they were licensed. Sideshow made a quarter scale figure a few years ago, but those are too damned expensive for me. I do wish somebody would produce a sixth scale figure.
Darkman is essentially the movie that made Army of Darkness happen and launched Sam Raimi’s career. He made a successful superhero flick on a reasonable budget and it made money and received critical acclaim. It’s a fantastic film that combines the best elements of comic books, classic horror, and action flicks of the 80’s. There aren’t many movies like it and I doubt very much we’ll see one that equals it’s wild abandon. I think Evil Dead, Darkman, and Spider-Man would make for a very interesting movie night. As a matter of fact, I’m going to make that happen soon.
Phantom Troublemaker vs. 31 Days of Halloween
If you’re new here or haven’t been keeping up, this is where I give my thoughts on SyFy’s “31 days of Halloween” programming. Obviously I haven’t seen everything I’ll be talking about, but that’s kind of what the internet is all about – talking out of your ass.
Each day I will cover the schedule from the time my post goes live (usually 11 AM) through the following 24 hours. On Fridays I will cover the whole weekend, which is a huge pain in the ass but also kind of fun.
Enjoy!
12:30 PM – 2:30 PM – P2 – I’ve been meaning to watch this thriller about a parking garage for a couple of years now, but only because Rachel Nichols is in it.
Halloween score – 3
Quality score – 3
2:30 PM – 5:00 PM – Hannibal – I’m not sure I buy this. SyFy is pretty bad about replaying things during October, but two days in a row at relatively the same time seems lazy even for them.
Halloween score – 4
Quality score – 4
5:00 PM – 8:00 PM – Shutter Island – Same goes for this. And I don’t think they needed three hours to show it yesterday. Something’s weird here.
Halloween score – 4
Quality score – 4
8:00 PM – 10:00 PM – WWE SmackDown – I don’t even watch this anymore.
Halloween score – 0
Quality score – 2
10:00 PM – 11:00 PM – Haven – Being that I am a huge Stephen King nerd you’d think I would have watched this show. I haven’t even given it a chance. I guess I should, but I really can’t stand Xander’s best friend.
Halloween score – 3
Quality score – 3 (It’s probably an okay show)
11:00 PM – 12:00 AM – Alphas – This again?
Halloween score – 0
Quality score – 2
SATURDAY
12:00 AM – 1:00 AM – Haven – A repeat of the 10 PM episode.
Halloween score – 3
Quality score – 3
1:00 AM – 3:00 AM – The Hills Have Eyes 2 – Good creepy flick that will make you want to stay out of the desert. I mean, if you’re dumb enough to have wanted to go in the desert in the first place.
Halloween score – 3
Quality score – 3
3:00 AM – 5:00 AM – Toolbox Murders – This movie is good and fucked up. Juliet Landau is interesting to watch as somebody who is absolutely nothing like Drusilla.
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 3
5:00 AM – 6:00 AM – Scare Tactics – I have a confession to make: I watched an episode of this the other day and laughed. Not a lot, but a little. It was about a super-gay black guy who got hired to scare this lady, only some old lady walked in and he gave her a heart attack. He was so gay, you guys. And he was dressed as a giant spider the whole time, but not, like, a monster spider. Like a singing telegram spider – know what I mean?
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 3
6:00 AM – 9:00 AM – Paid Programming – This is hopefully the longest batch of infomercials we’ll see. This one will pay for a sequel to an existing franchise that hasn’t had the misfortune to hit Direct-to-DVD yet. Like, we might get a sequel to Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies here. Except it would be directed by his little brother. Spider Zombie’s Halloween Thr33. Or something.
Halloween score – 1
Quality score – 5
9:00 AM – 11:00 AM – The Haunting In Connecticut – This was pretty good and creepy. Not a bad addition to that rash of exorcism movies that started coming out a few years ago.
Halloween score – 4
Quality score – 3
11:00 AM – 1:00 PM – The Amityville Horror (2005) – I liked this remake. I thought Ryan Reynolds was great as a psycho and the movie itself moved along more quickly than the original. Something about it wasn’t quite as real or scary, though. But I dug it.
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 3
1:00 PM – 3:00 PM – The Amityville Horror (1979) – Still one of the scariest movies of all time. Those eyes in the window – AAAAAAAAAHHHHHH! But it does drag in places.
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 4
3:00 PM – 5:00 PM – Ghost Town – I don’t think this is the terrible movie starring Ricky Gervais, I think this is the not-so-terrible movie starring Billy Drago.
Halloween score – 3
Quality score – 2
5:00 PM – 7:00 PM – Haunted High – This is exactly what it sounds like.
Halloween score – 4
Quality score – 3
7:00 PM – 9:00 PM – House of Bones – Huh. Huh. I doubt this is what it sounds like. If Bones starring Snoop Dogg - or Lion Snoop or Big Baby Woodstock Grill or whatever the fuck he’s calling himself – had been a Universal movie this would be the sequel.
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 2
9:00 PM – 11:00 PM – American Horror House – I'm putting this one over big time. I strongly suggest you go check out Tuning In ToSci-Fi TV for the summary.
The reason I'm putting this one over is that I will be a guest on the Saturday B-Movie Reel Podcast with one of the fine folks I met at Dragon*Con. I'm not sure when it'll go up, but I'll let you know. And as far as the movie goes, it looks like it's pretty much trying to cash in on the return of American Horror Story, which I am boycotting due to a disgusting lack of Alexandra Breckenridge.
Okay, I'm not really boycotting, but dammit.
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 5
11:00 PM – 1:00 AM – The Amityville Horror (1979) – A replay. I'm mildly surprised they're showing the original again and not the remake.
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 4
SUNDAY
9:00 PM – 11:00 PM – American Horror HouseA movie so nice they're playing it twice.
Okay, so they always do that. But check out the podcast whenever it goes up!
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 5
3:00 AM – 5:00 AM – 100 FeetThe story of fifty zombies who have to cross Death Valley to find fresh victims.
Not really. I'm a big enough man to admit when I was wrong. I bagged on this movie when they showed it last year. Then I watched it – only because I felt like looking at Famke Jannsen – and it was pretty creepy and good. Check it out.
Halloween score – 4
Quality score – 3
5:00 AM – 6:00 AM – Scare Tactics – I love Tracy Morgan, but I hate this show. I went off about it enough last year, I don’t feel like doing it again.
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 1
6:00 AM – 9:00 AM – Paid Programming – I'm going to take advantage of SyFy's ad time to recommend some Halloweeny bands to you: Calabrese, The Casket Creatures, Kill Baby, Kill, and The Mystery Men? Can all spook up your month. The latter two are surf rock, but plenty of their tunes are creepy and kooky enough for the Season of the Witch.
Halloween score – 1
Quality score – 5
9:00 AM – 9:30 AM – Scare Tactics – “Toxic Shock”. Yes, really.
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 2
9:30 AM – 11:30 AM – The Messengers – Like I said the other day, this is actually a pretty okay movie. Just don;t think about Twilight and give it a chance.
Halloween score – 4
Quality score – 3
11:30 AM – 1:30 PM – Scream of the Banshee – I saw this movie when I was on vacation in Ireland. I mean, not this one, another one. It was called Cream of the Banshee and it cost $14.95 to watch from the motel room. There was definitely DVDA.
Halloween score – 4
Quality score – 3
1:30 PM – 4:00 PM – The Village – I so badly want to just say, "I fucking hate M. Night Shyamalan and his stupid movies," but I really like Unbreakable. Like, a lot. Dammit.
Halloween score – 2
Quality score – 1
4:00 PM – 7:00 PM – The Devil's Advocate – I would also like to just write this movie off, but Al Pacino is so awesome as Satan. He just chews the fuck out of the scenery, as Pacino does. Otherwise this is one boring fucking movie.
Halloween score – 2
Quality score – 3
7:00 PM – 9:00 PM – Jeepers Creepers 2 – I really like both of these movies, but it bothers me a lot that the guy that made them is a pedophile.
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 3
9:00 PM – 11:30 PM – The Mist – One of the very best horror movies of all time, and easily the best Stephen King adaptation. Frank Darabont is a master.
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 5
11:30 PM – 1:30 AM – Mothman – Mothman scares the fuck out of me. I won;t be watching this.
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 3
MONDAY
1:30 AM – 3:30 AM – Thor: Hammer of the Gods – No. Not only is this movie a fucking travesty despite starring "Big Sexy" Kevin Nash, it is in no way Halloweeny. FAIL, SyFy. This is the worst entry so far.
Halloween score – 0
Quality score – 2
3:30 AM – 5:30 AM – Monsterwolf – This, on the other hand, sounds awesome.
From IMDB:
A group of people who represent an oil company find new ground to drill for oil but then accidentally unleash a wolf-like creature. The creature wrecks havoc in the town and can only be stopped by the last surviving native American.
Halloween score – 4
Quality score – 5
5:30 AM – 6:00 AM – Twilight Zone – "A Quality of Mercy". Not so Halloweeny, but are there any bad episodes of this show?
Halloween score – 3
Quality score – 3
6:00 AM – 8:00 AM – Paid Programming – Only two hours today. I will be asleep.
Halloween score – 1
Quality score – 5
8:00 AM – 8:30 AM – Twilight Zone – "The Purple Testament". This is what I'm calling my memoirs.
Halloween score – 3
Quality score – 3
8:30 AM – 11:00 AM – Paranormal Witness – Good show. Watch it. Creepy.
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 4

Come on back tomorrow for what will probably be another spooky toy review.

-Phantom



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