Saturday, October 12, 2013

MR:Quickies Darkman series

Here's an original superhero film series with an "horror" film atmosphere - all thanks to its original creator.. Sam Raimi!

Released in 1990, Darkman is based on an old pitch/little story Sam Raimi had wrote as a tribute to old "Universal horror icons" from the 1930s.

It wasn't actually planned to be made into a movie, but coming off the impressive success from Evil Dead II, Raimi was not only able to pitch it to the Universal Pictures but also managed to get a pretty substantial budget to produce it.

Despite being an original material, Darkman's a very much traditional superhero even if it wasn't based on any previous existing material. It might be based on tragic classic characters such as the Frankenstein creature or The Phantom of the Opera, but Darkman has a lot more in common with vintage/pulp comic book characters such as The Spirit or The Shadow - which he tried to get the rights to at some point, but finally ended up making his film his own original creation.

Thanks to Raimi's very unique style, the film had a great tone, nothing like any regular superhero film.

The story follows a scientist who gets disfigured by a mob boss. During the operation to save his life, he ends up with his nerves severed and his pain sensors shut off. Making him stronger and without any limit regular people usually do. Now without sign of any emotional responses in his body, he wanders of the street, cut off from human contacts. When exposed with powerful emotions such as rage or sadness Darkman gives into his adrenaline which grants him a sort of boost of rage. Making him stronger.

It sounds kind of silly, but like old classic comic book characters it just work in the context here!

Raimi produced, wrote and directed the original film.

The subsequent direct-to-video sequels were produced by Renaissance Pictures, Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell's co-owned film company, also responsible for the TV series Xena: Warrior Princess and Jack of All Trades.

Movie title: Darkman 
Directed by Sam Raimi
Release date 1990
Genre action/crime/horror film

The scientist Dr. Peyton Westlake was working on a synthetic skin to help burn victims.

The unique flaw that needed to be resolved? It was only able to last up to 99 minutes.

His fiancée Julie Hastings is an attorney. Working on a case, she ends up discovering a plot regarding a corrupt developed named Louis Strack.

Peyton asked her to marry him, but she wasn't able to give him an answer yet.

Julie starts digging for some answers and go to Strack. Strack tells her about his dream of building a new city, which will bring in new jobs. He had no other choice but to work with criminals... Strack warns her about the mobster Robert Durant.

Meanwhile at Westlake's lab, Peyton is finally able to break the 100-minute mark. The secret? The synthetic skin is photosensitive! That is precisely when Durant's men break in the lab...

The henchmen burn our main character, disfigure him (in a rather gruesome fashion) and also kill his assistant. They leave him for dead and make the laboratory explode to look like an accident.

Julie was just coming back when she assists at the explosion!

Later after a funeral, we find out Peyton actually survived and ended up as a burn victim at the Hospital. There, they decide to proceed to a radical treatment, the only way to help him. In an experimental procedure, they cut out his nerves to relive him from his extreme pain. Peyton loses his tactile sensation... allowing him to now display enhanced strength!

Mentally instable now, Peyton escapes. And finds his way to a condemned building. He decides to establish a new lab over there. Continuing to work on his synthetic skin, he creates a mask of original face.

In the meantime, he attacks some of those henchmen responsible for his problems, impersonates another and his even able to recontact Julie.

Peyton starts working on more masks and mimicking voices. He finds himself taking on the role of Durant himself.

Later on he gets a date back with Julie at a carnival, who is just happy to have her man back from the death. But she then discovers it was only a mask hiding his true face now...

Finally, Peyton decides to strike at Durant and his cronies for good. He gets to impersonate him once more and kills the last bad guy voluntary in front of Julie...

Peyton escapes into the crowd in the end, now living as "Darkman". 

Overall: This is not your typical Hollywood film.

Graphic at times, and with an overtone of maturity usually lacking from the genre (at the time) and dark.

It was generally well received at the time. It proved to be a great boost for Sam Raimi's career (a precursor to his later Spider-man films).

It stars Liam Neeson as Peyton Westlake and a fantastic highly charismatic Larry Drake as Durant. Also worth mentioning, Bruce Campbell was originally set for the main role of Peyton/Darkman, but the studio didn't trust in Campbell carrying over an entire big budget picture (boooh Universal!!). Instead Bruce only got a slight cameo as Peyton's final disguise (setting him up for the future sequels?). They almost got Bill Paxton for the main role but Raimi wanted Neeson instead. Also worth noting his Ted Raimi's cameo as one of the henchmen as well as Sam Raimi himself in Hospital as an intern.

Darkman tells the story of a man who lost his face and now, taking on other faces, face criminals impersonating them. Becoming a vigilante due to circumstances.

It's fantastically directed in typical Raimi style. It has a great comic book atmosphere.

The outstanding score was composed by Danny Elfman who would go on to work with Raimi on a cue for Army of Darkness as well as the Spider-man series. He was specially chosen for his work on the 1989 Batman from Tim Burton.

Raimi really made his Darkman stand out from the usual superhero clichées. It's a great film that rests with your thoughts after watching it.

The film also spawned some comic books (the reverse experience of the usual superhero films), games and even several action figure and collector items.

It has reached a cult status for a good reason.

I give this one a: 3 / 3 Score!

Movie title: Darkman II: The Return of Durant
Directed by Bradford May 
Release date 1995
Genre horror/superhero movie

Peyton Westlake is back, as well as his nemesis Robert G. Durant!!

Picking up sometime after the first time, the Darkman is back, now fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves!

Westlake has now found a home in an old underground shelter near an abandoned subway track. We find our hero now working on perfecting his synthetic skin and funding his work with cash he steals from the criminals.

His synthetic skin still has the 99-minute timeframe before the formula breaks down.

We find out Durant apparently didn't die in the first film. He was kept in a coma... and has now just awaken!

Durant and his men break a former scientist from a state prison. The man is named Alfred Hathaway and will now build hi-tech particle-bean guns for Durant. Durant plans on using those as insurance to buy and re-organize the criminal underworld under his hand, which had been spread around the city after his "departure". Of course those guns will be needing batteries and shut down after a while, but no need to tell that to his customers.

Meanwhile Westlake goes after a David Brinkman, a scientist also working on a synthetic skin formula. He was able to overcome the 99-minute limit and the problem of photosensitivity. Both men become fast friends and start working together.

But Durent's men come after Brinkman to buy the old building he doesn't want to sell (for their weapon scheme!). Once Westlake was out, they torture and kill him. Westlake arrive to late on the scene...

He decides to help a reporter Jill Randall who was working on the Durant case while everybody dismisses her (Durant was supposed to be dead). She decides to go public on the air... and also get killed, a car explosion!

Everybody Westlake come near to ends up dead.

Now they are after David's sister, Laurie.

Using several masks, Darkman infiltrates Durant's building and organization! Getting closer to Durant, one men at the time.

Durant is killed for good, thanks to a carefully previously-planted explosives aboard his own car!

Overall: The sequel "The Return of Durant" is... actually quite good!

The film was originally filmed after "Darkman 3" and meant to be a series closer... but since they were able to get Larry Drake back they swapped both movies order to cash in on his fame as soon as possible. Still, despite the "3" in the title it can just as easily take place after part 3.

This sequel tells the epic finale confrontation between Darkman and Durant in a complicated game of impersonations.

Liam Neeson is replaced here by Arnold Vosloo after Neeson went on becoming a big name actor with Schindler's List. When all's said and done, Vosloo did a considerable good job with the role, I've personally even gone by regarding him as the perfect Darkman over Neeson in my mind.

Director Bradford May worked on the cinematography in Raimi's work and this one, so he was mostly perfectly able to recapture Raimi's style and tone. Going as far as making similar uses of the camera and having some couple of stylish shots (maybe not as many as the first Darkman though).

It's a damn' fine sequel all in all! More so than you would expect for a film strictly made for TV and the direct-to-video market.

Darkman 2 has a more modest budget. It also means a simpler film, but still they were able to make it work.

There's some great practical effects, including some nice shots of Darkman's "true face".

My only problem is that didn't get Bruce Campbell for Westlake since he was so perfectly set up for the role at the end of the first film.. but I'm so used to Vosloo's take on the character it doesn't make much problem for me.

I give this one a: 2.5 / 3 Score!

Movie title: Darkman III: Die Darkman Die 
Directed by Bradford May 
Release date 1996
Genre horror/superhero movie

We find Peyton Westlake back, still working on creating a permanent and durable solution for his condition. Using his synthetic skin to "repair" his his burnt face and body.

Darkman steals a crate containing cash from the drug lord Peter Rooker... getting his attention by accident.

Westlake is approached by Dr. Bridget Thorne who follows him "home".  We find out she was one of the doctors behind his current state. She decided to cut his nerves when they saved his life back at the Hospital in the first film.

She wants to provide Westlake some help to perfect his liquid skin formula if he is willing to let her continue to work on the trauma left by his shut down nervous system.

She allows him access to a private laboratory.

Westlake is able go in the sunlight finally! But it is too late.. He discovers Bridget was working all along for the corrupt business man Peter Rooker, she even is his mistress.

They want to discover the secret and provide Darkman's super human strength to Rooker's own private super-army.

But Darkman escapes from Rooker. And goes investigating and impersonating Rooker in his private circles.

He learns to know Rooker's own family much better than the villain ever did. He gets closer to his wife Angela and their daughter Jenny, posing as Rooker.

Rooker wants to use his "super-thugs" to assassinate the district attorney that was in his path. Darkman prevents the assassination.

Rooker gives himself the formula... The two men fight in a climatic battle.

Darkman gets his permanent skin sample back but loses his research in the process.. he was able to build enough yet!

A gas line ruptures and explodes burning Jenny's face in the process.

Westlake decides to leave her the sole sample. And saves the little girl's condition.

Finally, our tragic hero runs off in the night, still on his own lone dark journey.

Alone. Once more.

Overall: This second sequel was produced by the same television director and cinematographer turned director, Bradford May, with Raimi still working as the executive producer overseeing the finale product.

Vosloo is once again Westlake/Darkman. I love his voice as this character! And this time our villain Peter Rooker is played by Jeff Fahey, who makes a great narcissistic villain. Probably a bit more exaggerated than Durant was, Rooker cheats on his wife, dislikes his own daughter and is as corrupt as they go.

Both sequels were filmed simultaneously in 1993 actually. But this one came out in 1996!!

At the end of the day, Darkman 3 is also quite good. It still is an intriguing film thanks to a captivating plot.

I know some prefer Darkman 2 over it.. yet others think this one's a much better film than the second since it's not just remaking the original. Personally, I think they're both equally good for opposite reasons.

Specially since this was made the last installment of the series, I like how neither this film nor series ends with Darkman simply walking into a happy sunset, hands in hand with the girl he loves. Instead our tragic hero is forced to a life of solitude..

There's also a lovely-creepy nightmare sequence with some nice special effects that reminded me of Beetlejuice somehow.  There are some little gory bits, like Darkman's self-operation.

The only bad point? It's too bad we never got to see an epic confrontation with the other super-powered henchmen... That kinda went nowhere...

I give this one a: 2.5 / 3 Score!

And that is it for the Darkman series!

It's a truly unique character. More of an anti-hero. Our character Westlake starts out as a sympathetic good -earted man, becomes a vengeful man committing the same crimes as his enemies. And in the end? He is left full of self-hatred for what he has become...

Sadly there never was a "Darkman IV".

There were a series of series of books written by Randall Boyll.

Short comic book adaptations by Marcel.

And almost a TV series at some point! A pilot was made in 1992 - before the sequels. It's mostly a TV remake of the original film with some more characters added for recurring roles.

Though it all didn't work and fall down short quickly. By the mid-90s, Darkman was sadly already forgotten.

That's all for this time's Quickies!

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