Isn’t it funny how some movies just get lost to time? It isn’t just the horrifically bad movies that get tossed by the wayside to be buried into the back of our minds until someone brings up the painful memory of when Mariah Carey tried to make a movie. You’re welcome everyone. But then there are some movies that just seem to disappear for no real reason, really good movies that just seem to go away with time instead of staying with us such as the timeless classics. Sometimes they are a product of their time, other times we advance in our technology and ideals that the movie becomes horrifically dated… And then there are times like this where a movie for no real reason just sort of disappears. Today I want to discuss a movie that fits into this category, Darkman. Directed by Evil Dead and Spider-Man 3 (because we can’t make them all good) director Sam Raimi and starring a young and up and coming Liam Neeson, this movie to this day remains an anomaly to me.
This 1990 movie is good, REALLY GOOD! If we are to talk on the lines of Super Hero movies, this is probably one of the best movies ever made in that genre. The story of a mild mannered scientist who creates synthetic skin for burn victims, but when he gets in wrong with the mob is horrifically burned and has to take on the alter ego of Darkman while trying to seek revenge on the mobsters and reconnect with his old life and girlfriend. This movie is a gem! Why has it been forgotten after so many years? Hell it even has one of the best film directors of the 80’s and 90’s and a young Neeson in the starring role. This film should be huge and one of the most remembered and revered movies of the early 90’s. But still you will be hard pressed to find people who have even heard of the film and I am still sitting here scratching my head and asking… Why?
Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a simple scientist who is working on creating synthetic skin in order to help horrifically scarred burn victims. He leads a simple life, dating his girlfriend and attorney Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand) who he plans to marry. However, while at work Julie comes across a document known as the Bellasarious Memorandum, a document that incriminates land developer Louis Strack (Colin Friels) after learning of the Memorandum, Strack and the mobsters he is in connection led by their nefarious leader Robert G. Durant (Larry Drake). The mobsters kill Peyton’s assistant and horrifically burn him before blowing up his lab with him in it for the Memorandum. Peyton survives however, horrifically burned and after an experimental treatment at a lab can no longer feel pain and has left him emotionally unstable. Peyton sets up his old lab in a condemned building and begins to plot his revenge against the mobsters all the while trying to win Julie back after the accident.
If John Carpenter is the king of practical effects then Sam Raimi is the Prince. Just like in Evil Dead, the practical effects look phenomenal. When you see the horrific burns that cover Peyton Westlake’s body, you truly feel for this horrifically scarred man who is forced to live as this sub human. It looks revolting and it looks very much real. Even though he cannot feel the pain, you can feel his pain just imagine the excruciating agony that would feel like if someone were to survive burns such as that. It is one of the bets parts of the movie and a great work by Raimi’s direction as well as the make up and effects team that worked with him.
The Story is Down Right Shakespearean
Think of all the coincidences and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The character of Peyton Westlake. A simple scientist, a gifted one yes. But just your everyday guy working on the project of growing synthetic skin. He asks his girlfriend to marry him and she is hesitant and due to a series of unfortunate events on her part, Peyton is targeted, watches his friend killed, and then burned beyond all recognition to spend the rest of his life as a sub-human, using his gift to create the skin to achieve his ends. He seeks revenge on the people who did this to him as a phantom, all the while trying to piece back together his old life so he can be together with his girlfriend. But knowing, due to his burns, due to his anger, and due to what he has done that he can never go back to being Peyton Westlake. He simply can’t live as Peyton Westlake and Darkman the way Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne coincide with Spider Man and Batman. He has made a full transformation and his ‘mask’ is the shadow of his former self. It is a wonderful story of despair and heartbreak and masterfully done. Even with his revenge complete, you still feel the bittersweet sting of agony, knowing what this man’s existence has become. It is a great story.
While it still baffles me that this film is lost to the ages, maybe I can shed some light on the subject and try to figure out why this movie is forgotten by so many. Let’s take a look at the early 90’s. While action movies were becoming a strong contender in the movie industry, Super Hero movies were a little less so. Granted you did have Tim Burton’s Batman franchise but it seemed to be an anomaly, not a standard with which to rule. Dark, gritty, and thought-provoking Super Hero movies such as this just weren’t seen and to this day are still not seen, not to this extent anyways. You have movies like The Dark Knight of course that these two could fit and in hand with, but I would love nothing more than to see an Iron Man or Captain America movie attempt to get as dark, depressing, and hard R action that Darkman brings to the table.
I think in a way, Darkman is forgotten because it doesn’t seem to fully fit into any one genre and did not have the strong enough following to spurn its own sub genre like other movies have done before it. It is certainly action packed, but a little too dark for the people who are just looking for some Stallone and Schwarzenegger blow up action fun. It does have its moments of suspense and horror, but doesn’t seem to be the theme. It is certainly a super hero movie. A man who suffers a tragedy dawns a new alter ego and fights crime. More along the lines of The Punisher but due to its hard R rating it can’t really permeate to the youngsters to by Darkman action figures, which I actually do think is a VERY GOOD THING!
But at the end of the day, I have to say one of the biggest flaws of Darkman is that it doesn’t really know what it wants to be and thus alienates a lot of fans who were either looking for strictly action, horror, and so forth. Which isn’t a bad thing. Personally I feel the combination of all these genres created one of the best movies I have ever seen. But due to it, it is lost in the realms of obscurity. Such is the way of life I guess.
This movie is amazing and it is a shame that it has not received the praise in time that some of the other movies around this era have been given. The effects are great, the story is one of the best superhero stories I have ever seen, and Liam Neeson hits it out of the park as Peyton Westlake. It is a great film and one that any movie aficionado should watch to see some later 80’s early 90’s awesome.
Final Score 4.5/5
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