The Test of Time: Darkman (1990)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand, and Larry Drake.

This weekend, Sam Raimi (as producer) and Fede Alvarez (as director) return to cinemas with DON’T BREATHE as they no doubt hope to keep the solid run of horror box office success stories this summer going. While many, many big budget movies will end up in many, many powerful folks getting fired, those in the horror game can rest easy. And while recent horror films have made plenty of cash, it’s nothing compared to the tights-wearing-dudes in the superhero genre. However, from time to time horror and superheroes collide, and leave it to Sam Raimi to have done the job quite well. After he got famous for two EVIL DEAD films, he teamed with Liam Neeson (before he became an ass kicking older gentleman) for a some-what original dark hero. But does it stand up against the test of time?

Under the examination: DARKMAN.

Not a recommended way to floss.

THE STORY: Brainy scientist Peyton Westlake (wait, aren’t all scientists brainy?) ends up on the wrong end of gangster Robert Durant (Drake) and is left for dead after his woman, Julie (McDormand), leaves some incriminating documents at his lab. Westlake had been developing a way to create synthetic skin, which comes in handy when he survives the gangster induced explosion at the lab, leaving him horrifically burned and disfigured…like real ugly. So…he decides to seek revenge on the finger collecting bad guy Durant and save Julie from certain harm.

Big Gun. Tight haircut.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: One of the strangest things about DARKMAN comes from seeing a young Liam Neeson. I know he was obviously once young, but I’ve gotten used to seeing him the way he is—the king of old man bone breakers. Neeson, of course, is great as always; he appears to have enjoyed the role, and why wouldn’t he have? While he made a lot of movies before DARKMAN (including THE DEAD POOL, EXCALIBUR, and KRULL), the role of Westlake became his breakout role, a chance to star in a major motion picture as a hero. He didn’t rise to that Michael Keaton level of fame, but Neeson’s career was ready to hit big. I love his makeup, often slightly hidden behind his rags but showing us enough to make the character seem real and believable.

Home sweet home.

Being a Sam Raimi movie (his first with a “big” budget at $16 million), his style works perfectly with the superhero genre—as we all witnessed later with SPIDER-MAN. His manic camera angles and love for classic cinema really shows. He dips into the world of Universal monsters, combing that love into DARKMAN with great little touches (like the montage of Westlake trying to find the synthetic skin solution) and from the character himself: a mix of Batman, the Invisible Man, the Shadow, Frankenstein, and the Mummy. He employs a love of Gothic touches, like shots of Neeson watching over the city between two gargoyles or the image of his burned down lab.

Most Raimi films have certain expected elements: 1) An appearance by his classic 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88. (It’s like the Stan Lee of his movies.) 2) The appearance of Bruce Campbell (who Raimi originally wanted as Darkman). 3) Ted Raimi. (I love his death scene, where Neeson holds him up through a manhole on a busy street.) 4) A score by Danny Elfman; this was a year after he helped redefine Batman with his fantastically iconic music. Elfman doesn’t stray too far from it; hell in some parts it’s nearly identical, but that’s ok.

That a dummy or a Raimi?

WHAT BLOWS NOW: After Westlake’s lab gets blown up and he returns as Darkman to make it his lair, it’s kinda stupid. After all, when we see the lab blown up from outside (with Julie watching), its massive explosion. So how the hell does so much of his equipment (including his fancy future technology) survive? No chance. But whatever. Westlake dusts off a few monitors and gets back to work. Seemingly, the only thing truly damaged was a picture of himself.

As much as I love the THREE STOOGES and Raimi’s love for them, his incorporation of STOOGES moments seems a little forced here. It works much better a few years later with ARMY OF DARKNESS because of Bruce Campbell and the silliness of the EVIL DEAD world, but seeing Neeson do “zany” just doesn’t work.

No, that's not green screen.

THE VERDICT: If it hadn't been for the combination of Raimi and Neeson, DARKMAN would likely remain mostly forgettable, a semi-BATMAN rip-off. But Raimi’s directing style and a damn good cast help elevate the project and prevents it from rusting away. Is it A-quality? No. But this is B-movie superhero perfection.



Something is on your face. Right there.



Latest Movie News Headlines