Darkman Turns 26 Years Old Today
By Jessica Dwyer
Before there was Spiderman with Sam Raimi behind the wheel there was Darkman. Darkman came from a need Raimi had, even back in the late 80’s/early 90’s, to direct a comic book movie. After not being able to acquire the ones he wanted at the time, Raimi decided to create his own.
Darkman evolved into a sort of Phantom of the Opera meets Batman with a major psychotic break (even more so than Batman already has.) The film would be Sam Raimi’s FIRST major studio release and would also be a major starring role for Liam Neeson. The film would also co-star Frances McDormand and the late, great, Larry Drake.
The pedigree didn’t just stop with the actors. Danny Elfman was brought on board to bring that epic music magic (he’d follow along with Raimi to Army of Darkness as well.)
Here’s the quick version of the films plot if you haven’t seen it (rectify this right now.) : Scientist Peyton Westlake is a scientist who is creating fake skin to help burned and disfigured victims. The recipe can only exist in light for 99 minutes. When Westlake’s lawyer girlfriend runs across some incriminating documents that show her boss is a bad guy he sends his thugs to find the documents and they wind up killing Westlake’s partner and blowing up his lab (with him inside.)
Westlake emerges from a coma having had an operation to stop his pain centers from registering. The surgery gives him super human strength but also destroys his ability to control his emotions. Super rage, super sadness, he’s a wreck. He decides to take revenge on the men who destroyed his life using his skin formula to hide his now hideous visage and also keep his mourning girlfriend safe.
Upon the release some people didn’t quite know what the film was. Was it a comic book movie? Was it a horror movie? There are moments of comedy of course because it’s a Sam Raimi film.
Darkman was an epic vehicle for Raimi’s eye for insanity and crazy visuals. The moments of Peyton Westlake’s madness were awesome. Tony Gardner who did the make-up effects for the film created an iconic visage for the destroyed face of Westlake. The costume was a combination of The Shadow (another fave character of Raimi’s) and The Phantom of the Opera mixed with Batman…a billowing black coat and large black hat to hide his face.
Darkman was a mix of all of those iconic characters and the mad scientist ala The Invisible Man combined. He was a tortured hero who was bent on revenge against the evil men who had murdered his friend and destroyed his life. Even if he was murdering people, you couldn’t help but cheer him on (one of those people was Raimi’s own brother Ted.)
Darkman would spawn not only two more films but a TV series pilot and comic books (including one of the film itself.) There were also paperback novels based off the character, a video game, and an action figure as well as a statue.
Darkman holds a special place in my heart as it came out while I was still in high school. It became part of a demonstration I did for a Speech class where I wound up having a 20 minute long Q and A session when the five minute speech was over (it was about monster make-up of course.)
I would actually love to see Darkman make a return. The story is a timeless one and the character himself is fantastic. In this day and age of corporate evil and big pharma fear he’d be more than welcome.
So all hail horror’s first comic book hero. Viva Darkman!
(and yes that was Bruce Campbell at the end of the movie as Westlake’s final face)