Jarv’s Birthday Series: Darkman (1990)

I’m everyone – and no one. Everywhere – nowhere. Call me… Darkman.

It’s now time for the Birthday Series to say goodbye to the appaling late 80’s and start in with the swinging 90’s. First up is Sam Raimi’s first stab at a superhero movie, Darkman (released on 24th August 1990 in America). I have to say that I think Darkman is still his best Superhero effort (I don’t get the love for Spidey 2), being a fantastic romp that rocks along at a fair old pace, is full of cracking dialogue and great performances, and, unlike the Spider-Man films is actually fun.

Liam Neeson plays Peyton Westlake. He’s working on a synthetic skin, and has problems with it lasting longer than 99 minutes due to it collapsing as it is highly photosensitive. His girlfriend, Julie (played by Frances McDormand), is an attorney for property developer Strack (Colin Friels) who has a healthy sideline in organised crime which is run by Larry Drake’s fabulous Durant. Durant is completely demented and likes taking fingers with a cigar cutter. Julie, unfortunately for Peyton, discovers a memorandum about bribery and informs Strack. Strack’s reaction is to send Durand round to Peyton’s lab to retrieve it. Durant, not being the most subtle person, beats and tortures Peyton before leaving him to die in the burning lab. Hideously disfigured, Peyton is operated on by quack doctors who perform a procedure to sever his never endings which has the side effect of making him completely nuts and augmenting his strength. Peyton then uses his synthetic skin to take revenge on the scumbags that landed him in the hurt.

This is a fantastically OTT film. Raimi made it because he’d failed to acquire the rights to either Batman or The Shadow, and the experience was so disheartening for him that he stepped away from studios after Army of Darkness. Nevertheless, this is a cracking romp. It’s a superb origin story, and a completely unhinged superhero for adults movie. There’s really a lot to like here, Raimi hadn’t flattened his visual style yet, so there’s lots of camera work that could be straight from the Evil Dead (still his best film), and it works supremely well with the inherently silly storyline. A fine example is Neeson’s mental collapse at the fair, which has the camera zoom in to his eye and a visual montage of images flash across the screen depicting him losing it. Top work.

This is, as noted, an inherently silly movie. However, it does succeed and a lot of the credit for this goes to the acting. Neeson is hugely entertaining as the Mad Doctor, and Drake is gleefully insane and sadistic as Durant. Mcdormand has the hardest task here, but is infinitely better than Dunst was in a similar role in Spidey. Her part is eventually reduced to “damsel in distress”, which is practically a must in a Superhero film (Kidder in Superman, Dunst, Maggie G in The Dark Knight and so forth), but before then carries her end as a smart, capable, professional woman. All the acting here, even from Ted Raimi in a small role is on song. Oh, and it’s nice to see The Chin make a brief cameo at the end.

This really is fun, I was actually pleasantly surprised by it as I hadn’t seen it since it was first released. However, watching it as an adult, there are some flaws that stand out. Firstly, it feels very clunky and this is because there are a lot of scenes that only exist to explain something or other to the audience. Notably Neeson losing it in the lab. While it does feel rough, this isn’t the end of the world, because for the most part Darkman is ridiculously entertaining, and I don’t really want to quibble too much. Secondly, the Darkman makeup, while good, isn’t anywhere near as effective as the bandages wrapped around the face, and when you see him in his full monstrous glory at the climax, it feels, well, a bit too much. Almost, and I struggle to say this with a straight face, silly.

I haven’t talked about the score for a while, but this one has a fantastic musical accompaniment. It was written by Danny Elfman, and there’s more than a little similarity to the theme from Burton’s Batman in there. This, actually, is great as it gives the film a pulp-y comic book feel to it, and shifts it quite comfortably away from revenge thriller into comic book territory (which is where it should reside).

Overall, this is a good film. It’s too rough to be considered a great film, but I did have a thoroughly good time watching it. Darkman is a superior origin movie, a nice take on the superhero genre and still Raimi’s best attempt at it. The acting, particularly from Drake, is so good, and the film is so much fun that I really do recommend it and I’m giving it 3 hissing cat sidekicks out of 4.

Pity he didn’t take this form into Spidey, really. Then we might not have had two boring films and one absolute floater.

Next up is Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man which I’ve never seen.

Until then,


The full list in this series:



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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

21 responses to “Jarv’s Birthday Series: Darkman (1990)”

  1. Xiphos0311 says :

    I never particularly cared for DM. It’s not bad it’s just not anything I have any desire to revisit ever.

    • Continentalop says :

      I’m with you. I love the opening where Dr. Giggles chops off the guys fingers, but after that it was just too, I don’t know, hokey. I think DM would have been better if they made it more like the old 30’s Pulps and less like a silver age comic book.

  2. just pillow talk says :

    I remember liking this when I first saw it, being kooky and whatnot. I’ve never tried to watch it again like Xi, but if I were to run across it on tv I’d probably watch it.

    You’re cranking these out like a muthafucker!

  3. Xiphos0311 says :

    I predict Jarv will have hateon for HD&MM.

    • Jarv says :

      Dunno. I know next to nothing about it, so when I watch it at 4 today it could go either way.

      I’m dreading Columbus, but after that I have the easiest run to 1999. When it goes completely pear-shaped. The worst film in the run is probably Desperado, but that’s still entertaining enough and Salma gets naked.

      • Spud McSpud says :

        How can you HATE DESPERADO??

        It’s not Shakespeare, I’ll give you that, but it has some of the most inventive action you’ll see outside a John Woo movie…

      • Jarv says :

        I don’t. I like Desperado.

      • Spud McSpud says :

        Ah… “worst film in the run”, but then I saw “still entertaining enough”… Hey, it’s beyond hot here in the Midlands… Brain misfunctioning…

  4. tombando says :

    Never did catch this one. Maybe see it on cable if lucky?

  5. Spud McSpud says :

    I fucking HATED this movie. Flat-out hated it. I loved all the EVIL DEAD movies, but this… Tried too hard, meandered all over the place, and felt like they hadn’t decided what the leading man was meant to be. And seriously, “Darkman”? What the fuck is THAT name meant to evoke?

    I’ve nearly walked out of three movies in my life. One was WINGS OF THE APACHE – what the fuck they thought that movie was meant to be (TOP GUN with helicopters with Nic Fucking Cage? REALLY??!?) I have no idea. The second was this meh-fest, DARKMAN. Number three? GREEN LANTERN. I have a lot of love for Ryan Reynolds – he can be a decent dramatic actor, and I loved WAITING against all sense and reason (his comedic stuff is usually great, or if the movie’s ropey, he;s good in it), but GREEN LANTERN felt like reheated shit. Absolutely hopeless on every level bar the meh-tastic SFX. A blockbuster as made by very bored, very uninspired, comepltely uncreative film-makers.

    But no, DARKMAN didn’t get me interested at any point. Now, HARD TARGET, DESPERADO and BLADE are among my very favourite 90s movies, so it’ll be interesting to see what you make of those, Jarv…

    • Jarv says :

      You’re being very hard on this. Spud. Drake himself is better than that.

      For the record, I nearly walked out of the two Star Wars prequels I saw in the cinema, and Darkman is light years better than them.

    • Spud McSpud says :

      I’ll give you Larry Drake. He’s always an entertaining actor, and I loved him in DR GIGGLES (now THAT needs a rewatch soon) but I really didn’t get DARKMAN. Maybe I’d look differently at it now – after all, when it came out, I was a mere 18-year old…

      As for the Prequels – I cannot blame you. I only stayed to the end of SITH to see if it could possibly get any worse. And, when Darth Emo went “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” my worst fears were confirmed – IT FUCKING COULD.

  6. Toadkillerdog says :

    Great write-up Jarvik, I totally agree, a cracking film. I loved it, it always gets overlooked (even by me) as a superhero flick

  7. ThereWolf says :

    I’m with Conti, in that I enjoyed the early part of the film more than the rest of it. Still enjoyable though and Drake is great. Interesting, I’ve never thought of ‘Darkman’ as a ‘superhero’ movie…

    Isn’t Jenny Agutter in this, briefly, as a nurse again?

  8. Droid says :

    Yeah, I really enjoyed this movie when I watched it recently. First time I’d seen it since the mid 90’s. Fun movie.

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