Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Darkman (1990)

When a movie is released straight to video, that’s not a good sign.  What does it say, though, when a movie has a theatrical release, yet spawns sequels direct to video?  Another ominous sign is when main actors and/or  production staff don’t return for the sequels.  Take Darkman.  What little I remembered of it was good.  When I watched it again recently, it was still entertaining.  I’m not sure if I’m viewing it as Sam Raimi envisioned it.

The movie is about Peyton Westlake, a scientist trying to create artificial skin.  It would be great for burn victims to have their face again.  Or any face, for that matter.  Peyton can generate a synthetic version of any face, provided he has pictures of the entire face.  There’s one drawback  The faces last only 99 minutes.  One second longer, and they disintegrate.  He and his assistant come to realize that the synthetic skin is sensitive to light.  It has an indefinite shelf life, provided you keep it in a dark place.  Peyton keeps at it having to use a series of faces isn’t good enough.

Fortunately, his attorney girlfriend, Julie Hastings, is understanding.  She has problems of her own.  She’s found evidence that a developer hasn’t been playing fairly.  That evidence ends up at Peyton’s lab.  Somehow, the developer finds out where it is and burns Peyton’s lab to the ground, leaving Julie to assume that both her boyfriend and her evidence were lost in the fire.

All that was found of Peyton was an ear.  That’s because the rest of him washed up on shore.  With no ID and an inability to speak, he’s labeled John Doe and assumed to be indigent.   He has a brief stay in a hospital, at least in movie time, where we find out that he was experimented on.  The nerve allowing him to feel pain was cut, leading to greater strength.   The emotional toll is too great for any human to bear.  It drives him crazy, setting up the rest of the movie as a revenge story.

Peyton is able to reestablish his lab well enough that he can create a synthetic face for himself from old photos.  He’s also able to impersonate those that wronged him and their associates well enough that he can get back at them.  He visits Julie, but comes to realize that he may not be fit for polite society any more.  (All he wanted was a pink elephant for Julie.)  Will revenge be enough?

The story goes that Sam Raimi wanted a superhero movie, but couldn’t get the rights to an established character.  The solution was to create his own.  Darkman doesn’t have x-ray vision, but he does have increased strength and the ability to change faces 99 minutes at a time.  (I found that odd.  Why exactly 99 minutes?  Is anything in nature that exact?)

It also wasn’t clear how the document get to Peyton’s place.  Maybe I missed it.  I think it’s implied that Julie left it there accidentally.  If so, how was the developer (or his henchman) so certain that Peyton had it?  A lot of the story seems like it’s just there to move the story along.  The evidence is little more than a plot device meant to hurt Peyton.  The explosion and Peyton’s work feed in to the revenge story.

Many of the scenes were very dark.  In one scene, a man is thrown out of a window with the express wish that he enjoy his flight.  This is in addition to people being brutally tortured and killed.  You know how some movies get an R rating and you’re not sure why?  This isn’t one of those movies.  It deserved an R rating.

In that regard, I don’t know how many of the scenes were meant to be humorous.  I’m hesitant to say it’s dark humor because I don’t know if it was intended as such or if I’m just viewing it that way.  The movie was released decades ago, so the context has changed a bit.  I have to wonder what it would look like if it were made today.

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