American pulp adventure film, released in 1990. It was directed by Sam Raimi and written by Chuck Pfarrer, Sam and Ivan Raimi, Daniel Goldin and Joshua Goldin. Cinematography was by Bill Pope, and the score was composed by Danny Elfman. It starred Liam Neeson as Peyton Westlake, Frances McDormand as Julie Hastings, Colin Friels as Louis Strack, and Larry Drake as Robert Durant. Notable cameos went to Ted Raimi as Rick, John Landis as a physician, Jenny Agutter as the burn doctor, and Bruce Campbell as the "final shemp".

The plot centers on Westlake, a scientist who is on the verge of discovering a new kind of synthetic skin that would revolutionize the treatment of burn victims. The only problem is that the skin becomes unstable and melts away after being exposed to light for 100 minutes. Westlake ends up running afoul of some hoodlums, who ambush him, beat him up, and blow up his lab, with him inside it. Everyone thinks he's dead, but he's still alive, burnt to a crisp, with his nerve endings deadened to all sensations of pain. This gives him greater physical strength, but also leaves him prone to fits of uncontrollable rage. With the help of his synthetic skin, can Westlake get revenge on the gangsters who maimed him and reclaim a normal life?

Over a decade before Sam Raimi directed "Spider-Man", he was already working on his comic book chops, and for the most part, he nails the genre perfectly. He had originally hoped to make a film of the old pulp vigilante, the Shadow, but he couldn't get the rights to the character. So he created his own pulp hero, complete with aristocratic name, beautiful girlfriend, tragic origin, astounding abilities, trenchcoat, and fedora. Oh, and filthy bandages and only one-quarter of a face.

Westlake's ability to mimic anyone's face using his synthetic skin technology is used to great effect in numerous places, particularly when he impersonates the evil Durant (and later meets him face-to-face in a revolving door) and when he's finally able to duplicate his original face and meet his girlfriend again.

Neeson is actually seen very rarely in this movie--for the most part he's buried under tons of special effects makeup. Due to the character's appearance (most of Westlake's skin is burned away, some of it down to the bone), it was necessary to build Neeson's entire head up quite a bit in order to make his shattered face look realistic. If I'm remembering my ancient "Fangoria" magazines correctly, the only parts of Neeson's face that were actually visible in the Darkman makeup were his eyelids and the tip of one ear.

Drake's performance as Durant was also impressive. At the time, Drake was best known as Benny, the mentally retarded office boy in "L.A. Law"--in fact, Drake was so good as Benny that many people believed he was actually mentally disabled. "Darkman" was apparently his opportunity to head off typecasting by playing a brutal gangster with a penchant for snipping off people's fingers with a cigar cutter. He did a great job and was one of the spotlight characters of the movie.

Raimi's trademark hyper-kinetic camerawork is also present, replacing the flying eyeballs of "Evil Dead 2" with lightning-fast trips into Westlake's mind through his eyeballs and an attack by a man weilding a nailgun.

Many people feel that "Darkman" doesn't work the way it should've. They dislike the more comic-book-like aspects of the plot; they feel that the gore is out-of-place; they feel that the acting is not up to snuff. I've always enjoyed the film. I like the pulpy feel of the story, and I love the enthusiastic, all-over-the-screen camera movement. I even enjoy Neeson's tendency to overact (rumor has it that he didn't want to make this movie at all and especially disliked all the makeup he had to wear). If you're willing to park your sense of disbelief for a couple of hours and embrace a bit of melodrama, tragedy, and adventure, you can enjoy it, too.

"Darkman" was followed by two forgettable direct-to-video sequels: "Darkman II: The Return of Durant" and "Darkman III: Die Darkman Die".

Research from the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com)

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