A very lanky and pale Liam Neeson (The Grey) portrays Peyton Westlake, a scientist working on creating synthetic skin, but can’t get it to last beyond 99 minutes. When his girlfriend (Moonrise Kingdom‘s Frances McDormand, who appears in a brand-new interview on the disc) stumbles onto a secret memo she shouldn’t have, corporate goons destroy Westlake’s lab — and presumably Westlake himself — in order to get it back.
Although Westlake survives the explosion, his face resembles an overcooked pork rind. To get revenge on his would-be killers and ultimate baddie Durant (Tulsa’s own Larry Drake, TV’s L.A. Law), he whips up some synthetic-skin masks and poses as his enemies, which makes for some clever situations and bang-up sequences. Unfortunately, his disguises only last so long before they start to smoke and sizzle like a side of bacon. So, for the rest of the time, Westlake runs around in bandages and a dark overcoat and hat — aka Darkman.
If it sounds like a modern-day Phantom of the Opera, you’re correct, with dashes of Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thrown in for good measure. Despite Raimi’s character not being born from the comics, Darkman remains one of the better comic-book movies ever made — pulpy yet smart, rarely losing sight of what it is, what it wants to be and what it cannot afford to be.
It was enough of a surprise hit to yield two belated sequels made for the VHS market, neither of which involved Neeson, McDormand nor Raimi. They’re not terrible — perhaps Shout! will give them proper upgrades one day, too. —Rod Lott
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