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Darkman (1990)

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Darkman
Darkman 1990
Directed By Sam Raimi
Screenplay By Chuck Pfarrer, Ivan Raimi, Daniel Goldin, Sam Raimi, Joshua Goldin
Cast Liam Neeson, Larry Drake, Frances McDormand
Produced By Robert Tapert
Film Editing By Bud S. Smith, David Stiven
Cinematography By Bill Pope
Music By Danny Elfman
Studio

Renaissance Pictures

Country

United States

Language

English

Release Date

August 24, 1990

Runtime

95 Minutes

Rating R
Distributed By

Universal Pictures

Budget $16,000,000
Gross $48,878,502


Plot

Peyton Westlake is a brilliant scientist struggling to perfect a synthetic skin for burn victims. His current formula is strangely photo-reactive, breaking down within 100 minutes when exposed to light yet remains stable when kept in darkness.

His girlfriend, Julie Hasting is an attorney who inadvertently stumbles across some incriminating papers for her boss Louis Strack Jr. and he secretly sends his criminal enforcer, Durant and his lackeys to retrieve them and kill anyone who might have seen them.

Breaking into Peyton's lab, Durant and his thugs brutally beat and torture Peyton, burning his hands, and then triggering a massive explosion. Miraculously surviving, with horrific burns covering his body and his face almost completely destroyed, Peyton is found and undergoes experimental surgeries in an attempt to remove the constant agonizing pain he is suffering. However these surgeries completely remove his ability to feel any sort of physical or tactile sensation and also causes dangerous psychological effects such as violent mood swings and increasing his rage which causes uncontrollable surges of adrenaline throughout his body giving him maniacal levels of strength.

Escaping the hospital, Peyton tries to make contact with Julie who dismisses him as a homeless man and he grimly salvages his lab's equipment to fashion a mask of his old face so that Julie can recognize him but is unable to find any digital photo records of them. Instead he is able to find a badly damaged picture of himself. Although able to scan it, the picture is so badly degraded that the computer will take considerable time to digitally repair it and sets out to perfect his skin formula.

But as his frustration mounts, he takes to using his imperfect formula to a new level, to create lifelike masks of the men who disfigured him to stalk them in the shadows and playing on their innate paranoia to cause them to turn on one another even as he disrupts and sabotages their criminal enterprises.

After killing one of the men and arranging for Durant to kill another, Peyton intensifies his war on Durant and his associates, masquerading as Durant and robbing a convenience store in order to get him arrested and then impersonating him at an important meeting with a Chinese gangster. Durant posts bail and rushes to the meeting only to run into his doppelganger. Although Peyton bolts, his ruse is outed.

Peyton becomes guilt-ridden at his actions as he realizes that he would never have committed such atrocities before his accident. Shortly afterwards, the computer finishes its digital reconstruction and he casts a mask for himself which enables him to met and reconnect with Julie, claiming that he was in a coma for these many months and is recuperating at a special clinic. Happily, Julie accepts his story and makes him believe that he can resume his old life as Peyton Westlake, benevolent scientist once again.

But during a date at a carnival, Peyton is cheated out a prize and retaliates by cruelly crushes the staff member's fingers. Horrified at his actions, Peyton struggles to explain himself to Julie only to lose track of time and his skin mask begins to decompose, causing him to run away. Julie follows him and finds him in his new home, an abandoned warehouse which he has modified into a laboratory and realizes just how badly he was injured physically and pleads for him to come out of the shadows. He refuses and begs her to leave.

Afterwards a distraught Julie confides to her boss about Peyton's condition and Strack realizes that Westlake is the mysterious imposter who has been causing so much trouble and informs Durant about this and his location. Julie then inadvertently discovers a piece of paperwork that she recognizes that she had left at Peyton's laboratory before the explosion and comes to the horrific realization that Strack is working with Durant who holds her hostage while he and the others go and try to kill Peyton.

At his hideout, Peyton sows confusion with his quick changes and successfully kills all of Durant's henchmen before turning his attention to Durant who flees in a helicopter. Peyton grabs onto a cable attached to the helicopter and is taken for a wild ride throughout the city as Durant tries to fly him into buildings and then lowers him into traffic. Surviving Durant's murderous attempts, Peyton instead attaches the cable to a tractor trailer which pulls the helicopter down and it crashes into a bridge, apparently killing Durant as well.

Peyton then attempts to impersonate Durant again to rescue Julie only to to unmasked by Strack and engage in a fierce struggle in the unfinished girder work of a building before Peyton gains the upper hand and throws Strack to his death and rescues Julie. Julie tells him that he'll perfect the skin and that they can still have their old life back but Peyton tells her that he tried to tell himself that for months now. But the truth is that the burns are far more than skin deep and he has changed as well, even though he is learning to live with it; he doesn't think that anyone, much less Julie can. Even as Peyton vanishes into the crowd, Julie hears him tell her that "I am everyone and no one. Everywhere. Nowhere. Call me ... Darkman."

Cast

  • Liam Neeson as Peyton Westlake/Darkman
  • Frances McDormand as Julie Hastings
  • Colin Friels as Louis Strack Jr.
  • Larry Drake as Robert G. Durant
  • Jessie Lawrence Ferguson as Eddie Black
  • Rafael H. Robledo as Rudy Guzman
  • Ted Raimi as Ricky
  • Nicholas Worth as Pauly
  • Dan Bell as Smiley
  • Dan Hicks as Skip
  • Bridget Hoffman as Computer Voice

Production

The director and creator of Darkman, Sam Raimi has been a lifelong comic fan and attempted to acquire the rights to direct a movie featuring Batman or The Shadow several years ago to no avail.  Denied being able to bring his heroes to the movie screen, Raimi decided to create his own drawing inspiration from the Batman, The Shadow, and even the Phantom of the Opera and The Elephant Man as the basis for his character of Darkman. 

He was able to interest Universal Pictures in financially backing the project with a budget of $16 million and with the help of his brother, Ivan Raimi and another writer, Chuck Pfarrer wrote a dozen drafts of the screenplay before it was finally deemed acceptable by the studios but was forced to battle with studio executives continually throughout the shooting, the editing, and post-production.

Originally, Raimi intended for his childhood friend Bruce Campbell to portray Darkman but Universal Pictures rejected him, forcing Raimi to hold auditions with Gary Oldman and Bill Paxton before Liam Neeson ultimately won the starring role.  Neeson was forced to work 18 hour days, most of it in extensive makeup and elaborate costuming to portray the titular character. Julia Roberts was originally cast as the female lead, Julie Hastings but had to drop out due to filming commitments for Pretty Woman and was replaced by Frances McDormand.

Neeson and McDormand contributed to several love scenes between their characters by extensively rewriting them to better fit. Reputedly, Raimi and McDormand clashed constantly on the set as Raimi found her extremely difficult to direct.

Raimi also clashed with editors assigned by the studios to assemble the film and one editor suffered a nervous breakdown and left. Universal was said to be very leery of the film after several test audiences gave very poor ratings for Darkman which had some of the lowest scores in Universal's history and forced Raimi to make some cuts to the film.

Reception

Thanks to an aggressive and brilliant marketing campaign by Universal which featured a mere silhouette of the character and "Who is Darkman?" on movie posters and bus benches to build up intrigue of the mysterious character, the opening weekend of the movie was a gross of $8 million in 1,786 theaters.

Darkman was generally received well by the critics and performed surprisingly well at the box office, earning almost triple Universal’s original investment with $48,878,502 in the box office run. The film earned an 82% "Fresh" approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. However it was not as financially successful as Universal apparently had hoped.  Rumor has it that Universal had optimistic hopes that Darkman would be able to tap the same audience as the previous year’s Academy award winning Batman movie by Warner Brothers.  Nevertheless, the character proved popular enough that it spawned two direct-to-video sequels, several limited comic book series, video games and action figures and has widely become considered a cult film and one of the best superhero films of all time.

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