Tuesday, January 28, 2014

DARKMAN (Scream Factory Blu-ray) - The Old Gory Face Gets a Makeover

It seems that Sam Raimi’s Darkman is getting a whole lotta positive attention lately from all the right people, Scream Factory included. First, I’ve been noticing the infamous Tony Gardner  marred Liam Neeson visage adorning a mask from Trick Or Treat Studios at horror conventions. It’s a gory good time. Then there have recently been two local 35mm screenings. The most recent screening was at First Friday Fright Night at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (where they filmed the original Blob theatre scene). At that screening they had a fella dressed up as Darkman and even gave away copies of the upcoming Scream Factory Blu-ray release. While I was unable to make it to the Colonial screening I had the opportunity to catch it at the Exhumed Films 24 Hour Horror-thon this past October. This movie demands a big beautiful screen. It’s much larger than you might remember if you only caught it on the small screen or upon its initial theatrical release. The crowd was enthralled with it; an excellent choice by the four horseman of Exhumed Films. If you missed these screenings then there’s an alternative that will cut your fingers off right in your own home.

Synopsis from Scream Factory:

Dr. Peyton Westlake (Neeson) is on the verge of realizing a major breakthrough in the creation of synthetic skin when his laboratory is blown up by gangsters. Having been burned beyond recognition and forever altered by an experimental medical procedure, Westlake becomes known as Darkman, assuming alternate identities in his quest for revenge and a new life with his former love (McDormand).


Darkman is a visually stunning movie, and that’s even before the Scream Factory guys got their hands on it. The strange choice of camera angles or movement combined with outlandish borderline comedic physical comedy and some special effects that have a comic book quality all combine to create a fantastic, alternate reality. This is the kind of movie that taught Sin City how to create strange, hyper-real sets and shots (whether it is a direct influence or not). It’s obvious that Raimi, creator of Evil Dead 2, was well equipped to create humor in this way. You might even feel as though some of these visual queues come straight out of Raimi’s earlier work and speak of his style. Watching the interviews on this disc will help you to see just how they came up with some of the strange shot choices and makeup effects the create a very iconic horror hero and the distinct look that makes Darkman more than a senseless revenge film. This is one is a well thought out, intelligent horror action picture with a shredded faced good guy who looks like he should be the bad guy. He wears his trench coat like a super hero wears a cape.

The story itself is heartbreaking. It borders on the mad scientist tales of the 1940’s where the well intentioned innovator creates a new technology that will change the face of humanity. His work is then cut short by unforeseen circumstances, in this case a dreaded crime syndicate, power hungry and sadistic. The scientist and and his assistant suffer due to some precarious zoning violations, and thus ends the pretty face of our beloved mad scientists. Don’t worry. He’ll get it back (for 99 minutes at a clip). The love story between Dr. Westlake (Neeson) and his romantic interest (Frances Dormand) is made real by some very candid moments they spent alone which seem in stark contrast to the brutal and noir world created by Raimi. There’s actual development of characters for which we can feel immense sympathy for and for whom we can root. You want Darkman (Dr. Westlake) to have his revenge on the crime syndicate, and you won’t care how violent or at what cost he attains it.

This collector’s edition is Blu-ray only (as opposed to double disc including both). It does contain a slip sleep and features both newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin (one of my personal favorites) and traditional artwork on the reverse side. This disc is loaded. It contains interviews with Frances Dormand, Larry Drake, Dan Bell, Danny Hicks, Liam Neeson, the production designer Randy Ser and art director Philip Dagort as well as the special makeup creator Tony Gardner. The commentary track provided is with DOP Bill Pope (no real Raimi involvement here). The extras include the original storyboards, theatrical trailer, TV spots and vintage electronic press kit as well as some vintage cast and crew profiles. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and video is an HD widescreen transfer 1080p (1.85:1). It’s loaded with extras… to the brim.

For a movie from 1990 you’re looking at a film that still feels somewhat futuristic and thus relevant as if crafted by mind of Philip K. Dick.  The only thing that dates this thing is the computer tech and Frances Dormand’s attire. Aside from that, cigar cutters and machine guns will always win over the action fan. Well groomed physical effects with strange voiceovers and mushy gushy synthetic skin will win over the effects guys (fans of Incredible Melting Man… see what’s been done since Stan Winston melted a guy).  Larry Drake will win over the horror fans (if the gruesome makeup covering Weslake’s face doesn’t). Scream Factory cared for this release, harvested some truly special content and then gave it a new face with Pullin’s art, ironic in a way. Favorite special feature: the Larry Drake interview. That man is a professional. He seems to care about his craft, his audience and he delivers as one of the baddest of baddies we’ve seen on Blu-ray. He’s come a long way since Dark Night of the Scarecrow.

-Doc Terror

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