Written by / 3/20/2016 / No comments / , , , , , , ,

LIAM NEESON & LARRY DRAKE IN DARKMAN

Rest in Peace to Character-Actor Larry Drake who made the best uses out of his character Durant in DARKMAN
There are a few connections right off the bat concerning DARKMAN, which seems like a morbid, twisted vigilante movie but is more a chilling gangster/noir as the very opening mirrors a scene in director Sam Raimi's good friends and sometimes partners, Joel and Ethan Coen and their crime masterpiece, MILLER'S CROSSING, as a line-up of...

Sam Raimi in arguably the Coen's best work
Well in CROSSING there's a bunch of bloodthirsty, bought-off cops shooting up a compound building of Irish mobsters. But the pivotal connection lies in the actor playing the main cop who makes the first shot and then gets multi-blasted like Jimmy Caan in THE GODFATHER, only without as many holes: that being Raimi himself...

Chemicals suck
But DARKMAN is also, kind of, an anti-superhero venture, reminiscent of the groaning kind-hearted yet horrible looking mutant ex-scientist in SWAMP THING within an urban setting, not so transformed into a permanent monstrosity, and filmed by the man who would later go the big budget superhero route with his Tobey Maquire/SPIDERMAN trio years later, in which the first half of the first movie worked just fine, and the rest, including a pointless Macy Grey cameo; no particularly worthy reason for the villain to be the villain except an office argument; and followed by two totally weak sequels, especially the last: But another connection is how similar the changeling that good guy Liam Neeson goes through to become DARKMAN to how Jack Nicholson's Joker morphed from a moody gangster into a crazy-grinning psycho in Tim Burton's BATMAN circa 1989: both nearly dying because a vat of acid, only one is much smaller, and that DARKMAN scene is far more intense and violent.

"I don't wax off nothing but a twelve pack!*
Larry Drake, the character-actor who appeared in a number of memorable films (and recently passed away, inspiring this writeup) including a TV movie that gave Gen-X children nightmares, titled NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW – Larry's character hiding inside the scarecrow with his frightened eyes shown as the hunters slowly move in is something this grownup-kid never forgot.

Scared Crow
And while Drake did everything from attempting to bully Mr. Miyagi in THE KARATE KID to playing the main heavy in the awesomely titled DR. GIGGLES to his most famous turn as a retarded (that's what they called the "Mentally Challenged" back then, so we'll stick to it) worker at a firm on the hour-long network drama L.A. LAW and, unlike most of his co-stars (Harry Hamlin, Susan Dey and Jimmy Smits), Drake stayed on the series for the entire run: now that's someone who will stick with a role. So it's no surprise that Larry not only played the part of cold-blooded chief mobster Robert G. Durant in this particular Sam Raimi film, DARKMAN, but also attempted to co-star on a DARKMAN failed pilot for a possible TV series, and then he got his very own sequel DARKMAN II: THE RETURN OF DURANT. Okay, fine, so it's a Straight to Video, but those can be entertaining... Larry could very well be considered the Roddy McDowell of DARKMAN...

Jenny Agutter
But let's center on the original motion picture that got the ball rolling... Much of the film has Liam Neeson looking more like a character that could be named BANDAGE-NOGGEN or MUMMY-MAN, having just escaped from a hospital where AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON starlet, Jenny Agutter, while lecturing grad students, gives the dying scientist hardly a chance of survival following such a horrible accident.

Francis McDormand
Then, after a somewhat cheesy blast of quickly edited imagined flashbacks using, which continue sporadically throughout, low-budget effects of the pre JURASSIC PARK era, Neeson's bandaged Peyton Westlake spends time either keeping an eye on his old flame, Frances McDormand as Julie, known to audiences as the Oscar winning female Columbo-type from FARGO, and the ingenue of the Coen's first, and still one of their best features, BLOOD SIMPLE, in which she once quipped in an interview (pp): "To get the FARGO role, I slept with the director." And Frances, a Coen regular, is the wife of writer/director Joel, who was solely credited as director of all the Coen films... Ethan as writer/producer... until semi-recently.

Main Poster
So back onto the subject at hand: when Neeson's Peyton, who went from handsome scientist to The Elephant Man in a matter of minutes, isn't staking (protecting, rather) his former lover, he's killing lowly criminals to get to the big guy, Drake's Durant, providing Raimi a genre he's most comfortable: body count horror, yet equally combined with a Noir investigation as our mangled lead wanders the city in a surreptitious manner, photographing the villains and, taking their pictures back to his amazing laboratory that would have even perplexed Vincent Price's DR. PHYBES, adds a touch antique horror relying on mystery over violence: he's basically trying to piece himself together. And then, Peyton finds out how to become human again, from being his old self to have limited conversations with his lover, to other mobsters and then set-ups to make Durant loose his image in a long scene at a fun house/amusement park and, with random battles with Drake's stolen-faced Durant, Sam Raimi went all out, and then some, creating a comic book venture for no one, it seems, but himself, and whoever else could handle such a bizarre creation. And, although using elements of other things, DARKMAN is one original piece of work.

RATING: ***
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