TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DARKMAN (1990)

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DARKMAN (1990)

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Darkman is Sam Raimi’s first big studio film and is a fun horror movie/superhero flick mash-up. It tells the tale of Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), whose life’s work is to create synthetic skin. His lawyer girlfriend Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand), however, has unintentionally crossed paths with ruthless land developer Strack (Colin Friels) and crime boss Robert Durant (Larry Drake) who send thugs to Westlake’s home/lab to collect some incriminating paperwork. This results in Peyton being brutalized and badly burned with his work destroyed. Now horribly disfigured and without the ability to feel pain, Westlake continues his work in hiding and uses his ability to create skin masks to infiltrate the criminal organization…and exact gruesome revenge!

Flick is directed by Sam Raimi from Raimi’s story and a script by he and four other writers. That’s a lot of scribes for what is basically Phantom of the Opera meets Batman, but it’s far from the mess that number implies. Darkman is actually a fun and amusingly gruesome superhero/revenge flick as Neeson’s scientist turned vigilante hunts down Durant’s thugs, while carving out a path towards the gangster and his crooked developer partner. He also tries to restart his romance with Julie with a hilarious and tragic amusement park scene being the result of that epic fail. The film has a strong comic book vibe, with over-the-top characters, such as Evil Dead II’s Dan Hicks playing a one-legged thug with a machine gun in his wooden leg. There is a lot of action, but as this is a horror film, too, some cartoon-ishly gruesome death’s for Durant’s men. Raimi isn’t afraid to get bloody, as this is rated R, yet maintains the feel of a comic book, which probably got him the job directing three Spider-Man flicks. He takes his material seriously, yet has a lot of fun with it.

The cast all get the material. Neeson plays Westlake as a charming but dedicated scientist and then makes for a very Phantom of the Opera-esque vigilante when he transforms into a vengeful anti-hero. Frances McDormand is good as Julie, who is at first fooled by Strack’s charms. As Strack, Friels makes for a charming yet slimy villain. Drake is very good as the brutal crime boss Durant. He can be ruthless and cruel and is a perfect match for the once kind, now vengeful Westlake. The supporting cast including Nicholas Worth, the before mentioned Hicks and a cameoing Bruce Campbell, all get the tone of the material and their characters.

Overall this is a really fun flick that captures the comic book spirit sometimes better than the straight-up superhero flicks of the time. The cast all get the tone of the material and despite the overabundance or writers, it’s a clever script that balances the comic book style with the horror elements perfectly…as does Raimi’s direction. There is action and drama and some gruesome ends to some very deserving creeps. Inspired a pair of direct to video sequels with The Mummy’s Arnold Vosloo taking over as Westlake.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 an 1/2 Darkmen (out of 4).

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: EVIL DEAD II (1987)

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EVIL DEAD II (1987)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Upon seeing it in 1981, Evil Dead fast became of of  my all-time favorite horror flicks. Fast paced and ferocious, with lots of inventive gore and stunning low budget visuals. When this sequel was announced I was obviously excited!

Sequel opens with a quick recap/retelling of the first film getting us up to date as the camera rushes towards a screaming Ash (Bruce Campbell) and then continues anew as we see what happens to him. Ash, now alone, is trapped in the cabin with the forces of evil trying to get at him. He battles not only his dead girlfriend’s (Denise Bixler) corpse but, his own possessed hand which he promptly cuts off with a chainsaw. Ash is soon joined by the daughter (Sarah Berry) of an archeologist, who formally inhabited the cabin, and she and her party think Ash have murdered her parents. Soon enough, though, the evil in the woods makes itself known and as Ash joins forces with his new companions, their numbers dwindle as the evil lays siege to the cabin and Ash must face this ancient terror in a final showdown.

This flick is considered a classic and by many, the best of the series. I enjoy the film immensely now, but, will admit I was disappointed that the film took on a more comic/fantasy tone rather than continue in the tradition of the first film’s intensity and blood-spattering. It took me a few repeat viewings to get used to it’s slapstick style humor and more cartoonish approach to it’s evil entities. Under Sam Raimi’s guidance, the film still shares the energetic momentum and dizzying camera work of the first flick but, now in a much lighter and more comic-bookish approach. As such, there are a lot of imaginative bits here and poor Ash is put through the ringer, once more, only this time in a much lighter and laugh inducing manner. There is a bit of gore but, most is now colorful splashes of green and blue blood as our Evil Dead are dealt with by Ash and his trusty chainsaw hand which has become a cinematic icon in itself. The effects are well-done and again, inventively designed and while still moderately budgeted, director Sam Raimi gets the most out of his buck using imagination and ingenuity. It lacks the terror of the first film but, makes up for it with a delightfully morbid lunacy, that is infectious even if you preferred the tone of the first movie. Simply put, the movie is a hoot and one of the best horror comedies ever made.

Bruce Campbell is borderline brilliant here with his slapstick comedy and reactions to all that’s going on. His over-acting is intentional and dead-on considering what is going happening around him. The scenes where he is getting beaten up by his own possessed hand and then battling that hand once dismembered, are classic scenes of both comedy and horror and are wonderfully performed by Campbell and directed by Raimi. The rest of the cast are fine. Bixler is pretty and sweet in her brief appearance as Linda. She also has some fun scenes as a taunting disembodied head. Berry is pretty and carries a little intensity as Annie who, at first, thinks Ash killed her parents, then bonds with him to fight the evil. We have Richard Domeier as Annie’s boyfriend and is adequate and handsome but, doesn’t get to do much. Rounding out is Dan Hicks (Maniac Cop, Intruder) and future soap opera star Kassie DePaiva (billed as Kassie Wesley) as a redneck couple guiding Annie to the cabin and become entangled in the supernatural shenanigans. Both play their roles stereotypically and appropriately over-the-top.

No arguments, this is a horror classic in it’s own right and maybe it was best to take the film in a different direction than just giving us more of the same. I was disappointed a bit in 1987, but, as the film did only modest box office, a lot of people took their time discovering it. While the first is still my favorite of the series, this is a blast of a good time and has some very imaginative and inventive set pieces that still work almost three decades later. Maybe a disappointment when I first saw it in 1987 but, one that has won me over completely.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 chainsaws.

evil dead 2 rating

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