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: DR. GIGGLES (1992)

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DR. GIGGLES (1992)

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Dr. Giggles may have been released in 1992, but is very 80s from it’s look and feel to the metal tune blasting during the end credits…though sadly it reflects the exhaustion of the 80s slasher trend more than anything else.

The story has it’s roots in 1957 where Dr. Evan Rendell was murdered by the townsfolk of Moorehigh for killing his patients by removing their hearts in order to revive his dead wife. Rendell’s son escaped the mob and has disappeared without a trace. In modern day (1992, that is), a John Doe mental patient referred to as Dr. Giggles (Larry Drake), for his obsession with medical procedures and disturbing laugh, escapes an asylum and makes his way to Moorehigh. It would seem Dr. Giggles is actually Evan Rendell Jr. and he has set his sights on the people of the town for revenge. His plans alter a bit when he encounters pretty young Jennifer Campbell (Holly Marie Combs), a teen with a heart condition of the same kind that claimed Rendell’s mother…and Jennifer’s own. Now Dr. Giggles is out to acquire his patient and perform surgery on her at all costs and will kill anyone that gets in his way…or has the right amount of heart!

Flick is directed and co-written (with Graeme Whifler) by Manny Coto, who is far better known for his TV work than his few feature films. Coto doesn’t seem to know what kind of film he wants to make, as while Dr. Giggles has a serious tone, it is filled to the brim with goofy kills and frequent quips from it’s killer that highlight all the medical jokes and clichés it can fit in it’s 96 minute running time. Is it a comedy?…or a horror? The problem is that, as either, it is not very successful. The film has it’s fans, but it’s dull as a routine slasher and the medical jokes and exaggerated kills get tiresome quickly. There are little chills and suspense and the kills aren’t quite gruesome enough to shock…and are neutered by the jokiness anyway. There are also some major plot holes, such as when did Giggles have the time to make all his exaggerated/comical medical implements to use on his victims and if his father was suddenly dragged from his home and stoned to death, who sealed up his secret operating room in the basement? His escaped son was only seven. There are a few more questions we’d liked answered, but the film never really does and only it’s climactic showdown between Rendell, heroine Jennifer and her boyfriend-to-the-rescue Max (Glenn Quinn), gives us some intensity and action. Otherwise, this is a fairly ho-hum horror with a few gross moments, but mostly a lot of bad doctor clichés and far too obvious plot holes that just illustrate how tired slasher flicks had become at this point.

The cast, at least it’s leads, are far better than the film deserves. Larry Drake is very creepy as Giggles and gives him just the right balance of over-the-top and restraint. Too bad the material let’s him down. Same can be said of pre-Charmed Holly Marie Combs who makes Jennifer a feisty, strong-willed young lady and she is very likable. Cliff De Young is fine as her recently remarried dad and 80s hottie and horror veteran Michelle Johnson is hot and bitchy as Jennifer’s new shrew of a step-mom. Glenn Quinn is also likable and charming as Jennifer’s boyfriend Max and makes a suitable hero. A decent cast with sadly weak material to work with.

Not overly fond of this flick. It has a few scant moments, but for the most part, is dull and a perfect example of the slasher genre out of gas and at the end of it’s initial run, before Scream came along and revived it as self-aware, pop-culture reference dropping homage. The cast are actually very good, but the script is weak and full of far more holes than usually tolerable in a horror movie. Director Manny Coto doesn’t leave much of a signature on the film and was far more successful writing for TV. The flick has it’s fans, so it’s up to you if you want to catch up with it, if you haven’t seen it yet.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 (out of 4) scalpels.

dr giggles rating

 

 

 

 

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