TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DARKMAN (1990)

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DARKMAN (1990)

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

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: DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE (1980)

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DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE (1980)

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

Don’t Answer The Phone is a dull slasher that I actually saw at the now gone Fox Theater in Hackensack, N.J. back in 1980. It has a simple and routine plot where deranged serial killer Kirk Smith (Nicholas Worth) is going around Hollywood strangling women and defiling their dead bodies while taking obscene photos of their corpses. He periodically calls in to a radio show to talk to radio psychologist Dr. Lindsay Gale (Flo Lawrence) and obviously, she’s added to his list of wannabe models. All the while he is hunted by a homicide detective (James Westmoreland) who also falls for the pretty Dr. Gale.

Boring and sometimes silly flick was written by Michael D. Castle and Robert Hammer, who also directed. It’s a weak script that contains some awful dialog and has us following the deranged and pudgy Smith as he operates around sleazy Hollywood Boulevard. There is little or no suspense and since we meet Smith’s victims just moments before he kills them, there is little or no emotional investment in them, as opposed to Laurie Strode’s friend’s in Halloween which we are given time to know and like. The dumb script has police doing things that even in the 80s would have caused a scandal and the scenes of Smith talking to himself elicit far more laughs than chills. There is some sleaziness to the proceedings that adds an uncomfortable atmosphere, but as Hammer’s direction is completely pedestrian, once must assume that any atmosphere was dumb luck. There is minimal bloodshed and even the kills are routine and dull.

As serial killer and war veteran Kirk Smith, Nicholas Worth seems to be trying hard, but isn’t much of an actor and his awful dialog makes things even worse, especially evident during a racist monologue after besting a victim’s pimp during an altercation. Maybe it was the lack of guidance from Director Hammer as Worth was far better as buffoonish thug Bruno in Wes Craven’s 1982 Swamp Thing. Lawrence is a pretty but dull heroine as Dr. Gale and Westmoreland is almost laughable as a hard nosed police detective. An ineffectual cast for an ineffectual slasher.

Overall, a revisit to this flick didn’t add much, even with the now 80s nostalgia. It’s a routine and dull slasher whose plot could have been used for any 70s/early 80s police show. It’s an un-involving 94 minutes with un-involving characters and no suspense or intensity, despite the killer’s creepy modus operandi. There are some unintentional laughs to be had, especially during Worth’s soliloquies as Smith and at least the settings add some appropriate sleaziness. Forgettable, but did make money for Crown International Pictures.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 phones.

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