What does a film-maker do if he wants to make a superhero movie but can’t secure the rights to a major character?
If you’re Sam Raimi, the answer’s simple - just create your own. With rights for ‘Batman’ and ‘The Shadow’ already taken, Raimi came up with the concept for ‘Darkman’ which went on to achieve a cult status of its own with spin-off comics, action figures and even video games.
It combines elements of characters such as ‘The Shadow’ with influences from ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ and other classic Universal horror movies to tell the tale of one man’s vendetta against a local crime boss.
Dr Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is developing a synthetic skin to help burn victims but is frustrated by a flaw that means it cannot survive for more than 99 minutes without disintegrating. He discovers the process is triggered by exposure to light, but his lab is destroyed by mobster Robert Durant (Larry Drake) who is searching for an incriminating document linking corrupt property developer Louis Strack (Colin Friels) with bribes to the local zoning commission. The paper is actually in the possession of Westlake’s girlfriend, attorney Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand).
Westlake is badly burned and disfigured and, unrecognised, is taken to a hospital and subjected to a radical treatment which cuts the nerves of the spinothalamic tract, removing physical pain along with tactile sensation. Another side-effect enhanced strength due to adrenal overload but it also mentally destabilises him.
Recreating his still-flawed synthetic skin, with which he can form any facial features he likes, Westlake sets out to even the score with Durant.
By today’s standards, the budget for ‘Darkman’ was shoestring but as you’d expect from the director who gave us ‘The Evil Dead’ and later three Spiderman movies among others, it’s directed with passion and enthusiasm to produce quality all the way.