Friday, September 2, 2011

Completist Guide to the Darkman series (1990-1996) Part 2

Darkman III: Die Darkman Die (1996)

Firstly, what a subtitle: Die Darkman Die. I love it. Secondly, Jeff Fahey plays the villain in this. Fahey's a fantastic b-movie actor and plays really good heroes and villains. For me, he'll always be Jobe from Lawnmower Man, who was sort of a hero and a villain.
Now the theory goes is that this film was meant to be filmed before Darkman II and there's certainly some evidence that backs it up. Firstly, the slightly longer skin formula Peyton developed in Darkman II is gone and we're back to 99 minutes. Secondly, it would make more sense, and more of a surprise, for Durant to come back for the third film rather than straight away. Apparently, Return of Durant was fast tracked once Larry Drake became available to reprise the role, which is a shame as I think Darkman III is the superior film.

Vosloo returns as Westlake, still living in his underground lab trying to perfect his skin formula, all the while fighting crime to fund his research. This time he's stealing from a new drug lord, Peter Rooker (Fahey). Meanwhile a female doctor who original helped Peyton when he was in hospital tracks him down. She offers him help to both reconnect his nervous system to return feeling to his body and offer assistance to extend his synthetic skin formula. Everything seems to be going great until the nurse betrays him to Rooker and Westlake is forced to take him down.
This is actually really awesome for a DTV flick. Without Durant and any ties to the original film this feels much fresher. Vosloo seems much more at ease playing Westlake/Darkman and it's nice to see some new faces. The writers of this (Mike Werb and Michael Colleary) went on to write Face/Off for John Woo almost straight after this and there's a lot of comparisons.
The best sequence of the film is where Westlake, disguised as Rooker, breaks into the crime boss's house only to be confronted by Rooker's estranged wife (played by Roxann Biggs-Dawson aka B'lenna from Star Trek: Voyager) and kid. The disguise fools them but because Westlake doesn't know their relationship is on the rocks he acts nice to the wife and tries to kiss her which makes her freak out. It's nice the writers have thought about an emotional scene to place Darkman in rather than just another action sequence.
That said this film does have some good action sequences. The most bizarre (and Raimi-esque) is one where Rooker's men track down Westlake's underground lab and he tries to make a getaway in his suped-up homemade train only for one of the thugs to fire a rocket launcher at him. Yep, Darkman cranks the train in overdrive and out runs the rocket. Nice.Fahey puts in a good performance as Rooker, chewing up scenery left, right and centre. And again Bradford May delivers a pretty glossy, fast paced film again. As previously mentioned this film ends on a weak note, promising further adventures which sadly never came. 
What television you ask? Good point, there's never been a Darkman TV series but there was a 25 minute pilot that was made back in 1992, presumably before the DTV sequels got off the ground. There's a silent clip of footage on youtube or you can find the complete pilot on the bootleg market. It's a pretty grainy VHS copy with a lot interference but it's more or less watchable. It was never screened on TV but made for TV execs to decide whether to go ahead with a full series.
The copy I got does have sound but it doesn't really make the thing any more intelligible. The pilot re-edits some footage from the original movie setting up the story. Durant blew up Westlake's lab and now he has to take him down. It changes one key element – that Julie, Westlake's girlfriend, dies in the explosion where as in the film she lived and was a painful reminder of the life Westlake would never have.
Anyway, Darkman (played by Christopher Bowen) now lives in an abandoned observatory where he's continuing his research. Durant and his men still have the run of the city. Darkman disguises himself as one of Durant's men and kills him. For some reason, he decides to bury the body in a cemetery where he's cornered by a female cop Jenny who tells him he can't 'take the law into his own hands (TM)'. Darkman ignores her and leaves only to have to save her from Durant later on.
   Honestly I've never really seen unaired pilot before but this was really rough, even without the VHS grain. I can understand why the TV execs didn't go for it. Robocop – a comparable ultra violent film from the late 80s – did get his own dumbed down TV show but I can't see how you can do it with Darkman. He's horribly, graphically, stomach-churningly burned and scarred – no one wants to see that on TV. It would be far easier for someone to just do a show about an ordinary looking guy who disguises himself as villains (in fact the FX: The Series TV show did just that a few years later).
  From the pilot I can kind of see what they were going for. Durant was going to the big bad (played by Larry Drake again), Jenny was going to be his police liaison/voice of reason and the little kid was going to be his sidekick. Even so, I can see why no one touched this pilot with a barge pole.
Comic books

Marvel series: Marvel Comics pic
ked up the rights to do an adaptation of the original film in 1990. The three issue series is pretty unspectacular, a basic quick run through of the movie. Not much more to say.
A year later they started doing a continuation of the series. Picking up a few months later Westlake is still stalking his former girlfriend Julie and fighting crime. Oddly a lot of the characters from the original film return. Eddie Black (aka the guy who gets all his fingers cut off in the opening scene of the original film) turns up, now with metal fingers that can shoot bullets – I kid you not. And more importantly Durant is also brought back from the dead, however unlike the film sequel he isn't quite the same. It seems the helicopter crash did kill him, in fact it decapitated him and a scientist brings him back with a detachable robot spider head. Yeah, it's all pretty freakin' weird and it only lasted 7 issues before being cancelled so it left a lot of loose ends.
  The most recent Darkman was a team-up comic with Sam Raimi's other famous creation Ash J Williams from the Evil Dead films in Darkman vs Army of Darkness. This is a pretty fun comic like most of Dynamite's Ash comics. Essentially Ash gets sucked into Darkman's world and brings with him a bunch of deadites. The two heroes at first don't get along but eventually put their differences aside to track down the Necronomicon and stop the deadite army. Once again Durant is dug up – quite literally – from his grave and brought back as a zombie general. It's a breezy 4 issue series that never gets bogged down. A must for fans of either series. Oddly there are also some covers floating around the internet for three issues of a Darkman solo series. These have never been printed but I'm guessing it was an aborted project at Dynamite.
Spin off novels
  Randall Boyll wrote the accompanying novelisation of the first film. God I used to love film novelisations – they just don't do that kind of stuff any more, except for a few high profile things like Star Wars. The book is okay – obviously it covers the same ground as the film – there's a few little bit of new info and background but nothing really major. Boyll's writing style is quite flat but it's pretty light as well so it makes for a fast read. A few years later (possibly to tie in with the DTV sequels) Boyll also wrote four continuation novels. One in particular, The Price of Fear, was an uncredited adaptation of one of the issues of the Marvel comic, involving a murderer who thinks he's a 17th century Witchfinder General. It's pretty weird (can you see a theme here) and ends in a bizarrely gory way – Darkman rips his head off and uses the spurting blood to douse Julie who has been set on fire (sorry if you're eating while reading this). All in all, the novels aren't really worth it, Boyll doesn't really follow the same feel as the original film beyond some cursory elements. These novels are pretty hard to come by now but try ebay if you're interested.
Video game
As with a lot of films in the early 90s there was an
accompanying 8 bit game by Ocean. The game has only a handful of levels. You play as Westlake beating up thugs on the street. The whole disguise thing doesn't really come into play except in some mini levels where you have to use a camera to take shots of a particular criminal in order to create a face mask. That's pretty cool but as games of that era go the rest is pretty sub-par.
Final word


So there, you have it. This is one series that has completely run it's course I think. The best you can hope for is that Dynamite will rethink about doing a solo comic series. I can't see a remake happening anytime soon – the original film's success was too dependent on Sam Raimi's style and they wouldn't do one without his blessing. Then again he does seem to be going ahead on an Evil Dead remake so maybe it will happen. 
Only thing I haven't mentioned is the awesome Darkman action figure by Movie Maniacs (still a lot of these floating on ebay). Excellent quality, swappable heads and brilliant detailing. If you buy only one piece of Darkman ephemera make sure it's this.

No comments:

Post a Comment