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Blu-ray Review: 'Darkman'

Liam Neeson in "Darkman"
Liam Neeson in "Darkman"
Yahoo Images

The Film:

Darkman” is a bizarre little film that merges together horror, sci-fi, comedy, romance, drama, and action into one hell of an entertaining movie. The plot revolves around a scientist, Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), who is working on a method for creating artificial skin, but has had trouble getting it to remain stable for more than 99 minutes in the light. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Julie (Frances McDormand), is on the trail of a bribe that was made so that some criminals, Louis Strack (Colin Friels) and Robert Durant (Larry Drake), could build a “city of the future.” In their attempt to collect the evidence (a memo), Durant and his thugs track it down to Peyton’s lab, where they leave him to die in a large explosion. Little do they know that he miraculously survives, but with severe burns all over. From the shadows he begins to rebuild his lab and exact revenge on those that did this to him, while at the same time trying to repair his relationship with Julie, who thought he had died as well.

It comes as no surprise to learn that something this fun and silly was directed by the great Sam Raimi, who, as most of you know, is also responsible for the “Evil Dead” trilogy. “Darkman” is a film that will have you gasping one second, while laughing the next, which just goes to show that Raimi’s incredible ability to merge horror and comedy in “Evil Dead II” wasn’t a fluke. The film may star big names like Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand, but perhaps the biggest star of all is the incredible makeup work by Tony Gardner and Larry Hamlin. Not only did they have to create masks of the various characters, but they also had to create the realistic after effects of Peyton nearly being burned alive. Without their top-notch work, the film would not be half as effective as it is.

The same can be said of many of the marvelous special effects. Some of them do have an incredibly fake look (backgrounds in a lot of cases are obviously phony), but it lends a classic comic book feel to the whole thing, which is exactly what they were going for with this idea. But going back to my original point, the film is just plain entertaining as it mixes all of its various elements together into this thrilling story of revenge. It may be an old-fashioned theme, but Raimi and his crew bring it to life with such pizazz and flair that you’ll hardly notice. Overall, “Darkman” delivers exactly what the filmmakers hoped: 90 brief minutes of a well-told genre mash-up with plenty of thrills, chills, and humor, giving you the best of all these possible worlds in one great film.

Video/Audio:

“Darkman” arrives on Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p High Definition transfer that makes the film look better than it ever has. From the clarity of the picture, you’d hardly guess that it’s 24 years old (though some of the effects might give it away). The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is also outstanding, giving you crystal clear sound to go along with the great picture. As usual, Shout! Factory has done a fantastic job with the restoration, making it so that you could hardly ask for better.

Special Features:

Interviews with Actors Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand, Larry Drake, Dan Bell, Danny Hicks, and Crewmembers Randy Ser (Production Designer), Philip Dagort (Art Director), and Tony Gardner (Special Make-Up Creator): About two hours-worth of great interviews with the key actors and those who helped bring the world of “Darkman” to life. Definitely worth the time to watch.

Audio Commentary with Director of Photography Bill Pope: A semi-interest commentary track with the DP that, as you can probably figure, focuses on how the film was shot. It’s decent, but I would have rather had one with Raimi instead.

Vintage Promos & Interviews: These are materials that were made around the time of the film’s release. They’re not particularly informative, but they’re fun to watch for the sense of nostalgia.

Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots, Still Galleries (Storyboards, Production Stills, Posters)

Conclusion:

Shout! Factory has once again outdone themselves with a fantastic array of extras that gives you just about every kind of behind the scenes material you could ask for, from interviews to a commentary to an entire press kit. “Darkman” has become something of a forgotten work from Sam Raimi, overshadowed by his more famous outings like the “Evil Dead” and “Spider-Man” trilogies. However, it is a very strong entry in his filmography, one that is worth going back and revisiting or discovering anew. If you give it a shot, you too will probably find it just as stimulating as any of his other great works.

Score: 4/5

Available on Blu-ray starting tomorrow.

Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: The Americans: Season One, Hellbenders, Rocky: Heavyweight Collection, Chicago: Diamond Edition, All is Lost, Austenland, How I Live Now, Night of the Demons, Witchboard, Dallas Buyers Club, The Fifth Estate, Captain Phillips, You're Next, A Single Shot, Insidious: Chapter 2, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Now playing in theaters: Labor Day, The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Also be sure to check out my lists of the Best and Worst Films of 2013.

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.