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Put on the popcorn! Sam Raimi’s ‘Darkman’ is unleashed in 4K


4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR SCREENSHOTS

Liam Neeson stars as Dr. Peyton Westlake, who is nearly scarred beyond recognition when no-goods looking for an incriminating paper blow up his laboratory just as he’s perfecting synthetic skin.


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“DARKMAN”


4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray, 1990, R for violence, language, mild sexuality


Best extra: A new commentary with filmmaker Josh Ruben















FILMMAKER and self-avowed super-fan Josh Ruben couldn’t have smacked the nail any squarer when he recalls the first time he saw “Darkman.” He was 8 years old and his mom let him rent it from the video store. Firing up the Zenith, he popped in the tape.


“It was essentially a graphic novel come to life in my living room,” Ruben (“Werewolves Within”) says in a new commentary cut for this too-much-fun Scream Factory release. “I was just eviscerated – in the best way.”


That’s no surprise. “Darkman” is the brainchild of Sam Raimi, and he stuck to the template he set with “The Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead II” when he waded into the Hollywood mainstream. Inspired by Universal’s classic monster movies, he mixed equal parts horror, action, and comedy with a kinetic camera that bobs and weaves, crouches low, and angles high – then hit the gas. It’s the M.O. he used in “Army of Darkness,” “Drag Me to Hell,” and, to a more family-friendly degree, the first three “Spider-Man” flicks.


Anchored by strong performances from Liam Neeson (“Schindler’s List”) and Frances McDormand (“Fargo”), it’s also why, 34 years later, “Darkman” is fresher, livelier, and more novel than most of the paint-by-number comic-book movies making the rounds.



(1&2) Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, as rival thug Eddie Black, learns the hard way that you shouldn’t try to strong-arm Robert G. Durant (Larry Drake) when Durant uses his cigar cutter in a novel new way. (3) Westlake and his attorney girlfriend Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand) kick back. (4) Colin Friels is the slimy Louis Strack Jr., No. 1 on Darkman’s hit list.





Kindly Dr. Peyton Westlake (Neeson) is about to crack the mystery of synthetic skin, a game-changer for burn victims, when he’s visited by the cold, cruel thug Robert G. Durant (Larry Drake, the gentle Benny on TV’s “L.A. Law”) and his crew of ne’er-do-wells. They’re looking for an incriminating paper left by Westlake’s tough attorney girlfriend Julie Hastings (McDormand), but aren’t satisfied when they find it. They pulverize Westlake, kill his assistant, and blow up the lab and Westlake.


Nearly scarred beyond recognition, he’s brought to the hospital as John Doe and undergoes a procedure to ease the pain. He ducks out with superhuman strength (thanks to an unchecked adrenaline rush) and uncontrollable rage, rebuilds his lab, and goes about getting even. His vengeance leads him to the corrupt Louis Strack Jr. (Colin Friels, “Dark City”), who sent Durant to fetch the paper.


There are references galore to “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Frankenstein,” and, when Westlake tries to pick up the pieces with Julie,” “Beauty and the Beast.” Raimi fans will spot Bruce Campbell (who’s credited as Final Shemp), Dan Hicks, Raimi’s brother Ted, and the director’s trusty 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88. The skull from “Evil Dead” even pops up.



(1&2) Westlake is beaten by Durant’s ne’er-do-wells then goes up in flames with his laboratory. (3) At the hospital, he undergoes a radical procedure to dull his pain, a procedure that leaves him with superhuman strength and uncontrollable rage. (4) Jenny Agutter is the burn doctor overseeing his treatment. Yes, that’s director John Landis, second from left, in a cameo as a physician.






VIDEO/AUDIO

Struck from the original camera negative and supervised by Raimi and cinematographer Bill Pope, whose credits include the “Matrix” trilogy and “Men in Black,” “Darkman” (1.85:1 aspect ratio) looks terrific in 4K Ultra HD/Dolby Vision. Detail, especially in the close-ups and textures, is on the mark, shadows – and there’s lots of them – hold up just fine, contrasts are sharp, and the consistent grain is never obtrusive. The resolution does drop during the wild-colored, multi-layered composite shots and transition fades. The video was encoded onto a 100 GB disc and averages in the low-70s Megabits-per-second range.

 

The enclosed Blu-ray, also sourced from the 4K master, is top-notch, too, though it’s noticeably brighter.


The audio wasn’t reworked, but the immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 stereo tracks deliver. Dialogue is featured prominently and the sound effects, as another review noted, “have real-world weight to them.” And the grand score is pure Danny Elfman. He set the tone for Tim Burton’s “Batman” the year before and does likewise with “Darkman.” It’s great stuff.


EXTRAS

The Ruben commentary is one of two new bonuses, and it’s a good one. Prompted by an interviewer, he talks too much about his own career and Raimi’s influence on it, but his enthusiasm is catching. Darkman, he says, “is a Universal monster in the canon.” His point is unassailable. Also new are 33 deleted scenes, clocking in at 37 minutes in standard def and a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, that flesh out the characters.


Other extras were all picked up from previous collector’s editions. They include a commentary with Pope, interviews with Raimi, Neeson, McDormand, Drake, makeup designer Tony Gardner, production designer Randy Ser, and art director Philip Dagort, a making-of feature, the trailer, TV spots, and a stills gallery.


Strap up, people. “Darkman” is a pedal-to-metal thrill ride.


– Craig Shapiro



(1) Sam Raimi’s brother Ted plays one of Durant’s henchmen and gets a taste of Darkman’s vengeance. (2-5) After rebuilding his lab, Westlake experiences his synthetic skin first hand, slips into the skin of the thuggish Pauly (Nicholas Worth), reconnects with Julie, and dons Durant’s skin to meet with an Asian kingpin. (6) Alas, his creation just isn’t built to last.




 



(1&2) In the climactic showdown atop the steel frame of a skyscraper, Strack takes Julie hostage and pins Westlake to a girder. It’s a long way up. Guess who goes down.

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