Despite occasional silliness, Sam Raimi’s Darkman has more wit, pathos and visual flamboyance than is usual in contemporary shockers. Universal, studio that first brought the Phantom of the Opera to the screen, returns to its hallowed horror-film traditions with this tale of a hideously disfigured scientist (Liam Neeson) seeking revenge on LA mobsters.
Raimi’s gripping story (unevenly scripted by the director and others) more closely echoes the 1941 Peter Lorre chiller The Face behind the Mask in its nightmarish tale of a man whose burned face makes him a social pariah and brutal criminal.
Neeson, working on a holographic technique to synthetically re-create damaged skin and body parts, is the innocent victim of sadistic thug Larry Drake, who likes to snip people’s fingers off with his cigar cutter. He orders his minions to dip Neeson’s head into an acid vat before blowing up his lab.
Drake’s expertly vicious and campy villain is after an incriminating document left in Neeson’s lab by the scientist’s lawyer/g.f. (Frances McDormand) who has caught a client, real estate developer Colin Friels, in corrupt practices.
Director Raimi, lenser Bill Pope and production designer Randy Ser conjure up a flamboyantly expressionistic world out of downtown LA’s bizarre architectural mix of gleaming skyscrapers and decaying warehouses.