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Film / Darkman

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"I'm everyone - and no one. Everywhere - nowhere. Call me... Darkman."
Peyton Westlake

A decade before Sam Raimi brought a certain web-head to the big screen, he created his own superhero in this 1990 film. It stars Liam Neeson as Peyton Westlake, a scientist who has invented synthetic skin that, at its current stage of development, will disintegrate after 99 minutes of exposure to sunlight. His girlfriend, Julie (Frances McDormand), runs afoul of gangster Robert G. Durant (Larry Drake) and his thugs, who have him nearly killed. Peyton, now horrifically burned, uses his own invention against the crooks as his new alter-ego, Darkman.

Two sequels not starring Liam Neeson were made, Darkman II: The Return of Durant (1995) and Darkman III: Die Darkman Die (1996).

The film was adapted to a Licensed Game by Ocean Software in 1991, which was released on Nintendo Entertainment System, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Amiga, Game Boy, ZX Spectrum and Atari ST.

In 1993, Marvel Comics published a 6-issue limited series written by Kurt Busiek. In 2006, Dynamite Entertainment produced a four-part Intercontinuity Crossover miniseries Darkman vs. Army of Darkness, which sees Darkman teaming up with Ash Williams from the Evil Dead franchise, written again by Busiek in addition to Roger Stern.

Darkman provides examples of:

  • All Asians Know Kung Fu: For all that it helps him, Westlake's assistant Yakihito tries to fight off Durant and his goons with karate chops.
  • Ambiguously Gay: It's implied that Durant and Ricky are a gay couple. Durant attends a fancy soiree with Ricky and offers to fetch him a cocktail, which Ricky warmly accepts. Ricky sports a gold and gem-encrusted gun that might be a gift from Durant. After killing Yakihito, Ricky seems shocked, implying that it's not something he's done before. Afterward, Durant grabs him and tells him he's proud of him. After Ricky goes missing, Skip says Durant is looking for him and "likes" him. All of this suggests that Durant has taken Ricky under his wing as a lover, or at least a protege. If Ricky were gay, it would also explain why Durant buys the idea that he's running away with Pauly. Durant is said to be married, but he also has no children.
  • Anti-Hero: Darkman is a Pragmatic, frequently slipping into Unscrupulous.
  • The Apple Falls Far: 650 feet, to be precise.
  • Arch-Enemy: Darkman has Robert G. Durant, the thug who disfigured him.
  • Armed Legs: Skip has a micro Uzi concealed in his artificial leg.
  • Artifact Title: The "Dark" part of "Darkman" doesn't really apply to anything throughout the first movie. At first the viewer is meant to believe that it refers to the fact that the cells used in the synthetic skins are at their most stable in the dark, but Peyton only ever uses his disguises in the daytime, limiting himself to 99 minutes for each operation or date. The only time he operates in the dark is at the end.
  • Artificial Limbs: Skip (one of Durant's henchmen) has a fake leg... which hides a machine pistol.
  • Artistic License Biology: Darkman can enunciate English quite clearly despite the fact that he has no lips.
  • Artistic License Medicine:
    • The spinothalamic tract is stated to transmit pain and vibration. It actually transmits pain and temperature. Also, this tract only conveys such sensory information from the neck down. Peyton should still be in considerable agony from his burned face, which transmits its sensations to the brain via the trigeminal nerves. And we know those couldn't have been cut as well, because he can still open and close his mouth.
    • The synthetic skin cells are stated to have a membrane potential of 122 megavolts. Human cell membrane potential is measured in millivolts, making this off by a factor of a billion.
    • Having the muscles on the fingers burnt down to the bone as shown with Westlake would render them almost completely immobile.
    • The skin on and around Darkman's right eyelid is completely burned, but he still has eyelashes.
    • Julie's hands would have been ripped off if she'd gotten her handcuffs stuck after falling a dozen stories.
  • Artistic License Physics:
    • Julie falls and gets her handcuffs stuck on a metal bar that would have bisected her before it caught between her cuffed wrists.
    • Durant sets a time bomb by releasing gas and then setting a drinking bird beside a lighter, so that, after a few minutes, the drinking bird's beak dips low enough to spark the lighter and ignite the gas. However, the drinking bird's dipping motion would only get shallower over time rather than deeper.
  • Bad Boss: Strack indirectly kills his own Mook in the final battle, then just shrugs indifferently and goes back to trying to kill Darkman.
  • Badass Bookworm: Originally a milquetoast personality, Peyton undergoes surgeries that remove the volume control knob from his emotions, turning him into a loud, violent rageaholic with Super-Strength whose heart is as big as his temper and just as sensitive. He still possesses the know-how from his days as a scientist, though.
  • Big Bad: Strack. Durant and Rooker make up for the sequel films respectably.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Darkman got his revenge on the criminals who ruined his life, and Julie even wants to remain with him, but he is now a creature of the night who can never return to the normal world... or her.
  • Blessed with Suck: The treatment which made him super-humanly strong, agile, and impervious to pain also amplified his emotions to the point that he's in a near-constant state of uncontrollable rage and despair. Also, he apparently has no sense of touch due to surgery that cut off that sense so he wouldn't suffer constant agony from the burns covering his body. This in turn caused his brain to amplify his emotional responses to fill in the void left by that lack of external stimulus.
  • Bling-Bling-BANG!: Durant's henchman Rick carries a .380 automatic that is silvered with filigree work all over it.
  • Bluff the Impostor: Strack makes a reference to Durant's children, and Durant asserts that they look up to him. Strack then reveals that Durant doesn't actually have any kids, exposing him as Darkman in disguise.
  • Bond One-Liner: Durant is prone to these. As is Darkman.
  • Break the Cutie: Westlake had just proposed to marry his girlfriend. It seems like she was going to say 'yes' too.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Darkman looks into the camera when he's going into a rage.
  • The Cameo:
    • Director John Landis as a burn ward doctor.
    • Bruce Campbell as the final mask Westlake puts on at the end of the movie.
    • Jenny Agutter as the nurse that stabs Darkman while he's in therapy.
    • According to Bruce Campbell, The Coen Brothers are driving Raimi's '73 Oldsmobile that Darkman yells "Watch out!" to as he's hanging from Durant's chopper. However, the two occupants look nothing like the Coen Brothers if you freeze the frame, so it might be a tall tale.
  • Captain Ersatz: Darkman is an amalgamation of The Spider, The Shadow and Batman.
  • Car Cushion: Pauly lands on a car, though it doesn't save his life.
  • Car Fu: Eddie Black's goons drive around in cars during a gunfight inside a warehouse. They run over a few people in the process but are largely ineffective.
  • Cardboard Box Home: Westlake takes shelter in a cardboard box after escaping from the hospital. When the box blows away during a storm, he is driven to seek out the remains of his old laboratory.
  • Cats Are Mean: Peyton finds a stray Russian Blue cat when he moves his equipment to the abandoned factory, which reacts to his approaching with a swipe and hiss. Despite this, probably due to being deprived of any other company, Peyton still keeps it around and feeds it as if it were his pet.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Darkman can imitate anyone, provided he has a sample of their voice and a lot of time to practice.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The coffee-cup ring Peyton accidentally leaves on one of Julie's documents.
  • Circus of Fear:
    • The carnival that Peyton and his girlfriend attend starts developing these vibes when Peyton starts to lose it to rage, rushing to get away before his mask dissolves and some apropos overheard advertising ("A freak, gentlemen! He's a freak!").
    • The carnival also has funhouse mirrors, in which the spectators' distorted reflections seem to be mocking Peyton. Also not helping is the carnival barker unveiling a deformed freak that was the result of a lab accident ("He's a freak!"), right when Peyton was about to tell Julie the truth. This caused him to chicken out at the last minute.
    • To top it all off, "Carnival From Hell" is quite the Creepy Circus Music that starts off normal and gradually turns more chaotic and menacing as Peyton is losing it.
  • Contrived Coincidence: When Darkman stumbles back home, he arrives just in time to see Julie walking down the sidewalk.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Strack. Visionary Villain (he sees his projects as a window to the future and a revival of the district), but he's also power-mad ("I built it all!") and pretty willing to kill and seduce his way to the top (with a wife he himself killed as one of his first stepping stones).
  • Construction Zone Calamity: The climax of the film takes place at the top of one of Strack's buildings under construction. It's justified in that Strack is very agile and has a better sense of balance since he's been around construction zones of his dad's projects as a kid, resulting in him having the upper hand on Darkman for most of the final battle.
  • Creepy Souvenir: Durant uses his cigar cutter to cut fingers off of his victims. He keeps a collection of these fingers in a cigar box.
  • Damsel in Distress: Julie gets kidnapped in the second act turning point, leaving her to be rescued by Darkman.
  • Death by Irony: Durant sets the lab to explode using a drinking bird. Later, Darkman does the same with his makeshift lab to Durant's mook Smiley. Smiley tries to stop it but it's a hologram. He keeps trying to grab it, and finds out too late that touching the hologram enough times sets off the real bomb very quickly.
  • Destination Defenestration: Durant throws Pauly out his apartment window without bothering to open it first; resulting in a fatal Car Cushion.
  • Disney Villain Death: Strack dies by plummeting from the skyscraper.
  • Double Take: When the woman sees Darkman-disguised-as-Pauly, she looks back at the real Pauly's dead body, and back at Darkman, and then she starts screaming.
  • The Dragon: Durant is basically a hired crime lord to do all of Strack's dirty work.
  • Driven to Madness:
    • Westlake's rebirth as a Super Hero is born from a massive trauma-induced mental breakdown.
    • The fate of Rick in the Novelization and Comic-Book Adaptation, after seeing Darkman's face and being interrogated by him. Possibly also his fate in the original story concept, as novelizations tend to be based on such things.
  • Dr. Jerk: The surgeon who performed the operation on Peyton. While she did save his life, it's evident she did it more For Science! than out of altruism, and sees him as more of an experiment than a person. She stabs him to demonstrate to her students that he can't feel pain and even callously jokes that she doesn't think he has much of a chance for rehabilitation or survival.
  • Dutch Angle: Used frequently to give the film a wild, off-kilter aesthetic.
  • Establishing Character Moment: For Durant when using the cigar cutter.
    Durant: Now, let's consider my points one by one. (snips off a finger) One: I try not to let my anger get the better of me. (snips off a finger) Two: I don't always succeed. (snips off a finger) Three: I've got seven more points.
  • Evil Laugh: Most of the villains just love being evil. They'll crack huge grins and guffaw as they're firing guns, shooting rivets, or torturing scientists. Darkman himself isn't immune.
  • Evil Plan: Louis Strack, Jr. seeks to wipe out the slums of his city and rebuild new, fancy buildings in the process. Seems reasonably well-intentioned, but he's willing to bribe and kill to do it.
  • Eviler than Thou: Durant is a lot more vicious than the gang leader at the beginning.
  • Exact Time to Failure: 99 minutes of sunlight exposure until the synthetic skin breaks down. This is extended in the second movie by further research and development, but restored in the third film when Darkman loses some of his research.
  • Expanded Universe: There are two sequels, a Novelization, which started a short-lived series by the same author, a Comic-Book Adaptation, a Comic Book miniseries by Kurt Busiek, a television pilot, a video game, and a comic book crossover with Evil Dead, also co-written by Busiek.
  • Eyes Are Unbreakable: With all the severe facial damage Westlake gets, including being on the point-blank range of an explosion and being dipped head-first in a big vat of acid, it's impressive that he didn't get any ocular damage.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Usually done to hide what remained of...
  • Facial Horror: Peyton's severely burnt face. Only the upper left part of his face survived, he has no lips thus fully revealing his teeth and part of his skull.
  • Fat Bastard: Pauly is usually eating, and when he isn't, he's got sauce residue in the corner of his mouth.
  • Fingore:
    • Durant has sliced off a lot of fingers. It turns out that he collects them.
    • Peyton folds back the carney's fingers like they're rubber.
    • During Peyton's mutilation, we actually see the skin stripped from his fingers when he's forced onto the electrodes by Durant's men.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Peyton has a lab assistant, Yakky, with whom he seems to be fairly close. During the event that disfigures Peyton, Durant's men also kill Yakky in front of him, but Peyton doesn't bring him up at all during his Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Granted, considering Peyton's deteriorating mental state during the film it's possible he literally forgot.
  • Get It Over With: Strack while Darkman is dangling him, combined with You Wouldn't Shoot Me via Evil Gloating. Unfortunately for him, he picked a wrong moment to think Peyton is The Cape...
  • Gratuitous Laboratory Flasks: Being a scientist, Westlake has tons of beakers, flasks, test tubes and the like, most of which gets trashed. As Darkman, he salvages what he can to continue his work. Interestingly, during a Montage depicting him working, Raimi makes the interesting stylistic choice to have beakers and test tubes fly by to indicate the passage of time.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: Guzman, Durant's Mexican goon, indulges in this.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Yakitito is knocked out when Durant's thugs smash a laboratory flask over his head.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: The side effect of the surgeries Darkman undergoes to allow him to do anything without feeling crippling amounts of pain.
  • Hellish Copter: How Durant meets his fate: his chopper is dragged by a truck and rammed right onto an overpass (and probably dragged a few feet into the tunnel as well).
    Darkman: Burn in Hell, Durant!
  • Hour of Power: Darkman's masks last exactly 99 minutes from the moment of first exposure to any kind of bright light. Peyton's quest for them lasting longer for so much as a minute is a constant sub-plot throughout the entire franchise.
  • I Can Live With That: A memorable variation. Strack in the end tries to convince Darkman not to kill him by claiming the latter would be unable to live with himself. Darkman kills him anyway, quipping "I'm learning to live with a lot of things" as a Bond One-Liner.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: Subverted. As mentioned above, Strack tries to save himself by invoking this trope. But Darkman is okay with that.
    • The villains in the sequels are under the assumptions that Darkman doesn't kill. Darkman himself also seems to be under that delusion that he doesn't kill bad guys, even though he lethally disposes of every villain he comes across.
  • I Lied: Played with in this exchange:
    Rick: I told you everything!
    Darkman: I know, Rick, I know you did. But let's pretend you didn't!
  • Impaled Palm: Darkman gets a rivet shot into his hand during the climax, pinning him to the beam behind him.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Implied to be the fate of the Mook who falls down the building in the film's climax. The movie made a point of setting up those rebars at the bottom.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: In the opening sequence, Durant and his men just stand in the middle of a whole bunch of goons with guns pointed at them. A big firefight erupts, and when the dust settles, they're all still standing and all the goons are dead.
  • Kick the Dog: Durant's habit of collecting fingers from people he brutalizes.
  • Latex Perfection: Darkman's masks. Justified in that they are made of synthetic human skin and Westlake's devices to create them, even if looking hodgepodge, are state of the art.
  • Leave Him to Me!: Darkman attempts to wave off the police helicopter chasing Durant, intent on killing Durant himself.
    "Get away! Keep back! Keep back! HE'S MINE!"
  • Lecture as Exposition: The speech given to the medical students about Peyton's condition, explaining the procedure that was done to him to eliminate his capacity to feel pain and the side-effects (inhuman strength, turning the patient into an emotionally unbalanced berserker) that ensue.
  • Lost in a Crowd: Peyton vanishes from Julie in this manner at the turning into Bruce Campbell.
  • Made of Iron:
    • Darkman can get hurt, but since he can't feel pain and has lost all sense of touch, tends to ignore it. It's driven home at one point when he accidentally lights his hand on fire while working... and doesn't notice for several seconds.
    • The Mooks that were hooked on the Psycho Serum that Rooker had created in Die Darkman Die, because they have "Darkman's superhuman DNA".
  • Match Cut:
    • One of the more brilliant: Julie watching the explosion slowly match cuts to her at Peyton's funeral.
    • Another one occurs when Peyton dons Durant's disguise and frames him for a robbery. He stares directly into a security camera, and then we seamlessly cut to Durant in the exact same pose and vicinity but with his doorstep behind him, as he's being confronted by the police.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Eddie Black is the only black character with any dialogue.
    • Skip has a wooden leg and has to hop around whenever it's been taken off.
  • Mirror Character: The movie makes it pretty clear that the only thing separating Westlake and his nemeses is that he's bumping off "bad" people. The That Man Is Dead speech in the finale underlines the point.
  • Nail 'Em: Strack wields a rivet gun in the construction site battle that concludes the original film.
  • Nightmare Face: Darkman's real face, after Durant's goons are done with him. Only one part of his skin remains without some burns and it's deadly pale, and on a couple of spots the burns are bad enough that you can see bone.
  • Not Enough to Bury: As we learn from this exchange during Peyton's funeral:
    Driver: Didn't see you do much work.
    Cemetery Caretaker: That guy got blown to pieces, all they found was an ear. Tiny little piece, didn't take long to bury that.
  • One-Word Title: Protagonist Title.
  • Orange/Blue Contrast: The film's poster has it, as shown at the top of the page. Made before it became common in movie posters.
  • Pet Rat: Durant is Strack's enforcer.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Done right before Darkman lifts Rick up a manhole onto the incoming traffic.
    Rick: Oh, god! Don't! I've told you everything!
    Darkman: I know, Rick. I know you did. But let's pretend you didn't!
  • Precision F-Strike: "Take the fucking elephant!"
  • Protagonist Title
  • Punctuated Pounding: Darkman shouts "You have been a bad boy!" at Smiley and punctuates each word with a punch.
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad: Durant's crew. To a lesser extent, his replacement crew in the sequel.
  • Required Secondary Powers: Since Darkman is missing roughly 40% of his skin, he pretty much needs a Healing Factor, or he'd keel over from various horrible diseases and the injuries he sustains in battle.
  • Roadside Wave: In a 'blink and you'll miss it' moment, Westlake gets soaked by a car driving through a puddle as he is trying to cross the road after escaping the hospital.
  • Rule of Cool: Why does Eddie Black have his goons burst out of boxes in cars and drive in circles around the warehouse during a gunfight? So we can watch it.
  • Same Language Dub: Bruce Campbell dubbed Liam Neeson in some scenes. Especially when he meets Julie on the street and says "JUUUUUUUULLLLIIEEEEE! IT'S MEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"
  • Save the Day, Turn Away: Dr. Westlake won the Pink Elephant, defeated the villains, and saved the girl. But due to his transformation into a hideous berserker of faceless justice, Peyton must abandon his desire of a life with Julie. He must walk the path of the hero alone, in the darkness.
  • Save the Villain: Awesomely subverted as Darkman holds Strack by the ankle over the edge of the rooftop.
    Strack: Go ahead, do it, do it, Westlake. But think of this: you let me die, and you become as bad as meworse! Haha, you cant. I know you too well. Dropping meits not really an option for you. Its not something you could live with.
    <<Westlake closes his eyes, drops him>>
    Darkman: Im learning to live with a lot of things.
  • Say My Name:
  • Screaming Woman: A woman on the street screams after Pauly falls into a car in front of her. She screams again when she sees Darkman disguised as Pauly sitting at a bench behind her.
  • Shown Their Work: In the climax, Strack says that it was "just him and the Indians" who worked on high steel construction. In fact, Native Americans of the Mohawk tribe really have had a disproportionate representation in the ironworking trade, with high steel construction in particular.
  • Sniping the Cockpit: Durant kills four gangsters during the opening by shooting two car drivers, who crash their cars, killing their friends riding shotgun.
  • Spot the Imposter: Happens when Darkman is imitating one of the gangsters. Darkman's tumbled when his face starts to melt.
  • Suicidal Overconfidence: Played with. Strack actually chooses his ground against Peyton quite well, as he has experience in skyscraper construction.
  • Super Hero: A rare example that is native to the film medium.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: We get a double dose of this in a single scene. The first instance happens when Westlake confronts the Big Bad. Naturally, the villain erupts into a Villainous Breakdown, cursing his enemy for all the destruction that was done to his organization, right? Wrong. This is a slick, savvy corrupt businessman who only used Durant and his cronies as hired muscle and knows full well how useful a Badass Abnormal who can impersonate others could be to him. Unfortunately for him, the borderline psychotic vigilante who has already personally disposed of his underlings still has a bit of an issue with him since he was the one ultimately responsible for ruining his life.
  • That Man Is Dead: "Peyton is gone."
  • This Is What the Building Will Look Like: Strack has a glass model of his planned "City of the Future" in his office that he fawns over.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Not only does it show exactly what is going to happen to the helicopter that chases after Darkman, it also clearly depicts Strack as the Man Behind the Man, which is treated as a twist in the actual film.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The film reads like a Deconstruction of the '90s Anti-Hero, despite being made when the trope was just starting to take hold. Darkman himself embodies many of the trope's characteristics in that he's Covered in Scars, brooding and psychotic, uses lethal force, has a one word, gritty name, and has few heroic qualities; but also subverts it in that he's a scientist of average build instead of a macho guy, has no actual fighting skills, relies on ambushing and deceiving his enemies instead of weapons and brute force, and is generally more like a classic movie monster than a Super Hero. In addition, the film portrays him as a tragic figure instead of an awesome badass: The attack that scarred him also left him homeless and in deep despair, the treatment that gave him his powers made things worse by taking away his sense of touch and leaving him emotionally unstable, his quest for vengeance weighs on him greatly due to how morally compromising it is, and his one Hope Spot for getting Julie and his old life back fails because he has succumbed to He Who Fights Monsters, which he acknowledges to her at the end of the film.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: When Pauly crashes into the car roof, the shots of the screaming woman show bystanders reacting and gawking. In the shots of Darkman sitting beside her, the bystanders behind him aren't paying any attention.
  • Villain Ball: Strack doesn't really seem like a guy stupid enough to just leave the one document that incriminates him lying openly on his desk, particularly when the person he got it from is a frequent guest in his office. But Julie had to learn the truth some way.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Durant gets increasingly rattled by Darkman, shooting at him in broad daylight and eventually blowing up a police helicopter.
  • Villainous Crush: Strack has a real thing for Julie. Even after she confronts him about killing her boyfriend, he tries to coax her into forgetting about it and becoming his girlfriend.
  • Visionary Villain: Strack's desire to build the "City of the Future" and revitalize the city's economy, and in particular (as he sees it) save the grungy waterfront district from crime and decay. He just happens to be willing to bribe, cheat and murder to get the necessary building permits.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Skip disappears after Durant's death. There was a scene of Darkman killing him with his own prosthetic leg. With the scene cut, Skip avoids any retribution.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Julie was disturbed seeing Peyton's face mask dissolve. Then she calls out to him (who's hiding) that he should have told her the truth sooner and that she would have understood.
  • Win Her a Prize: While the main character Peyton and his girlfriend visit a carnival, he plays a game to try and win a pink elephant doll for her. However he argues with an employee over whether he rightly won the prize or not, which results in Peyton gruesomely twisting the carnie's fingers.


Video Example(s):



A decade before Sam Raimi brought a certain web-head to the big screen, he created his own superhero in this 1990 film. It stars Liam Neeson as Peyton Westlake, a scientist who has invented synthetic skin that, at its current stage of development, will disintegrate after 99 minutes of exposure to sunlight. His girlfriend, Julie (Frances McDormand), runs afoul of gangster Robert G. Durant (Larry Drake) and his thugs, who have him nearly killed. Peyton, now horrifically burned, uses his own invention against the crooks as his new alter-ego, Darkman.

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