Sam Raimi’s Darkman recently got the deluxe Blu-ray treatment from Shout! Factory, and as well it should have. (I wrote about it over at the Village Voice.) Perhaps not so surprisingly, it doesn’t look like the film’s straight-to-video sequels Darkman II: The Return of Durant and Darkman III: Die Darkman Die will be getting the similar Blu-ray love anytime soon, at least not domestically. But the movies do have their charm, particularly given the diminishing returns of low-budget sequels in those days. (Yeah, you, Robocop 3.)
I should mention that “goofy” is not a pejorative term in this case. We are here to celebrate goofiness, not shun it.
Darkman II: The Return of Durant.
It begins as it must…
1. The Retcon.
A brief recap of how Dr. Peyton Westlake became Darkman. Liam Neeson did not come back for the straight-to-VHS sequels, obviously, and I can only assume that his contract for the first film prohibited the studio from using his image in the sequels, because otherwise it wouldn’t be strictly necessary to recreate the origin scenes using new lead Arnold Vosloo – especially since it was established at the end of Darkman that he wasn’t going to look like Liam Neeson anymore. (Bruce Campbell was probably out of the question once it became clear that the sequels would not be theatrical.) But it also complicates things for newbies to change his appearance entirely – what is this, Knight Rider? – so they tidied it up by having him always look like Arnold Vosloo.
Because the title demands it, Darkman II: The Return of Durant retcons Larry Drake’s Durant as being the Big Bad of the first film, and completely disregards the whole city-of-the-future construction thread. Which isn’t really a problem, since that storyline never quite added up, and Colin Friels’ evil yuppie character was more boring than already-dried paint.
2. The Resurrection.
And so Durant finally awakens without a scratch from the coma he went into after his helicopter crashed and exploded. Story problem solved!
3. Darkman’s Day out.
For his part, Darkman has moved on with his life, which necessarily involves going to the post office to pick up his latest scientific journals.
4. The Remote-Controlled Rat.
Not that he doesn’t have a full life otherwise, spending his time at home chasing his cat around with a robot rodent. Poor kitty.
5. “A regular Luke Skywalker.”
The plot, such as it is, concerns another scientist who’s made a breakthrough in synthetic skin, which might allow Darkman to keep his Arnold Vosloo mask on full-time. When Durant and his henchmen invade his lab in a scene meant to parallel the similar scientist-bashing scene in the first time, Nerdlinger tries to defend himself with a laser which was apparently converted from a dental X-ray machine.
6. Darkman Freak-Out.
Upon discovering the dead scientist’s body, and seeing that he’s missing a finger, Darkman concludes that Durant is still alive and goes into his first of many freak-outs.
These kinds of scenes are the great tragedy of the first film; much more of it was supposed to take place in Darkman’s tortured brain, and according to cinematographer Bill Pope, they “built whole worlds inside Liam’s head,” what he tantalizingly calls “intuitional dreamscapes.” This kind of bugfuckery was not what Universal wanted for its big post-Batman superhero movie, and they cut 10 minutes of it from the film – 10 minutes of hardcome Sam Raimi expressionism which did not find their way onto the Shout! Factory Blu-ray, and thus are probably gone for good. It’s a damn shame, and director Bradford May’s freak-outs just don’t come close, nor did he likely have the time or budget had he wanted to.
7. “Remember, this is just the protoype.”
The MacGuffin of the film is a big gun that shoots a squiggly death-ray. And that’s swell, but it’s not nearly as much fun as the performance of the Mad Scientist who built it; imagine a James Cromwell wannabe playing Doc Brown, and you’ve got this guy.
8. “This, sir, is science faction.”
And please do not call his gun “science fiction.” He hates that.
9. “You look like shit.”
SUPERCUT ALERT! When the “You Look Like Shit” supercut is updated, hopefully this one will be in there.
10. “You simply point and shoot!”
In which the squiggly death-ray blows up a tanker, and the Mad Scientist gets to be his Mad self. Also, as was common with Sam Raimi productions in those days (he’s listed as executive producer), there’s a bit of lefty politics mixed in.
11. Darkman Freak-Out the Second, and Death-Ray Shootout.
Finally, we get to the fireworks factory! Also, Darkman gets another freak-out.
12. “Shoot him, I’m Ivan!”
A classic “which is the real one?” scene. If there’s already a supercut of these, I can’t find it. Also, it’s not a very good death-ray if it can’t destroy metal.
Darkman survives (spoiler alert!), just in time for…
Darkman III: Die Darkman Die.
It’s an oddly misleading title – Darkman III: Darkman Darkman Darkman would have actually been more appropriate – but it’s also a bit of an improvement over The Return of Durant, occasionally capturing some of the manic energy of the original Darkman.
And it wastes no time getting to the clich?s.
And once again, the supercut-makers neglect the Darkman sequels.
14. Crime Has a New Enemy, Sorta Kinda.
Another recap, this time without making such a big deal about Durant. There’s also a quote of the original film’s poster’s “crime has a new enemy and justice has a new face,” which has never been an accurate description, since Darkman doesn’t really given a damn about stopping crime that doesn’t directly impact him. Also note that Jeff Fahey gets his name above the title. He earns it.
15. Beware Midnight Bulldozers.
A repeat of the original film’s head-in-traffic scene, though Darkman’s not as originally involved in it as he was in the first film. Still, the camera doesn’t cut away from the head-lopping, which is a nice touch for a second sequel in the ’90s.
17. Fahey on the Keys.
A recurring theme in 1990s Sam Raimi productions (not the movies he made, but the ones he produced) was the villain playing classical music on a piano. See also: Lance Henriksen in 1993’s Hard Target, which features Arnold Vosloo letting his South African accent fully fly as a baddie.
18. Enter B’Elanna.
Hey, it’s Roxann Dawson, billed at the time as Roxann Biggs-Dawson, who had just started playing B’Elanna Torres on Star Trek: Voyager when this movie hit video shelves! She’s fine in a rather generic damsel role and love interest for Darkman, but it doesn’t play to her strengths the way the character of Torres did.
Dawson doesn’t do much acting these days, instead spending her time behind the camera as an in-demand TV director, including episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Well done!
19. Surgery Freak-Out.
Darlanne Fluegel was one of the doctors who severed Westlake’s nerves and turned him into Darkman in the first place, and she offers to perform surgery on him to make him feel again. We get another freakout, plus some squishy gore. Also, she turns out to be a villain in the sex employ of Fahey’s character.
20. Post-Operative Freak-Out.
It’s part of the healing process, obviously.
21. Car Chase ‘n Shootout.
The budget wouldn’t allow for anything as elaborate as the similar scenes in the first movie, but it’s still a decently-executed action sequence.
22. Ooky Self-Surgery.
Darlanne Fluegel put a thingy into Darkman’s neck which allowed them to torture him, and Darkman removes it the hard way.
23. Train v. Bazooka.
Darkman gets around a personal train, but can it outrun a rocket?
Fahey and Fluegel want to create an army of bad guys who are as hardcore as Darkman. This is as close as that particular thread gets to paying off.
25. Fahey Fight.
The climactic showdown, in which Fahey earns his name above the title. He remains batshit ’til the very end.
26. Rooftop Finale.
Having spent most of the movie with him pretending to be Jeff Fahey’s character, Darkman and Roxann meet on the roof, and she asks to see his face. Like the car chase and shootout, this scene feels not entirely unlike the original film, especially with the city background.
Both Darkman II: The Return of Durant and Darkman III: Die Darkman Die are viewable on a video-on-demand service or basic cable channel near you.
Previously by Sherilyn Connelly: