There aren’t many original film superheroes. The few that were made between those DC epochs, 1978’s Superman and 1989’s Batman straddled every genre that didn’t require a cape – science fiction, pulp noir, horror – resulting in films whose protagonists tended to violently undergo disgusting transformations unchained to the demands of preselling McDonalds collector glasses to children already familiar with the characters. Between Superman and Batman, original superhero-ish action fantasy films could appeal to older audiences, or at least teenagers with cynical attitudes who read comics by Alan Moore or Frank Miller and were already enjoying a golden era of stylized ultra violence in 1980s cinema.
The apotheosis of these ideals was Robocop and since the Alan Smithee Podcast has already done that special we’re now moving to the next best example of this rare subgenre to ever be produced by a major studio: Darkman, the super-noir-anti-hero created by Sam Raimi years before his famously licensed official superhero movie when he couldn’t secure the gig directing Batman or The Shadow.
As a franchise, the Darkman series is informatively typical of Universal Studios business practices in the 1990s and Sam Raimi’s career in the future. The visually deft direction tells the comic book story as if we’re glancing over wordless panels on a page, seeing what happens through one striking image after another. Some of Raimi’s shots of Darkman can be seen elsewhere in the Spider-Man trilogy and then there’s the business of his swinging on a rope between skyscrapers during the action packed finale. While the cheesiness of parts II and III were predictable, Raimi’s executive producer credit on both also indicated a willingness to take the money for squeezing out numerated excrement below his own standards – as witnessed with Spider-Man 3 and a few lower profile cash-ins along the way in the 1990s under the Renaissance Pictures.
Universal’s production of Darkman II and III was done practically on autopilot in the same manner as their previous back-to-back part 2 and 3 franchise sequels had been handled before (i.e. Back to the Future, Problem Child and Child’s Play) and would continue to be handled with the Tremors sequels and TV franchise to come. Universal Television’s corporate synergy with the film department even generated a Darkman TV series pilot, and at times the two films nearly resemble sewn together plot ideas from some unmade first season.
As the subtitle heralds, Darkman II: The Return of Durant brings back Larry Drake as the first film’s memorable villain Robert G. Durant – the dorkiest frighteningly sadistic crime boss since Kurtwood Smith’s Clarence Boddicker in Robocop, natch. Aside from the painful Toronto production values of the film, the biggest problem is a story which barely acknowledges Darkman at all – it’s almost 30 minutes before he even realizes Durant has returned – and in this regard there’s an unfortunately coincidental resemblance to Robocop 2. Die Darkman Die isn’t nearly as bad, thanks in part to the awesome title. Perennial b-movie staple Jeff Fahey is a better villain than the warmed over Durant and the story is written by a different duo than Part II, who know enough to implicate Darkman as more than a cipher.
Darkman became a trilogy to resounding indifference. Until now! Darkman fans rejoice, for your hour has come. Julieeeeee!! Duraaaaaaaant!!! And tune in next time when Larry Drake returns yet again…
NEXT EPISODE: BLACKMAIL IS MY LIFE (1968, KINJI FUKASAKU) & DR. GIGGLES (1992, MANNY COTO)
ALL NEW. From the people who brought you “An Alan Smithee Podcast”…More of the night WE came home and watched horror movies for Halloween. This week we observe a couple of strict disciplinarians doing their thing in their own special ways.
The original The Stepfather has finally come out on special edition DVD and even if titular star Terry O’Quinn would now prefer to be known for Lost, his performance as “Scary Jerry” the bad stepdad will live in infamy. He might’ve had to carry the whole movie on his shoulders (as he had to in Stepfather II: Make Room For Daddy) if not for the stellar direction of Joseph Ruben and subtle clockwork screenwriting of mystery novelist Donald Westlake. The Stepfather constantly skirts the line between trash and class; a gimmicky premise with suspense that builds by inches, a psycho killer movie focused mainly on the killer’s psychology, a “slasher” more by comparison to On Golden Pond than Friday the 13th. This Halloween, Daddy’s home.
Then we go straight to hell, or as close to hell as a diminished sequel budget allows in Hellraiser: Bloodline, the last Hellraiser movie to retain some of the franchise’s original mythology before Dimension began randomly inserting Pinhead and/or Ashley Laurence into whatever psychological thriller scripts were gathering dust around the office.
This film is not directed by either host of An Alan Smithee Podcast, nor was it directed by Alan Smithee – special effects virtuoso Kevin Yagher took the reigns for his sole directorial effort and, as you might guess, the effects are the only vaguely redeemable factor. Except the puzzle box, which looks shoddier than ever! Unlike the Lament Configuration, Hellraiser: Bloodline is easy to figure out: it sucks. Listen and discover why.
NEXT WEEK: THE BEACH (2000, DANNY BOYLE) & THE BANK DICK (1940, EDWARD F. CLINE)
This episode, Matthew and Andrew start their examination of Quentin Tarantino–discussing his “original trilogy” of RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION and JACKIE BROWN, as well as his steady screenwriting work during the 1990s.
It surprised me we never got around to discussing Tarantino’s iconic soundtracks, but they fall under my basic rubric for the guy: he appropriated other peoples really cool stuff so that his name would forever be associated with it.
Maximum Potential (1987), Reservoir Dogs (1992), True Romance (1993), Natural Born Killers (1996), Pulp Fiction (1994), Four Rooms (1995), From Dusk ‘Till Dawn (1996), Curdled (1996), Girl 6 (1996), Jackie Brown (1997), Clerks (1994), Badlands (1973)
Continuing their conversation on Carpenter, Matthew and Andrew pick up with his Christine adaptation. Following a discussion of all his theatrical releases, they touch on his recent television episodes and become wistful at thoughts of his future endeavors.
Christine (1983), Starman (1984), Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Maximum Overdrive (1986), Prince of Darkness (1987), They Live (1988), Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), Body Bags (1993), In the Mouth of Madness (1995), Village of the Damned (1995), Escape from L.A. (1996), Vampires (1998), Halloween H2o (1998), Ghosts of Mars (2001), Cigarette Burns (2005), and Pro-Life (2006).