With Ash Vs. The Evil Dead premiering shortly, I dusted off my VHS collection and searched for any Sam Raimi affiliated films to prime myself for the awesomeness to come. Enter Darkman 3: Die, Darkman, Die. Now I hardly recall that this film was ever made, much less watching it, but I loved the first film and the backstory of the Darkman character.
The Darkman Series
After failing to obtain rights to The Shadow or Batman, Raimi said “Fuck It” and created his own superhero, Darkman, an homage of sorts to the 30’s universal studio horror flicks. After a horrible fire, Dr. Westlake is left so cruelly burnt that doctors disconnect his ability to feel pain. This gives him tremendous strength, but leaves him vulnerable to taking too much punishment. To cover his burns, he uses a revolutionary fake skin serum that allows him to wear any face he chooses, but only for a short period of time. He uses his strength and disguises to get revenge on the people who caused the lab accident that maimed him.
The first Darkman was well received byM critics and performed well at the box office, grossing almost $49 million worldwide, well above its $16 million budget. This success (and its cult movie status) spawned two direct to video releases, Darkman II: The Return of Durant and Darkman III: Die, Darkman, Die.
Premiering at Blockbuster
Unlike VOD today, Direct to video back in the day was pretty much a cash grab. Most films had little value and even smaller budgets, forgoing much of what made the originals unique and usually losing 99% of the cast from the first film. Instead, these flicks ended up merely cashing in on name recognition. The subsequent sequel and Darkman 3 are no exception, as both took a big hit in quality. Luckily both are still fairly watchable. If Sam Raimi can do one thing consistently, it is stretch a thin budget by using visual tricks and bargain basement effects.
The final installment in the trilogy, Darkman 3 Die Darkman, Die!, is focused on Dr. Westlake’s search for his humanity within, as well as his never ending quest to perfect his synthetic skin. Along the way he finds a new opponent in a drug lord who wants to expand his steroid operation, and has his eyes set on discovering the key to Darkman’s strength. Darkman turns to Dr. Bridget Thorne (Darlanne Fluegel) who was one of the doctors who did surgery to save his life in the original film. Eventually we learn she is part of a secret plot to to get some of Westlake’s adrenaline, which gives him his power, and which Thorne hopes to make into a super steroid.
A game of cat and mouse between the drug lord, Rooker, and Darkman ensues. Using his skin serum, Darkman sets up surveillance on Rooker’s operations. Unfortunately, Rooker outsmarts him and finds Darkman’s base of operations… but as soon as Darkman flees the scene he just kinds of give up on utilizing this knowledge. Now I’m no criminal mastermind, but I’d at the very least trash the place, if not set up an elaborate trap, since you know, it’s kind of his home.
Then there’s the subplot in which Darkman takes over Rooker’s Identity and starts developing feelings for his arch enemy’s wife and daughter. It gets to where it effects his decisions and the plot. It was a fantastic concept for the film but such little time was dedicated to it, making it feel rushed and forced. If director Bradford May trimmed some of the fat in this film and built on this development, Die Darkman Die! could have potentially been something special.
The Good Guy?
My other issue is that Darkman doesn’t really do any vigilante work. Darkman tells us in his opening monologue “Now, Crime Has a New Enemy, And Justice Has a New Face!”. Sure, he rips drug dealers off…but only so he can buy equipment to help him perfect his formula. It’s all very self serving. He’s not stopping robberies, or doing anything altruistic in his spare time. We only see him have a moment of pure heroism towards the very end. He’s not so much terrifying the criminal element as taking their stuff and then monster-punching them when they get understandably pissed about his thievery. At least Batman has the decency to suplex a few petty criminals now and again to throw people off the scent of his true passion, physically assaulting the mentally disturbed.
Live or Die, Darkman, Die?
Darkman 3 is watchable, and even entertaining in places. If you watched the first one and liked it, it’s certainly worth your investment to binge-watch the whole trilogy. Production values do take a noticeable hit as the series progresses (hell, they couldn’t even get Bruce Campbell to play one of his disguises after the first film, and you know Liam Neeson wasn’t touching the role of Dr. Westlake in the sequels with a ten foot pole!) but the central charm of this pulp action comic inspired series remains mostly intact. Darkman isn’t your average hero…he’s not even really that great a guy, but he punches bad guys really really hard, so you have to tip your hat to him. If you’ve got a talent, by god use it!