DARKMAN is a deliriously energetic comic-book movie from Sam Raimi, the young mastermind behind the uproariously funny and gory EVIL DEAD movies. While the press doted on the likes of David Lynch and the Coen brothers (Joel worked as an assistant editor on THE EVIL DEAD) in 1990, this

cutting-edge independent filmmaker came to Hollywood with a relative lack of fanfare to make this ambitious, hallucinatory adventure. Though relatively low budget, the manic cinematic virtuosity on display here would have been welcome in BATMAN. DARKMAN's only weakness is its rather hokey and

disjointed screenplay. But why carp? At its best, the film suggests a Universal horror film of the Thirties on LSD.

Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a scientist working on a formula for artificial skin. Peyton's girl friend, Julie (Frances McDormand), a lawyer working for crooked developer Strack (Colin Friels), stumbles on a memo revealing that Strack is actually an urban megalomaniac bent on taking over the

city. Strack sends his thugs to Peyton's lab to find Julie; she's not there, and the thugs blow up Peyton and his lab. Presumed dead by Julie, Peyton is cared for by an odd "doctor" (the uncredited Jenny Agutter). She tries a radical new pain therapy that turns Peyton into a raving,

adrenaline-pumped, superhuman schizophrenic. He slips out of the hospital and re-creates his artificial skin lab in an abandoned factory. From there, he plots his revenge and works on winning back Julie while wearing various "masks" of skin.

DARKMAN has much going for it. It boasts the right look and even the right sound, owing to another thundering, mock-operatic score by BATMAN composer Danny Elfman. The film is visually riveting. Melodramatically canted camera angles, audacious shock cuts and eccentric lap dissolves abound. DARKMAN

offers bigger-than-life villains, an intriguingly flawed hero, and a tough, appealing heroine--all portrayed by terrific actors. It's a darkly amusing treat.