Darcy Walker grew up always believing in justice and the law that is until her father was gunned down at a bar. Seeing the streets getting worse ever day and bureaucrats making it harder and harder for cops to do their job, Darcy decides to become a masked vigilante known as Black Scorpion. She'll stop at nothing to dish out justice to scum but she maybe in over her head when a super-villain known as Breathtaker threats to poison the entire city with gas.
Nostalgia is a bitch. I found myself searching through movies that I saw when I was young but haven't seen since (I say that like it's something I don't do on a regular basis), and with great luck I found someone selling a complete collection of "Black Scorpion" -- three movies and the TV series. I did not remember anything about the original "Black Scorpion" movie other than the fact that I watched it on Showtime (when Showtime was just as bad as Cinemax) and that there was probably a topless scene in it. And that was good enough for me. So of course I grabbed the auction and oddly, I was genuinely looking forward to revisiting the movie when it arrived.
Having a cop for a father, Darcy Walker grew up with respect and admiration for the law. So much so that she became a cop, just like her father, even after he was fired for accidentally killing a doctor during an altercation with two punks. A mistake that would haunt him until he was finally gunned down in a bar for seemingly unknown reasons. Feeling limited by what she can do with a badge, Darcy takes on the persona of Black Scorpion -- a vigilante who will do whatever is needed to stop the bad guys. However, in her role as Black Scorpion, Darcy finds out her father's shooting was no random incident and is tied to a super-villain called Breathtaker. A man who plans to bring Angel City to its knees with a deadly mind controlling gas.
Being that "Black Scorpion" was a Roger Corman production and very obviously inspired by "Batman", there was never any doubt in my mind that the movie was going to be anything other than unadulterated schlock. When I watched it though I had gone far beyond being surprised and was actually SHOCKED by the fact that "Black Scorpion" wasn't that bad. I'd even go so far as to say it was good. It might be because "Black Scorpion" embraced what it was: a comic book movie. The movie also featured a sincere performance by its star, Joan Severance, as the clad crusader.
We've seen how bad a particular movie can turn out when it embraces camp and comics too much but at the same time, going completely serious isn't much better. "Black Scorpion" amazingly found the line in the middle. It wasn't afraid to go big and have a Darth Vader inspired villain who was going to destroy a city through some grand scheme fueled by ideals of revenge. You better believe he even came with his own minions too in the form of female pro-wrestlers. At times, the movie goes so far as to break the 4th wall and yet somehow it doesn't ever feel like it's going too over-the-top. Not even when an aging business man, who is funding the evil scheme, complains to Breathtaker about the absurdity of the situation and not understanding why he is helping Breathtaker in the first place. After which, the old coot promptly gets choked out. Have I already mentioned the painfully obvious Darth Vader influence?
Yet somehow, SOMEHOW the movie manages to avoid being too much of any one thing. I guess it could be too much depending how much camp you're comfortable with. However, being that it is a movie recreating the atmosphere of comics without actually being sourced from a comic book, the movie actually succeeds at being what it was intended as. Fundamentally, I believe that's due to the fact that "Black Scorpion" knew where to properly place moments. It knows when to indulge in action, when to be sexy, campy and occasionally serious. There are elements to help the movie level out as well, like Joan Severance's performance. She allows the character of Darcy to feel earnest, even when the movie is being goddamn ridiculous.
Garrett Morris as a flamboyant, rehabilitated car jacker who turns Darcy's car into the Scorpion-mobile by changing the car's "atoms at the molecular level"? I'd slap you for that one, "Black Scorpion", if it wasn't for the fact that I'm swooning over you right now, you saucy little tramp.
The movie is riddled with plotholes and has a logic that's incredibly thin, which isn't surprising, but how confusing it manages to be is. It's almost to a point of being worthy of befuddled head-scratch. But again, somehow "Black Scorpion" manages to still be enjoyable and not in the ironic so-bad-it's-good kind of way. Just simply good. The comedy is done well and properly placed and it has a satisfying amount of action, gun play, car chases and explosions that are often topped off with terrible one-liners. Joan comes off as quite sexy in her role and gives a solid performance. With that said, you do have to look at it in a certain way. Both Joan's performance and the movie in general. It's not a question of whether it's good or bad, but a question of does it work for what the movie is. And it does. The same can be said for all the different parts of the movie (the action, comedy, eroticism, etc. and general execution of the movie). It isn't a matter of quality in its usual terms but whether it works in the context of what "Black Scorpion" exists as, and again, it does. With all of its faults and being over-the-top, it was and is a genuinely fun movie.
Actually, sitting here and reflecting on the movie and this review I'm sure the movie isn't genuinely good since it is campy, schlocky and very silly at times. I'm just ignoring those aspects because I'm drunk on lust since "Black Scorpion" was able to bypass the cynical part of my brain and I was able to just enjoy it for what it was and fell in love with what is basically Roger Corman Presents: Batman.
And I'm okay with that.
I will add that, sadly, I do not have the same affection for any of the follow ups. "Black Scorpion 2: Aftershock" was just painfully terrible since it opted for stupidity instead camp. It was also insanely irritating to watch as the sequel seemed to be shot entirely on a Dutch angle. What kind of asshole does that? The TV series didn't fair much better as it seemed like it was bread more from "Power Rangers" but aimed at teenage boys who needed something with more cleavage. I guess the same could be said about the movies too. Regardless, there is the final installment, "Sting of the Black Scorpion", which is the unwanted bastard child of the series. A movie that's hard to watch because of the loud, audible sighs you inadvertently let out while you watch a movie that was created from editing three episodes of the TV series together and then padded out with various footage from Corman's archives.
At least we'll always have the first "Black Scorpion" movie.