The Crow (1994)

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A year after he and his fiancee are brutally murdered on Halloween, a young rock singer named Eric Draven comes back from the dead to “put the wrong things right”. What follows is two bloody nights of revenge as Eric tracks down the gang responsible and kills them one by one. Based on the comic of the same name by James O’Barr, The Crow is one of the first faithful comic book adaptations, and arguably one of the best.

Stylishly directed by Alex Proyas, and edited in the style of 90’s era music videos, The Crow could have turned into a cheese fest had it been done incorrectly (see Faust: Love of the Damned). Watching it twenty some years later, it still holds up without managing to feel like a relic from the 90s, much in the same way the first Highlander managed to capture all the coolness of the 80’s without aging poorly. Perhaps an even better example, and a film that I feel is more on The Crow’s level would be Blade Runner. It seems odd to compare the two given just how different they are story-wise, but they are both visual masterpieces of dark fantasy that are iconic of the decades in which they were created and still hold up in modern viewing.

a185By the point in film history in which The Crow came out, the Death Wish franchise was in it’s fifth entry and the vigilante revenge genre had reached it’s apex. The 80’s gave us an over-saturation of revenge flicks, but they mostly exploitation films focused on the violence, rather than the emotional state of the characters. There is an instinctive reaction to acts of senseless violence and personal loss that brings out an outrage in people. The Crow taps into this very human feeling and gives it an outlet in a way other revenge films did not. This anger against injustice and death is what separates The Crow from similar type films. As star Brandon Lee said (paraphrased) “this isn’t Death Wish with a zombie”. What could have been a simple film aimed at goth kids managed to resonate across a lot of cultural demographics because it’s emotional center is the sense of being damaged after losing someone, and this is something everyone can (or eventually will) understand.

The script, written by splatterpunk authors John Shirley (read his book Wetbones if you haven’t already) and David J. Schow, focuses on how the death of Shelly has not only affected Eric himself, but also those who loved them. The Crow received a lot of criticism for it’s violence when it was released. It should be noted, however, just how tame the violence in The Crow is in comparison to the other works of it’s screenwriters, and especially in comparison to the source material. There is some blood, but surprisingly little gore.

Brandon-Lee-image-brandon-lee-36713054-1024-554The death of Brandon Lee during the filming of The Crow has elevated the film into a mythic quality and enhances the tragic tone of the film. Lee, the son of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee, had until this point starred in low budget action flicks and in television episodes of Kung-Fu: The Next Generation. This was the first time he was given a platform to truly showcase his acting abilities, and part of the tragedy of this film is wondering what could have been had Lee been able to make other movies.

ernie_crowIt also helps Lee’s performance to have him surrounded with acting vets like Ernie Hudson, Micheal Wincott, Tony Todd, David Patrick Kelly and the late actors Micheal Massee and Joe Polito. Everyone in this film is committed to their role, and it’s a credit to the actors playing the villains that they manage to be slightly endearing despite giving Eric his reasons for revenge. The culturally diverse gang of baddies each manage to get their own iconic moment in the film, and their characterizations, clothing, and mannerism gives you a sense of who they are in a short amount of time. The choice to portray them as people along with the gang’s sense of begrudging comradery turns what could be simple pastiches into actual characters.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the film’s God-tier level soundtrack that included musical acts that defined that decade. The Cure, Rage Against the Machine, Stone Temple Pilots, Machines of Loving Grace, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Violent Femmes, are all on the soundtrack, along with Nine Inch Nails doing a killer cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls”.

What’s most strange about The Crow phenomenon is that it didn’t have the affect on comic book film adaptations that it should have. It opened the door to darker comic adaptations, but we’re not really seeing the affect of that until just recently with The Dark Knight. Released shortly around the same time was the comic adaptation of The Mask, which was fun, but much different from the horror comic it was based on. The Batman sequels of the time period after The Crow were much lighter affairs compared to the Tim Burton held first two. It would be another six years before The X-Men film was released, and thirteen years before we’d get The Dark Knight. We did get a Spawn movie in 1997, such as it was, but mostly we were  stuck with a few sequels in The Crow film franchise, as well as new entries in the comic series, which were ultimately hit and miss.

There has been talk of a remake of The Crow for almost a decade now, with nothing coming to fruition. Personally, I wouldn’t mind a remake, even though The Crow is one of my favorite films and is deeply personal to me. There isn’t a way to capture the lightning in a bottle that is the original film, but there are other ways to tell this story. For example, some who have read the comic book have come away thinking Eric didn’t really die and that he survived the operating table, and went insane from his grief and injuries. This led him to hallucinate the crow bringing him back from the dead, and the brain trauma left him incapable of feeling pain. No matter if the proposed remake is good or bad, it won’t stand on the same level as the original.

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