Should I Watch..? 'The Crow'
What's the big deal?
The Crow is a dark fantasy action film released in 1994 and is based on the 1989 graphic novel of the same name by James O'Barr. The film stars Brandon Lee in his final film appearance as Eric Draven, a rock star resurrected by powerful forces to avenge his own murder and that of his girlfriend. The film has lived in infamy due to the accidental death of Lee on set due to a faulty prop gun, resulting in reshoots and the careful use of stunt doubles and CG to complete the picture. Despite this, the film became an instant cult hit with critics and audiences with takings in the US more than double the film's budget. The film's popularity led to a number of poorly received straight-to-video sequels and a short-lived TV series although rumours persist of a remake stuck in development hell.
What's it about?
Devil's Night in Detroit - the day before Halloween - and police officer Sergeant Albrecht is dispatched to deal with a particularly gruesome crime. Eric Draven, a local rock musician, is found dead on the street beneath his apartment after being shot and thrown through a window. His fiancé Shelly Webster is also dead, having been beaten and raped by a number of gang members. At the scene, Albrecht meets a young girl named Sarah who says that she was a friend of the murdered pair.
A year later, Sarah visits the graves of Eric and Shelly but is unaware of a crow resting on Eric's tombstone. As the night goes on, Eric crawls out of his grave and finds himself resurrected, guided by the mysterious crow back to his old apartment where the memories of his death haunt him. Meanwhile, across town, Devil's Night is starting up once again and low-level thug T-Bird heads out to have some fun, oblivious to the vengeful spirit about to start hunting him down...
Trailer for the Blu-Ray
Eric Draven / The Crow
David Patrick Kelly
David J. Schow & John Shirley *
Release Date (UK)
10th June, 1994
What's to like?
Given the film's unique place in history, it's easy to forget that The Crow still has a job to do besides acting as Brandon Lee's epitaph. It still has to be an explosive action film with enough Goth imagery to satisfy an army of navel-gazers. And it is - Proyas has a powerful vision and manages to fill the screen with a movie that is far more engaging and memorable than it has any right to be. This is, to all intents and purposes, a dark but disposable action B-movie. However, combining Proyas' direction and Lee's central performance as the tortured hero, the film suddenly becomes much more interesting.
The film is beautifully shot with just about enough lighting to prevent the film's story being lost in shadow. The action is imaginative and different enough to stop the film feeling like any number of action clones while Lee's appearance as Draven is both shocking and brilliant. He is both an avenging angel overconfident in his abilities and also a wounded soul searching for a way to be with his true love again. The film's soundtrack, a symphony of crunching guitar riffs and alternative rock, is also first class and reinforces the film's appeal to Goths and other youthful subdivisions of culture.
- Lee was shot and killed during the scene of Shelly's rape when Funboy (played by Michael Massee) shoots Draven through a grocery bag he's carrying. The footage was used in the investigation into Lee's death and subsequently destroyed. Massee was so devastated by the incident that he took a year out from acting and still has not seen the finished film. In 2005, he admitted to still having nightmares about the incident.
- James O'Barr was told by studio executives that they wanted to make the film a musical starring Michael Jackson. Bursting into uncontrollable laughter, he was horrified to find that they were quite serious.
- Lee's accident was not the only on-set mishap. A carpenter suffered burns after his crane struck power cables, a crew member accidentally drove a screwdriver through his hand and a grip truck caught fire. Production was so troubled that a neighbouring production began taking bets on what would happen next until a fire took out several of their sets as well!
What's not to like?
As unforgettable as Lee is as the unfortunate Eric Draven, he shines far brighter than anyone else on screen. Wincott leads a fairly familiar bunch of thugs, hoodlums and drug dealers who haven't a hope in hell of surviving the movie, given the extent of Draven's powers. Let's be honest, you know that the bad guys have been poorly cast if Tony Todd is there - not that he's bad but that's all he ever plays. The film can't keep up with Lee's electric performance - if anything, the gloomy cityscapes and skyscrapers provide more background colour than the supporting cast, much like Gotham City did in Tim Burton's Batman.
Other than a little bit more light to illuminate proceedings, there's not much I can fault with The Crow which stakes a realistic claim to be the greatest film ever based on a comic strip. It is a supremely dark revenge tale but one invigorated by a central performance so strong that it would have made Lee an instant A-list star had he lived. The tragic nature of the piece as well as the dreadful irony of Lee's passing meant that this is one film that will forever live in infamy and that is a shame. Even without the drama and tragedy behind it, this still stands up as one of the best action films of the Nineties.
Should I watch it?
You don't have to wear black leather or excessive amounts of eye liner to enjoy the film - The Crow is a deeply atmospheric and brilliantly shot action thriller with a lead character for the ages in Lee's Eric Draven. Combining stunning technical wizardry with an unforgettable lead actor, the film offers something a little different and a little smarter than many of its contemporaries. And the fact that none of the sequels have come remotely close to the standard of this first film should tell you all you need to know right there.
Great For: Goths, fans of The Cure, action fans, rockers, Lee's legacy
Not So Great For: the visually impaired, Detroit residents
What else should I watch?
Ignoring the dozens of films based on Marvel or DC characters, The Crow still stands favourably when compared to many of its contemporaries. 300 is a visceral and brutal retelling of Frank Miller's interpretation of the famous Battle of Thermopylae that utilises CG over traditional film-making techniques and therefore, loses a little much-needed grit. Even the great Alan Moore has found himself burnt by Hollywood so much that he refuses to have his name attached to any adaptation of his work - the best such film remains Zach Snyder's inconsistent Watchmen although this damns the film with faint praise. The less said about middling efforts like From Hell and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the better.
Of course, Marvel are currently running riot at the box office due to the phenomenal success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU. Starting with Iron Man, the franchise celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2018 with the predictable flood of films like Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man And The Wasp, a sequel to the disappointing Ant-Man. DC, by contrast, are lagging even further behind with only Wonder Woman standing out from their own frustrating line-up by being a superhero film with a female lead. Marvel, take note...
© 2018 Benjamin Cox