CULT CORNER: The Crow (1994)

Newcomer Richard Bal celebrates the twentieth anniversary of Brandon Lee’s final performance in Alex Proyas’ searing comic book classic. 

Who made it?: Alex Proyas (Director), David J. Schow, John Shirley (Writers), Edward R. Pressman, Jeff Most (Producers), Miramax Films.

Who’s in it?: Brandon Lee, Rochelle Davis, Ernie Hudson, Michael Wincott, Bai Ling, David Patrick Kelly, Michael Masse, Tony Todd, Sofia Shinas.

Tagline: “Believe in angels.”

IMDb rating: 7.6/10.

The Crow is based on the graphic novel of the same name written by James O’ Barr. It is ostensibly a revenge story about a musician named Eric Draven (played by the late Brandon Lee) who comes back from the dead, a year after he and his fiancée Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) are killed on October 30th – also known as “Devil’s Night” – to wreak revenge on the gang who were responsible for the crime. But like any other good comic book movie, it has quite a bit more going on beneath the surface. It takes this simple premise and builds upon it. The film creates a moody and emotionally-driven story whilst playing the supernatural elements straight, drawing the audience into the dark, somewhat downbeat world that the characters inhabit. The oppressive and Gothic style of the setting really enhances the mood, and it kind of reminds me of the city setting from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner or Tim Burton’s first Batman movie.

I believe The Crow also has a strong narrative. Some people complained that the characters aren’t given enough development, and that more time should have been spent with Eric and Shelly. But I would argue that, in a film like this, the important thing is to cut to the meat of the story and The Crow does this pretty effectively. In my opinion, it’s a perfectly-paced film and gives the audience what they need when they need it. There are character-based scenes but they never feel like they slow the film down, and they never feel like unnecessary padding either. Director Alex Proyas knew exactly how to structure his film and I think he balanced the film’s somewhat chaotic violent side with the more emotional scenes perfectly. Eric is now a creature of the night; his mission is to track down the gang responsible for his and Shelly’s murder. I think that the movie’s narrative would have suffered somewhat if there had been more scenes establishing Eric as a protagonist. We know who he is and we know what he has to do and that is all we need.

The villains in the film are somewhat one-dimensional and morally-reprehensible human beings, but they need to be this way because, if they were any other way, Eric wouldn’t be justified in the ways he kills each one of them. I won’t give away how Eric kills off T-Bird (David Patrick Kelly), Skank (Angel David), Funboy (Michael Masse), and Tin-Tin (Laurence Mason). But let’s just say they have a clever sense of irony to them. At the same time, we do get to know Draven as a “hero” and feel sympathy for him. Through a series of flashbacks, we explore his past and get a better sense of who he was before the tragedy struck him.

The cast is chock-full of talented actors. I especially like the main villain Top Dollar played by character actor Michael Wincott. I’m always a fan of the “two sides of the same coin” story element, because whilst Eric is passionate about music and life, Top Dollar is passionate about crime and disorder. Both men are natural enemies and the film benefits from them being polar opposites, adding a lot of dramatic weight to the story. I also like Ernie Hudson as police officer Sergeant Albrecht who helps Eric in tracking down the gang members, and he also acts as a sort of sympathetic guide for what Draven is going through. Hudson is one of those performers who is entertaining in everything and this is easily one of his best roles. Rochelle Davis is good as Eric’s friend Sarah, whom he and Shelly used to look after due to her mother being a shiftless drug addict. Usually, child actors can either make or break a movie but I really like Davis. She adds a lot of life to her role and you feel sorry for her when she realises she can’t be Eric’s friend anymore.

The action scenes in The Crow are also extremely well-staged and still hold up today. There’s a lot of stunt work and practical effects, with some pretty well-done CGI thrown into the mix. It has dated in a couple of places but, overall, I think it still works. The music by Graeme Revell is an ideally atmospheric score, with some great cues that adds to the film’s mood and helps to tell the story in a pretty efficient way. It blends in perfectly with the rock music on the soundtrack. Bands such as The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, Helmet, Rage Against the Machine, Pantera, and My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult all contributed music to the soundtrack, and that adds to the grungy style and mood of the film.

Now, of course, I have to address the one thing which most people bring up in regards to this movie. This was Brandon Lee’s final film, as he was accidentally killed by a bullet squib which was lodged in a gun after the crew failed to check the firearm properly. He died at the age of the twenty-eight after completing most of the film. Body doubles were used to stand-in for him and the filmmakers cleverly used CGI to superimpose Lee’s face onto the doubles when they had to. The picture stands as a great tribute to Lee and shows he truly was a talented actor, who could have gone onto superstardom as a result of The Crow.

Overall, The Crow still stands the test of time. Its an atmospheric and story-driven comic book adaptation that has garnered a deserved cult following over the years, and it is still highly regarded by many people today. It is also one of my favourite movies of all time. To me, its a a well-paced and emotional narrative with some great acting from the cast and breathtaking action scenes, all combined with an energetic rock soundtrack. This is a great package, seamlessly blended together to create one of the best comic book movies of all time.

Best Scene

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Brandon Lee died during a mishap on the set. A scene required a gun to be loaded, cocked, and then pointed at the camera. Because of the close-range of the shot, the dummy cartridges loaded had real brass caps, bullet, but no powder. After the cut, the props master (not the arms master – he had left the set for the day) dry-fired the gun to get the cock off, knocking the projectile/bullet into the barrel of the gun. The next scene to be filmed involving that gun was the rape of Shelly. The gun was loaded with blanks (which usually contain double or triple the powder of a normal cartridge to make a loud noise). Lee entered the set carrying a bag of groceries containing an explosive blood pack. The script called for Funboy to shoot Draven as he entered the room, triggering the blood pack. The bullet that was stuck in the barrel was blasted at Lee through the bag he was carrying, killing him. The footage of his death was subsequently developed and used as evidence in the investigation into his death. As part of the lawsuit settlement, the footage was later destroyed.
  • During the first day of shooting in Wilmington, North Carolina, a carpenter suffered severe burns after his crane hit live power lines. On subsequent days, a grip truck caught fire, a disgruntled sculptor crashed his car through the studio’s plaster shop, and a crew member accidentally drove a screwdriver through his hand.
  • James O’Barr stated on the DVD that when he met the movie’s executives, they originally wanted to make this a musical staring Michael Jackson. He immediately laughed uncontrollably thinking it was a joke, only to find that they were quite serious.

Richard Bal

My name is Richard, I like beer, heavy metal and movies, but maybe not necessarily in that order.

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