‘People once believed that when someone dies, a crow carries their soul to the land of the dead. But sometimes something so bad happens that a terrible sadness is carried with it, and the souls can’t rest. Then sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back to put the wrong things right’
The Crow (1994) is the legendary comic book adaptation, which arrived in an era when Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), had rejuvenated interest in transforming cult print art to the screen. It is also an infamous film that will forever be associated with the tragic accident that occurred on set, when lead actor Brandon Lee (Rapid Fire), a rising star in Hollywood and the son of martial arts movie superstar Bruce Lee, was killed after being shot with a live bullet during the shooting of one of the film’s key action sequences. Based on the esteemed supernatural comics by James O’Barr, which first appeared in Deadworld #10 (1989), the movie was directed by Alex Proyas (Dark City) and begins on Devils Night, the evening before Halloween when vicious gangs run amok in the city, committing obscene acts of violence and destruction.
The film opens as the camera pans over burning buildings and settles in an apartment where a cop, Albrecht (Ernie Hudson – Ghostbusters) is presiding over a brutal scene, in which Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) a bride on the eve of her wedding day, is at the brink of death, whilst her musician fiancée Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) lays slaughtered on the street below. A young girl Sarah (Rochelle Davis) arrives on the scene and speaks with Albrecht, who learns that Eric and Shelly were friends who looked after her, as her alcoholic mother is more interested in hanging around in bars and pursuing the company of undesirable men. The movie then jumps forward a year to the next Devils Night, as Sarah lays flowers on the graves of both her friends, whilst the rain pours down and a crow lands on Eric’s headstone.
As the crow watches over Eric’s grave the ground cracks, and he emerges from the drenched mud, screaming … he will have his vengeance! Eric revisits his apartment and we see flashbacks to the fateful night of his murder, with the cinematography drenched in a deep ruby red as a gang of thugs invade their home, beating and raping Shelly while Eric has a knife thrown into his chest. He is then spread like Jesus on the crucifix and shot three times, before being flung through a window to the street below. We also see flashbacks of happier times between the loving couple, as Eric sits at her dressing table and covers his face in gothic makeup … his war paint … while the sumptuous soundtrack of ‘Burn’ by The Cure, plays in the background.
We meet the murdering gang in the present day as they neck bullets down with shots of hard liquor, toasting another Devils Night and the terror and chaos they are going to spread once again. The knife man from the night of the murder Tintin (Laurence Mason), is watched by the crow as he walks through the street. And while ‘Dead Souls’, a Joy Division cover by Nine Inch Nails plays, we see Eric leaping over roof tops as he circles in on the first of his prey. He attacks and they fight, ‘Murderer!’ Eric shouts at him. Tintin throws his knives but misses each time, before Eric catches the final knife, spins it around and throws it back, pinning Tintin against the wall before delivering a fatal blow. In his blood, Eric graffiti’s the motif of a crow on the wall above the Tintin’s dead body.
The rest of the gang are holed up in a warehouse called The Pit, where we meet their boss Top Dollar (Michael Wincott – Robin Hood : Prince Of Theives), while a band play below to a rapturous party of revellers. He and his mysterious girlfriend Myca (Bai Ling), have murdered a female who lays naked in their bed. They perform a ritual, cutting out her eye and burning the eyeball, inhaling the fumes whilst indulging in copious amounts of cocaine. Top Dollar is informed of Tintin’s death, and he orders his goons to find out who did it, and why.
Eric’s next victim Funboy (Michael Massee) who was the first to rape Shelly, is shooting heroin in bed with Sarah’s deadbeat mother Darla (Anna Thomson). Eric approaches them and is shot in the hand. But as Funboy laughs, Eric holds up his hand and the bullet hole disappears before their eyes. He starts to monologue while Funboy shoots him again with the bullets having absolutely no impact, ‘Jesus Christ, don’t you ever fucking die!?’ Eric returns fire shooting a slug into his kneecap, before putting the dirty drug needles into his heart and leaving him spread eagled on the floor, a crow drawn in blood on his chest. He grabs Darla by the arm and squeezes the junk out of her trackmarks telling her, ‘You’re daughter is out there on the streets waiting for you!’
Eric continues on his mission of revenge, until his path leads him to The Pit, where Top Dollar is rousing a dozen or so rebels as he plots to send them out to burn the city. As Eric arrives he is taken down by machine gun fire, but of course the character is immortal and he comes back shooting in what is THE action scene of the movie, and the tragic fatal film sequence for Brandon Lee. His death adds an everlasting melancholic air of mystique around the movie. The Crow could have been the film to propel the career of Lee onto the next level and who knows where it may have taken him … we will never. The producers took the difficult decision to wrap the movie up using footage they had already taken, and managed to piece together the final parts of the film almost flawlessly.
Eric is forced to flee the shoot out as the numbers are stacked too high against him, and in the final act Top Dollar kidnaps Sarah in a plan to draw Eric back to him, which of course works. There is a climatic final roof top showdown between the two characters with Eric naturally coming out victorious, allowing him to rescue Sarah and finally complete his mission of retribution, so that he may return to the grave where his soul is reunited with Shelly. The Crow is an absolute classic of the nineties era. A dark and dreary gothic tale, shoot in beautiful textured chiaroscuro colouring. It rivals David Fincher’s Seven (1995) for the rainiest movie of the decade, and is as alluring now as it was nearly 30 years ago. The rock soundtrack is one of the very finest from the era, featuring the likes of Stone Temple Pilots, Pantera, Helmet and Rage Against The Machine, and for all its marketing as a ‘super hero’ movie to cash in on the success of Batman, it really isn’t. This is an R-rated gothic horror in all but name, a melancholic tale of revenge with an anti-hero who the viewer sympathises with, but ultimately ends up being as violent as the murderers he takes down … and it’s absolutely bloody marvellous! KZ
Words by – Abstrakt_Soul
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