The Crow: A Retrospective Film Review

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The Crow is a 1994 action-thriller starring the late Brandon Lee and directed by Austrailian Alex Proyas. Released a few years after Tim Burton’s two Batman films, it borrowed heavily from the Burton style of production design, which gives the film a very gothic and noire inspired look. The tagline on the original posters stated ‘Darker Than the Bat’ as a direct reference to the Batman franchise and hinting at the fact that this film is much more violent and grittier than Burton’s Caped Crusader films.

Painted like a sad mime, Eric Draven (played by Brandon Lee) invokes a feeling of the expressionism of early German cinema and serves as a pre-cursor to Heath Ledger's appearance as The Joker.

Painted like a mime, Eric Draven (played by Brandon Lee) invokes memories of the expressionism in early German cinema and serves as a pre-cursor to Heath Ledger’s appearance as The Joker.

Not technically a horror film, more of an action movie with horror and fantasy influences, The Crow is based on a comic book of the same name written by James O’Barr and released in 1989. The story takes place on Devil’s Night (October 30th) the eve of Halloween. A night when the cities low-life gangs traditionally go out and raise hell by burning buildings, committing heinous crimes and generally wreaking havoc all over town. Our hero Eric Draven (Lee) comes home to his apartment to find his girlfriend is being brutally beaten and sexually assaulted. He in turn is horrifically killed by her attackers and thrown from the window of their top floor apartment. A year later, Eric is brought back from the dead by a mystical crow in order to avenge the death of his beloved.

"We're gonna light a fire so big, the gods will notice us again!" The Crow marks his territory.

“We’re gonna light a fire so big, the gods will notice us again!” The Crow marks his territory.

Throughout the film he tracks down the gang of murderers one by one and kills them. Eventually there is only one left and he is being protected by an evil crime sindicate. Eric faces-off with the gang’s boss Top Dollar (played by the excellent Michael Wincott) and becomes embroiled in a fight to the death with him on top of a cathedral. Eric is aided on his journey of revenge by his crow, who gives him the power of immortality, making him impervious to injuries or pain. Well, the guy’s already dead, right? He is also helped out by a local Police officer Sgt. Albrecht (played by the cool Ernie Hudson) who befriends the teenage Sarah. Sarah’s Mum is a junkie so she was looked after by Eric and his fiancee Shelley, before they were killed. Albrecht investigates the murder of Eric and Shelley but is unable to prove the gang’s guilt. He ends up investigating the murders of the gang members that Eric kills a year later when he is brought back from the dead. Albrecht ultimately helps him to vanquish the evil-doers at the end of the film, somewhat making up for his failure to bring them to justice.

"Victims... aren't we all!" Spooky anti-hero Eric Draven turns one of the bad guys into a pin cushion, taking revenge for the death of his beloved Shelley.

“Victims… aren’t we all!” Spooky anti-hero Eric Draven turns one of the bad guys into a pin cushion, taking revenge for the death of his beloved Shelley.

The film was plagued with production problems and due to the low budget and time constraints, the rising star (son of the legendary Bruce Lee) was accidently killed during filming, when a gun discharged a projectile and he was shot in the chest. Initially intended for a straight-to-video release, Miramax eventually picked up the incomplete film, pumped millions of dollars into finishing it and The Crow went on to be a financial and critical success. The death of it’s main star and the dark nature of the film’s content may have had a lot to do with it selling so well at the time and has certainly added to the cult appeal of this classic nineties comicbook adaptation.

Michael Wincott is joined by Tony Todd and Bi Ling as the leaders of the city's evil crime sydicate who indulge their love of the dark arts and black magic.

Michael Wincott is joined by Tony Todd and Bai Ling as the leaders of the city’s evil crime sydicate who indulge their love of the dark arts and black magic.

I first watched The Crow when it was released in the nineties. Although it has slightly dated since then, it still holds up as an exciting and dark film. The dialogue is edgy and the performances are solid and played with integrity. Most notably Michael Wincott as the insidious villain and also John Polito who plays Gideon, a sleazy pornbroker who is allowed to live by Draven, in order to deliver the message to the other gang members that “Death is coming for them!”

The fantastic John Polito puts in a memorable performance as Gideon, the pornbroker and profiteer of death.

The fantastic John Polito puts in a memorable performance as Gideon, a pornbroker and profiteer of death.

The soundtrack is also excellent, bands such as The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine and Pantera add a grungy and rocking musicality that is indicative of the nineties and adds to the neo-gothic elements of the film.

The Crow is basically a tragic love story in which the central character is brought back from the dead to exact terrible vengeance on his assailants. The incessant rain and the dark look of the film (99% of the scenes take place at night) provide the perfect backdrop to this particular tale of supernatural revenge.

Eric catches up with Fun Boy, a particularly nasty member of the gang that killed him.

Eric catches up with Fun Boy, a particularly nasty member of the gang that killed him.

The action is well choreographed and Brandon Lee’s performance is excellent as the spooky ghost-clown. This film provided Lee with a role he could get his teeth into and had he lived to enjoy the films success, he would’ve undoubtedly gained more respect and therefore offers of better roles to play. This film may have provided a break from the martial arts clap-trap he had starred in previously. Just like his father, he did not survive to enjoy his popularity and cult status which is a great shame, as in my opinion both Bruce and Brandon had a great potential as movie actors that was over-shadowed by their abilities as martial arts stars.

See this interview via You Tube for a look at the film and to hear the thoughts of its doomed star before his untimely death. Insightful and spooky considering what was about to transpire.

Rating 4.5/5

By Greg Fisher

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