Starring: Brandon Lee, Ernie Hudson, Michael Wincott
Writers: David J. Schow & John Shirley (Adapted from J. O'Barr's comic)
Director: Alex Proyas
October 30th, Devil's Night. Eric Draven is shot, stabbed and thrown out the window of his high rise apartment, while his fiance is brutally raped and beaten. She dies hours later in a nearby hospital. They were to be married the following day, Halloween. A year has passed since the murders, when a crow lands on the gravestone of Eric Draven, waking him from death to exact his revenge on the perpetrators; a group of hardened thugs, led by 'Top Dollar', a Detroit crime lord.
When The Crow was originally released in theaters, I thought it was one of the best things I had seen in I don't know how long. I was an avid comic reader at the time, but actually had never read a single page of J. O'Barr's story --which was written to help O'Barr deal with the grief over the death of his girlfriend, whom was killed by a drunk driver. After seeing the film and being blown away, I rushed to the nearest comic shop to snatch up a graphic novel (many other people probably did too), which contained the whole story and some bonus stuff, released by Kitchen Sink Press. I fell in love with the graphic novel, though, I always preferred the story in the film --which I'll get into later. Anyway, it had been many years since I'd watched The Crow. Never picked it up on DVD; just kinda forgot about it and how it had a special place in my heart. Well, I tried to watch it earlier this year, and it just didn't do anything for me. Being honest, I didn't even finish it. Maybe it was a certain mood I was in or something, but I felt bad for not even giving it a chance. It didn't feel like it had aged well. So, I gave it another chance, just recently, and I have to call myself a dumb shit; this movie is still fucking great.
There are quite a few deviations from the comic that I'd like to bring up. For starters, Eric Draven can hear the crow in the comic. Not out loud, but in his mind. It's constantly warning Eric not to keep punishing himself by going back to the fateful night when he and his girlfriend perished. While this works great in the comic, I am glad it was left out of the film, as I think it would have ended up being really fucking hokey. Secondly, the comic character of the little girl, Sherri, is changed into Sarah, and given a more important part in the story. I think this works better, too. In the comic, Draven gives her the same necklace that was intended to be Shelly's wedding ring, and it makes little sense. The little girl had no prior relationship with Eric and Shelly, yet, when he hands it over to her, he says “It was Shelly's, but I think she'd like you to have it.” Why? This holds so much more ground in the film, because Sarah had a friendship with the couple. She loved them and they loved her. It gives it more meaning. Third, in the comic, the murdering of Eric and Shelly don't take place in their apartment, nor is their any indication that the event takes place on Hallow's eve (though, it is in October). It happens when their car breaks down and a car full of goons take notice of them. And that's all they are... goons. 'Top Dollar' isn't some head honcho crime leader ordering his henchman to set the Detroit on fire every year on Devil's Night. He's not even the gang leader; 'T-Bird' is. Everything changed for the film ultimately works better.
There's no doubt that a large chunk of this film's notoriety stemmed from Brandon Lee's tragic and untimely death. Probably even for me, though, I would like to think this movie would have garnered my interest anyway. The Crow was originally planned as a Direct-to-Video release by Paramount (though, they did want to go theatrical), then after the accident, they opted out and the producers weren't even sure they wanted to continue with the last week of filming --which was all meant to be flashback sequences. Ultimately, Mirimax took it under their wing, threw some more money its way and some rewrites were done to work around the flashback scenes that were never finished. Considering all the tragedy that struck this film and the people involved, I think it came out fantastically. It's a great tribute to Brandon Lee.
Visually, this movie is fantastic, right from the get go, where we are thrown right overtop of a burning Detroit on October 30th. The camera glides us through alleys and streets, leading us up to a highrise broken circular window, carrying us inside the apartment. The cinematography manages to capture the dark and gritty hopelessness of the city that the comic carried in its black and white images. Draven's resurrection scene is fantastically shot, as is the flashback sequences, where there's some brilliant use of coloring to depict the unlawful actions at hand. The slo-mo shots of the crow gliding through Detroit --shown overhead and from a side view-- also work really well. And if that's not enough, the point of view perspective from the crow's eyes are spectacular. Gotta love the Draven rock out scenes on the roof of the apartment, too. Lastly, the epic car chase with cops, Skank --one of the henchmen-- in a stolen car and Draven in the backseat T-Bird's hotrod. Some epic first person shots to be had here.
I can't exactly call myself a Brandon Lee fan. I did think Rapid Fire and Showdown in Little Tokyo were cool little action flicks for their time, but I can't exactly hold him up in the same regard as his late father. In his defense, he never had the chance to become what he could have. I can say that he had bad assness seeping out of him in this role, though. The movie version of Draven isn't quite as poetic as his comic counterpart, but there is still a good hint of all that, and even sometimes using direct lines from O'Barr's work. Well, Lee nailed these lines, and really made the persona one seriously intimidating anti hero. Ernie Hudson is equally good as Sergeant Albrecht, a former lieutenant demoted for being too human. Even though Lee and Hudson only had 3 or 4 scenes together that are strongly limited in time, there's a great deal of chemistry between the two. Rochelle Davis as Sarah, the young female friend of Draven and Shelly before their passing, is excellent. She's from a rough upbringing with a druggie mom, with little promise of a good life ahead of her; Davis produces a great amount of sadness needed for the role. She also dishes out some fantastic narration for the film. Lastly, Michael Wincott is indeed one hell of an antagonist as 'Top Dollar', the number one baddie. The man is vile and lacking of any compassion, and to make his character more uncomfortable, there is some bizarre relationship going on with his half sister, 2nd in command --played by Bai Ling. All around, acting is pretty solid here.
While not totally gory, The Crow's action scenes manage to be pretty damn violent, enough to be a concern --due to Brandon Lee's death-- before its release. The visual FX used for Draven's wounds healing are definitely dated, and look kind of tacky, but there is some grue to love on. We get a sword through a dude's neck, multiple stabbings, impalement, eyeball pecking... stuff like that. Gun play in this film is off the fucking charts; in particular, in a scene where 'Top Dollar' has rounded up all the gansters in the city for their annual night of pyromania. Draven comes up in the room like a fucking boss, jumps up on the table and sits indian style. After a shootout where Eric hits the ground below, he comes back up guns a-blazin', wreckin' mother fuckers left and right. It's one of the best damn scenes in the movie, for me.
The soundtrack for The Crow was also another real strong point for me upon the film's release. A lot of my favorite bands from that time had some kick ass songs that played throughout the movie, and I ran that damn soundtrack into the ground. It all fits the moments in the movie so well. Helmet, STP, The Cure, Pantera, My Life With the Thrill Kill Cult, NIN, etc... the shit rules. The film score provided by Graeme Revelle (Idle Hands, Bride of Chucky) is great, too. The music he gives to the flashback sequences gives me goosebumps.
1) This cat lived on his own for a year after Eric and Shelly died. Beastin' it.
2) The "Fire it Up" chant is fuckin' lame!
3) Tony Todd!
4) This guy is listed as Henry Rollins in an uncredited role on IMDB. Anybody else think this is bullshit?
5) Deleted scene with Michael Berryman as Skull Cowboy
This film is well worth a re-visit. Like I mentioned earlier, I don't know what was wrong when I tried to watch it earlier this year and failed. It had to have been me, because there is nothing wrong with this gem. Action greatness. Recommended.