The Crow (1994, USA) Review

The Crow (1994) | Directed by Alex Proyas

Written by David J. Schow, John Shirley | Starring Brandon Lee, Michael Wincott, Rochelle Davis
Adapted from the 1993 graphic novel The Crow | Created by James O’Barr
Followed by The Crow: City of Angels (1996)

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The Crow (1994, USA) Review

18 (BBFC) / R (MPAA)

Dark, poetic and a visual masterpiece.

The Crow is a movie that is very much dear to my heart. Released in 1994 on the back of some very serious hype (for all the wrong reasons) involving the death of star Brandon Lee, it was billed as a sort of adult version of Tim Burton’s Batman. I can clearly see why people would perceive this as it’s a very dark piece. Audiences hadn’t really seen many movies stylistically like Burton’s Batman, so it was easier to class them in the same vein. Even more so with both being comic book incarnations, although I doubt very much people knew The Crow was adapted from a comic when it was first released. The Crow had a hard time getting to the silver screen as it wasn’t an out and out success in comic form, only now has it found the audience it deserves.

I first read The Crow back in late 1993, with the movie being released in 94. During that year I was 2 years out of school and attending Art College (Yes I’m that old!). I was struggling as I was living in a small flat above a convenience store and trying to hold down a job in a video store whilst spending all my spare time studying. When I wasn’t studying I was either watching movies (video store had its perks) or visiting comic shops. It was in one of these comic shops that I unearthed a book that would blow my mind. Written and illustrated by James O’Barr, this urban, gothic love/revenge story had all the elements that were relatable to me at the time, such as the dark dangerous city, street thugs and goth music. I’d walk home extremely late of an evening after my shift at the video store and envision main character Eric hiding in the shadows, hair flowing in the wind, painted face smudged in the rain.

The Crow (1994, USA) Review

The book was an almost biographical version of O’Barr himself and definitely a bereavement tool to vent his anger about his own lost love and demons. Eric became the embodiment of the writer who seeks revenge on the gang who raped and murdered his fiancée Shelly. Yes, there have been a million revenge stories like this told, but the difference here was the gang also murder Eric alongside Shelly, only he is resurrected by a mysterious crow that only he can see and sets about hunting down the gang one by one and anyone who stands in his way. When I talk about perfect comic books, The Crow is probably right up there for me alongside the works of Alan Moore. Moore’s writing is probably the greatest there has ever been and quite possibly ever will be, nobody comes close, but The Crow is very close to my heart because I can feel it’s pain, it’s loneliness, it’s isolation.

The Crow (1994, USA) Review

Director Alex Proyas, known for TV commercials and short films took to reins of adapting O’Barr’s masterpiece. He cast Brandon Lee as lead character Eric Draven. Lee wasn’t an actor that I followed much. The star of some mediocre martial arts films, basically billing him as the next Bruce Lee (his father) he didn’t really take my interest to be perfectly honest. When cast as Eric Draven I kind of just went with it as I’d never really thought of a specific actor I wished to see in the role, there was nobody who took my fancy. The movie is a different animal to the comic. It changes a lot of key elements that appeared in the book, such as ‘Draven’ was never referred to as Eric’s surname, the bird being able to communicate with Eric – a sort of conscience and the location of the murders of Eric and Shelly. I knew about these changes when entering the cinema and wasn’t initially happy, but after watching the movie and seeing what the director did, I thought it was genius. Changing locations and having Eric and Shelly’s loft becoming almost a character in the movie was stunning. The audience gets to witness the brutal murders through the circular window of the couple’s apartment that sits high above that dark, rain-swept, sprawling metropolis. The loft flows in and out of the story and clearly becomes the death and birth of Eric.

The Crow (1994, USA) Review

The director’s vision is clearly presented here for all to see. You can see the emphasis was placed on creating a dark, gothic movie. The book has its goth-references, but the movie specializes in gothic style, architecture, fashion and the unbelievable score by Graeme Revell. Proyas is let off from swaying from the source material because he keeps one key element evident, its pain. Another successful element Proyas brings is the story being played out in flashbacks. This helps us get to know Eric before you even realise his mission, you witness his resurrection and sympathize with his rebirth. A scene wHere Eric arrives back at the loft since returning from the grave and remembering the incidents that happened to his loved one and himself is quite frankly stunning. Proyas shifts colour palette from the almost black and grey tones to reds, which feels graphic and almost comic book-like. Stylistically the movie often plays out like one long music video, with the dialogue sometimes getting in the way. The imagery is poetic and haunting and Proyas deserves a lot of credit for creating a world so striking on such a small budget.

Cinematically The Crow is beautiful and I can see influences in movies such as Batman Begins, with the Narrows and Draven’s appearance surely influencing The Joker’s in The Dark Knight?

The Crow (1994, USA) Review

The movie isn’t perfect. The story falls short at times, especially with Eric’s relationship with Officer Albrecht, who’s basically the last good cop in town. I can understand the inclusion of the character and Ernie Hudson is terrific as Albrecht, but the more the two are together it gets a little safe and silly. Eric begins his mission ruthless and ghost-like and later towards the climax becomes human, which I don’t think should have happened, it took away his mystique. Eric is an anti-hero, vigilante-ghost and leaving his signature at every crime scene was enough, it didn’t need any other explanation.

One scene I wish they would have used from the comic was Eric carving the crown of thorns into his chest and injecting himself with drug needles, as this would have shown how out of control he really gets, but hey I’m just nip-picking because 95% of the movie is gorgeous.

The Crow (1994, USA) Review

Bringing the bad-guys outrageously to life is Michael Wincott as crime lord Top Dollar, Michael Massee as Funboy and the always tremendous David Patrick Kelly as T-Bird are a joy to watch.

Finally Brandon Lee. Like I explained previously I wasn’t too excited in Lee initially, but he totally blew me away. He just became possessed with the character of Eric, he felt every emotion and it showed in his performance. This was the role that would have no doubt landed him lots of bigger movies and quite rightly so as he is astonishing. Lee will always be Eric Draven.

With the news a few years ago that a re-boot of The Crow was in the works, I’m slightly nervous once again how they are going to handle the material, if the re-boot happens. The many sequels that followed the original were abysmal, but noises coming out of the camp suggest that O’Barr was heavily involved and the re-boot will follow the source material even more closely than Proyas did, keeps my attention. Time will tell I guess and I’m always open-minded, but forgive my trepidation because I believe James O’Barr’s book and the 1994 movie are extremely hard to top.

The Slaughtered Bird

Peter Harper