The Crow (1994)

The Crow (1994) Directed by Alex Proyas

Ever since Tim Burton’s Batman Gothicized Hollywood genre cinema fashions in the 90’s, films like Dick Tracy (1990), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Bride of Chucky (1998), Blade (1998) and many others have been pilloried due to the aesthetic sensibilities of Hollywood’s gothic weirdo Tim Burton. Such is the case with Alex Proyas’ The Crow, an architecturally gothic and sublimely exhibitionistic film of gaudy funereal scenarios and gleaming black leather. Alex Proyas’ film, based on the lugubrious, cathartic supernatural comic book of the same name written by James O’Barr, is, in effect, all about gothic romanticism iconography that could be interchangeable with the universes of the director of Edward Scissorhands. It is even explicit in its Poe-esque meditation on the afterlife; something that was a central and fundamental motif in Tim Burton’s dark comedy Beetlejuice (1988). However, these purely aesthetic influences do not make The Crow a worse film, but rather invigorate it and thus offer us a more mature -and clearly more violent- vision of the gothic mythology of nineties moviemaking.

The story of The Crow is that of a standard revenge yarn, only this time the avenger is a sort of walking dead who returns from the underworld to avenge his murder and that of his fiancée – she was ruthlessly raped and then murdered and he was cold bloodedly shot, both victims of social misfits who commit violent acts for the sheer fun of it. This grisly event took place on the so-called “Devil’s Night” in the decadent, crime-ridden city of Detroit, which seems to have only dreary weather conditions and perpetual nocturnal darkness. Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) returns from the grave reincarnated in the vitality of a crow, with immortal and phantasmagoric abilities. The severe sorrow that runs through Eric’s veins is what drives him towards the consummation of his vengeance. One by one, the filthy, immoral criminals who destroyed Eric’s life and his girlfriend Shelly (Sofia Shinas) are killed by Eric’s supernatural wrath in his undead form. In grimly clownish makeup and groovy rock ‘n’ roll garb, Eric prowls the squalid city doggedly searching for the protagonists of the torment of his postmortem existence. But not everyone in that city imbued in dark hues are people of evil, there are also -although scarce- of good intentions and with moral discernment. One of them is the city cop played by Ernie Hudson, who develops an emotional empathy for Eric, and eventually a memorable friendship. Yet the most curious character who embodies innocence in the midst of the city’s immoral pandemonium is a teenage girl named Sarah (Rochelle Davis), Shelly and Eric’s friend, a child who wanders the seedy and dangerous streets neglected by her careless, drug-addicted mother. Sarah misses Eric and Sarah dearly, perhaps her nostalgic mourning suggests that the girl saw them as more than friends, she saw them as parental figures.

Alex Proyas honors the comic’s wistful catharsis with his sensitive, lyrical rendition of the story’s tragic developments. Although the film suffers tediously from the propulsive editing of 90’s American action filmmaking, the glimpses of introspection Proyas provides to the characters are highly effective in eliciting reciprocal emotions. Elementally, being a film that gravitates around Eric’s vindictive grief, the emotionalism can fall a bit flat – it’s cute, but clunky. The latter hasn’t aged well at all mainly because it’s handled from a very old-fashioned artificial lens. But still, I want to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt. As everyone knows, this film is famous for having brought to life on the big screen one of the most iconic comic book anti-heroes, but it is also infamous for being the film in which Brandon Lee is accidentally shot, tragically taking his life at the age of 28. Thus, during filming and that sad incident, the production of The Crow was caught in a moral dilemma: Do we keep the project going or do we drop it? In the end they did continue it as a large percentage of the scenes with Brandon Lee were already completed, but there were still gaps in the plot that had to be filled in with stuntmen and special effects. I get the impression that a lot of the sequences that feel aggressively fast-paced and arrhythmic are precisely those that the filmmakers had to manage to camouflage the fact that Brandon Lee was not the one we see on screen. In addition, there are awkward instances where the transitions from corny romanticism to hardcore splatterpunk action feel jerky and heavy-handed.

The Crow in its aesthetic totality is a thrilling supernatural revenge flick, but it is narratively deficient to be anything uniformly gripping. Brandon Lee is terrific as Eric, delivering a heartfelt performance that deals with complex feelings and still translates them humanely despite being surrounded by so much bleak and mortuary imagery. Just knowing that he sadly lost his life in this film heightens the character’s ghostly status into a poignant metaphor. All in all, it’s a great film adaptation that stumbles on many of the conventions of American 90s genre cinema, yet The Crow has enough soul to pull off a sleazy story that is epically cheesy without sacrificing its conceptual and contextual roughness.


Matteo Bedon

Written by

Editor and Official Film Critic at

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