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THIS WEEK: The Crow (1994)
HOW IT STARTS: Our hero, returned from the dead to exact revenge, searches for his murdered fiancée’s engagement ring.
THE PREFACE: Brandon Lee stars as Eric Draven, a rock musician whose fiance, Shelly (Sofia Shinas), was raped and killed on Devil’s Night. These thugs killed him too… but not for long. This supernatural comic book revenge flick brings Draven back to life as a super-powered spirit “to make the wrong things right.”
The Crow is my favourite comic book movie ever. (And, yeah, I just typed that.) While dark and melancholic, it’s also a lot of fun. In between the ultra-violence is a lot of laughs, mostly coming from lethal one-liners.
The story follows Draven as he returns from the grave. Lost and disoriented, he slowly remembers his life. Whenever he touches an object, he is flash-flooded with memories. Soon enough, he pieces together what happened that night and sets out on his quest for revenge.
Draven applies the Face of Comedy to mask his Tragedy, giving us a long-lasting iconic image (and also partially inspiring the 90s Goth movement in the process). This smiling soul of vengeance, equipped with his own version of a Kill Bill hit-list, sets out to find the men responsible for Shelly’s death.
THE SET-UP: Draven learns, by way of murder, that Shelly’s ring was sold off. He sets out to retrieve it at Gideon’s Pawnshop. Brandon Lee’s performance here is a pure pulp delight. By this point, we really want to see him get revenge. He comes a knocking and enters, quoting Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, “Suddenly, I heard a tapping, as of someone gently rapping; rapping at my chamber door.” He takes a moment to stare down the slimy store-owner, “You heard me rapping, right?”
Next, Draven approaches Gideon (Jon Polito), “I’m looking for an engagement ring.” The corrupt man replies, “You’re looking for a coroner, buddy.” Blam! Gideon shoots Draven. Our hero laughs it off, as the bullet holes magically seal back up. After some more threatening, like dousing the place in gas, Gideon finally points out a metal box filled with stolen wedding rings.
THAT MOMENT: Draven searches through the box of stolen promises, using his altered senses of touch which trigger memories. He tosses rings aside, one at a time, “No… No… No.”
Then — a flashback: Shelly ascends to the attic. Draven has set a romantic atmosphere, primed for a proposal. There’s no doubt. This is Shelly’s ring.
Draven returns to Gideon, and tells him to spread the word. He’s coming for those thugs that murdered her, he wants them to know “Death is coming… Tell them, Eric Draven sends his regards.”
Before he leaves, Draven starts pelting the owner with other wedding rings: “Each one of these is a life… A life you helped destroy.”
Our hero then proceeds to spill the rings down the barrell of his shotgun. As he walks towards the exit, he takes a second to look back at Gideon, “Is that gasoline I smell?”
In a satisfying Moment, Draven fires his shotgun, and wedding rings blast forth. Promised devotion acts as bullets, enacting revenge for all those other lives destroyed, exploding the pawnshop into a gigantic fireball.
THAT MOMENT REMEMBERED: This was just one Moment. This gang has a few other members for Draven to track down. Director Alex Proyas (nerds: check out Dark City too) created spectacular imagery for The Crow, laced with thick atmosphere, providing this comic book adaption with a very cinematic feel. However, concept is king, so James O’Barr (the Creator) also deserves a lot of the credit.
O’Barr’s (James O’Barr) story is a real rarity, an emotional romance hidden behind graphic violence and black humour. Draven returns from death because he loved Shelly so much. This love demanded justice. Dark poetry provides a strong foundation for this film. Those expecting B-movie pulp will be pleasantly surprised, when they find this movie emotionally satisfying.
It’s hard to talk about this cult classic without mentioning its unfortunate history. Brandon Lee tragically died on set while filming The Crow. A prop gun misfired, accidently killing the young actor. Much like his father, Bruce Lee, Brandon died just when his talent was on the rise. It’s so sad thinking of what could have been. This movie thematically explores death and our fragility. The reality can’t help but affect our experience of the fiction here.
Aside from its poetic nature, and melancholic attachment to real tragedy, The Crow is also a lot of fun. As a young teen (when this debuted), I just wanted R-rated comic book goodness. I didn’t know I wanted an emotional connection. I didn’t know a good revenge story required good character-work and a good back-story. With all of these intriguing qualities, The Crow demonstrates how effective a revenge film can be.
More than us comic book nerds should seek out this influential classic. It’s a triumph of its era, before comics were blockbuster entertainment, and well worth Remembering.
* Hungry for more? Check out my earlier review. *
David’s Take: The Crow is a stylish, dark, and gripping story that really surprised me when I first watched as I had low expectations. It still holds up and is elevated by some great performances, especially Lee, who utterly embodies the hero as if he were born to play it. This moment is truly a good one in a film packed with many. I really like the silhouette in the door as the scene starts and the crow rushing in after the glass breaks. It’s violent, scary, but most of all, fun. A great pick, Dan.