“You Heard me Rapping, Right?”
Twenty years ago, in the summer of 1994, my brother had just finished graduate school. I had gone to visit him for a week while my parents were out of town. He was working an in-between job while he waited on something to pan out that would let him use his degree. You see children; in 1994 there was actually a pretty good chance that a person would be able to use their degree once they got out of college, so an in-between job generally didn’t turn into a career. I know that’s hard to believe for all the psych majors out there that are still baristas but in the mid 1990’s the economy wasn’t in the toilet.
My brother was working at a video store if my memory serves me but he had some friends that worked in movie theaters as well. Either way he was a pretty big movie fan at this point in his life so we spent most of the week watching videos or going to the movies. So as fate would have it The Crow was playing at one of the second run movie theaters in town so I was able to talk him into taking me.
The Crow had been an obsession of mine since the previous year after Brandon Lee was killed making it. A big hoopla was made about it on the trash rag shows like Entertainment Tonight and Extra. It became the newest Hollywood tragedy. The Lee family curse! The curse of The Crow! You know, however they could market it to be as sensational as possible. I wasn’t interested in it for that nonsense though. I thought it looked badass and the fact that it was based on a comic didn’t hurt its chances with me. I went and picked up the book and loved it. Then when previews started to come out for it they were playing Stone Temple Pilots in the background. It was as if they were marketing the movie directly to me and millions of other angst ridden teenagers (they were).
The movie opened in May but I didn’t go stay with my brother until August. Needless to say I was chomping at the bit by this point. I had already had the soundtrack for months (still my favorite of all time) and I had read over every bit of press I could get my hands on. Roger Ebert loved it. The Los Angeles Times praised it. And then I finally got to watch the movie!
I was underwhelmed.
“And Dream the Crow Black Dream Again.”
This has happened with movies a few times in my life, a lot more often with albums. You build up something so much in your head that there is no way it can live up to the expectations. The most glaring modern movie this happened with is The Dark Knight. Strangely enough, it’s also another film that had not one but two deaths during production, Heath Ledger and stuntman Conway Wickliffe, and got a lot of pre-release infamy because of it.
However, unlike The Dark Knight, the years have been incredibly kind to The Crow. By the time the movie hit video and I watched it again I liked it, within a year of that I loved it, and now I list it as probably my second favorite movie based on a comic book. It holds up incredibly well and is not really dated outside of certain fashions and the actual film stock, but that is nit-picking.
A lot of what makes The Crow hold up so well is its other worldliness, a trait that director Alex Proyas would also use for Dark City. I’ve always liked Batman Returns the best of the initial Batman movies, even though it follows the comics less faithfully than even Batman and Robin, due to it existing in its own reality. You can’t put a year to it, and that’s how The Crow feels to me. It exists in the modern time frame of 1994 but it isn’t this world that you’re watching. It’s some sort of parallel universe that looks a hell of a lot like ours, but feels so foreign. Detroit is unending greyness in the movie. The rain never seems to stop. The underworld is over ground. The dead rise from the grave seeking vengeance.
The film works on multiple levels. As a comic-book adaptation it works, but it holds up even better as a revenge movie. Even though it might not be the best revenge movie (Death Wish probably takes the crown on that one), it is most certainly my favorite of the genre. Eric Draven comes back for one reason, and that’s to kill everyone involved in his murder and the murder/rape of his fiancé. He helps out some people along the way because of his good nature, but he never loses focus. He has been brought back to life to avenge and he gets right down to it.
The film also works as a straight ahead action movie. Brandon Lee had a few starring roles prior to The Crow (most notably in Rapid Fire) and was really coming into his own. Although obviously Bruce Lee’s child, he also had his own action presence quite different from his father’s. It’s hard to say for sure what would have happened had he lived but The Crow would have probably been a springboard into more mainstream fair. It stands instead as an epitaph for a promising young man cut down just as he was starting to take off, but what an epitaph it is.
Brandon Lee is so good in The Crow that it’s hard for me to get behind anyone ever playing the character of Eric Draven. I am fine with more Crow movies. The set-up is so simple and versatile that you could make hundreds of variations of it, but the character of Eric Draven belongs to Brandon Lee. There has been talk of a remake for years but I hope it remains just that.
“It Can’t Rain All the Time.”
1994 was a good year for films. Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, Ed Wood, and Forrest Gump were all released just to name a few. To me, The Crow sits right up there with Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption as classics, and as far as the impact on pop culture at large, I would actually say The Crow might resonate more strongly than even Pulp Fiction. Every Halloween there are still a lot more Eric Draven’s than Vincent Vega’s.
The Crow was followed up by several sequels of varying quality (mostly bad, some laughably so), a television series called The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, and quite a few comic follow-ups as well. James O’Barr even released a special collected edition of the original comics with a few new pages added that he wasn’t able to properly render originally. And of course there is the aforementioned remake that has yet to materialize. I’m sure it will happen eventually but I hold out hope that they will just make a new stand-alone Crow movie not featuring Eric Draven.
If you’ve never seen The Crow, go watch it now. It is better than 99.9% of anything else out there. Watch it for the incredible atmosphere. Watch it for the amazing cast (Ernie Hudson’s in it!). Watch it and try to imagine all the cool movies we missed out on with the death of Brandon Lee. So what are you waiting on? Go!
And remember, that’s not Skank over there. Skank’s dead.