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The Crow (1994)

by on 2011/01/09

How do you review a movie that has wound its way into your DNA you love it so much? We are about to find out right . . . now.

So brings you a review of The Crow, a Gothic masterpiece and the final performance of Brandon Lee. As January is our month to tackle the ‘firsts’ of series and franchises both geek and goth, The Crow is, of course, mandatory. For me, it is mandatory viewing on any given Wednesday as well. It is hard to count how many times I’ve seen this movie.

The Crow is the very best of the dark that enveloped cinema in the late 80s and 90s. Hero became flawed anti-hero, redemption became revenge, justice wasn’t so much blind as stone dead. Gone were the black hats and white hats, we were left only with ambiguity and deeply confused, complex characters. This movie was one of the biggest, blackest pins in the voodoo doll of our collective psyche. (Ok, I’ll stop now).

Based on the graphic novels of James O’Barr, the story of The Crow was born of personal tragedy. O’Barr, himself an orphan in and out of foster homes, created The Crow to work through the death of his fiancee killed by a drunk driver.

For all that know the story, the film The Crow is a work born of tragedy about tragedy within a tragedy. The story? Dark hero Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) returns from the grave to avenge his own death and that of his beloved fiancee Shelley (Canadian Sofia Shinas). Killed by thugs on Devil’s Night, the night before Halloween, their deaths are part of a larger conspiracy orchestrated by a demonic crime lord, Top Dollar, brilliantly played by Canadian Michael Wincott.

The story behind the story? 28-year-old Brandon Lee, son of film and martial arts great Bruce Lee, was killed on set in a freak accident involving a prop gun with only eight days remaining in the filming schedule. Both Lee’s mother and fiancé supported director Alex Proyas’ decision to finish the film, which was accomplished with computer graphics and body doubles.

The result is a piece of film history.

The Crow delivers a dark, beautifully filmed and executed story of systematic revenge and supernatural atonement. With delicious darkness, Draven takes out the men who wronged him one by one.

The first: Tin Tin is taken with his own throwing knives. The second: Funboy becomes a pin cushion filled with morphine needles. In fact, this calls for a little Leonard Cohen:

And who by fire?
Who by water?
Who in the sunshine?
Who in the night-time?

The invention displayed in these moments of revenge is spell-binding. The moment Draven shoots stolen engagement rings out of a pawned shot-gun to take down a crooked fence always gives me chills.

A coiled serpent of a super villain, Top Dollar delivers some of the most memorable comic-horror moments ever.  With his crazy-beautiful gangster moll Myca (Bai Ling) at his side, his speech to the city’s crime bosses is the nihilistic equivalent of the “enthusiasms” speech De Niro gave in The Untouchables (1987). “Greed is for amateurs. Chaos . . . now that’s fun! You know what they’ve got now? Devil’s Night greeting cards. Isn’t that precious?”

The violence is poetic, lyrical. The club scenes are stylized, dangerous and frenzied. The music is sublime, with songs from The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, and Pantera. Canadian Jane Siberry’s song “It Can’t Rain All the Time”, so hauntingly lovely that it hurts, runs over the end credits.

This is beautiful, chilling, dark film, a fitting legacy for Brandon Lee, and mandatory film for all goths (and other thinking people).

* * * * *

Rated R for a great amount of strong violence and language

102 minutes

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