The Crow, 1994. I don’t even know where to start to write about this cult movie which is so strongly related to the nineties, when I was a teenager. I used to hate the line “It can’t rain all the time“, which was written everywhere at school and on all the benches in town. Yet I liked the film, I liked it a lot! As a big Batman fan, I saw a lot of the gothic style that Tim Burton had infused into his 1989 film: a dark and dangerous city with buildings full of gargoyles spitting rain, a black and gloomy protagonist aided by a good cop, a bunch of crazy criminals to be eliminated without mercy, and a finale on top of a tower with the villain eventually flying to his death… There are so many similarities between the two movies!
I also had the first four issues of the James O’Barr comic on which the film was based and I remember reading and rereading them without ever getting tired. And then there were all those urban legends about Brandon Lee: the poor actor died in an accident on set (for details see below) playing a character about to get married just as he himself was about to get married with his girlfriend Eliza Hutton (the film is dedicated to them). In the pre-Internet era, there were rumors that he had been killed on purpose, that all was a publicity stunt, and much more nonsense like that.
In short, I’m getting down Memory Lane, so this won’t be in any way an objective review. I rewatched The Crow after twenty years and more since the last time and… I loved it. What can I do about it? I cried several times during the viewing, including during the finale, and I enjoyed everything I saw. Given the skimpy plot (the protagonist returns from the world of the dead to kill those who killed him and his girlfriend a year earlier), the film relies on the gothic atmosphere, on an amazing soundtrack (which includes the best song ever recorded by The Cure: Burn), and on several memorable scenes. This is not surprising, as Alex Proyas (who, in 1998, would also make the unfairly overlooked Dark City) came from the world of music videos so it wasn’t hard for him to shoot short, visually impressive scenes. Think of Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) playing the electric guitar on the roof, or the crow flying over the city, the burning gasoline in the shape of a crow, the evil Michael Wincott inhaling inhuman amounts of cocaine while his stepsister is busy burning human eyes, and Eric running on the roofs (yes, there are a lot of roofs in this movie)…
I find it impressive that Proyas and his collaborators managed to come up with a feature film out of four small comics basically devoid of dialogues. The movie characters may be over the top, but they’re certainly effective. The four material perpetrators of the murders of Eric and Shelly (Sofia Shinas) in the movie are the arsonist T-Bird (David Patrick Kelly, formerly in Walter Hill’s The Warriors, 1979), the knives’ lover Tin Tin (Laurence Mason), the coward Skank (Angel David), and morphine addict Funboy (Michael Massee, who involuntarily killed Brandon Lee and had nightmares about it until the day he died in 2016). Eric kills them one by one by making sure that each murder reflects their obsessions. And he also kills Top Dollar (Wincott) and Myca (Bai Ling) together with dozens of their henchmen!
But if the antagonists all have ridiculous names and act like eight-year-old kids (very violent ones), the film’s protagonists are all amazing: Eric, of course, but also agent Albrecht (Ernie Hudson, the Ghostbuster that no one remembers!) and Sarah (Rochelle Davis, another person whose life wasn’t easy after this movie). Each of these characters carries some hope in a very black world where criminals rule and the sun is nowhere to be seen. Do all directors who made video clips shoot films full of rain and darkness? Yes, I’m talking to you, my dear Fincher!
But I’m digressing. The Crow is for me a jewel of the nineties, a film that defined those years, a bit like grunge music or Friends, to name two random examples. It’s sad that it can only go down in history for being the film in which young Brandon Lee died, and this is probably the reason why I cried so much while watching the film (but who am I kidding? I cry even with biscuits ads!)…
And how did Brandon Lee die? Apparently, the production decided to save money and didn’t pay for a firearms consultant to be on set every day. Also, the most basic safety rules were ignored: for example, guns were really aimed at the actors (which is something to avoid, and directors can do that by shooting scenes in a safer way), the weapons were not thoroughly checked, and in some cases, instead of using dummy rounds, real bullets were used after removing the gunpowder in them. One of those bullets got stuck in the barrel of a gun which, later loaded with blank cartridges (i.e. with gunpowder but no bullet), was used in the scene where Eric enters his apartment and finds the four criminals raping Shelly. When the blank was fired, the bullet stuck in the barrel was ejected at great speed and hit poor Brandon Lee in the chest. He was rushed to the hospital, but despite six hours under surgery he died in a North Carolina hospital.
It was an accident, no one was deemed responsible. Negligence was responsible, actually. I would add that it doesn’t help that on set apparently huge amounts of cocaine were consumed, similar to those consumed by Top Dollar and company in the movie, but I suppose that this can be said of many other films in which, luckily, no one died (I remember an interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger in which he said that in the eighties you found cocaine in the dressing room and it was part of the contract).
In short, after Lee’s death, the film was completed with Chad Stahelski filming the missing Eric scenes (and that’s why there are so many point of view shots, and shots with the protagonist’s feet and shoulders). Stahelski would then go on and achieve a well-deserved success with his recent John Wick films (the first came out in 2014).
And that’s how I close my review of The Crow, inevitably talking about the loss of Brandon Lee who died at 28 on a movie set. It freaks me out to think about how it happened, and I feel a bit sad when I think about this movie which for me remains a good revenge movie that certainly deserves being watched more than 25 years after its release. Ciao!