Top 3 Reasons To Love The Crow (1994)
In my opinion this movie isn't talked about enough, and it's absolutely disrespectful of some of you.
We can call this a comic book film adaptation, can't we? Because then I could call this movie, like, part of my top five comic-to-movie adaptations of all time.
The Crow is a haunting, magnetic film that exudes nearly as much darkness as its film sets portray. I don't remember when I first saw this movie, but I saw it only once in my life, prior to obsessively searching for it in DVD bins and snagging it a month ago. It stuck with me in such a way that was so blazingly clear that I feel a small shiver between my shoulder blades everytime I look at the DVD case (I have far less fond memories of its sequels that I saw too much of . . . but I digress). Reading the original graphic novel, that raw suckerpunch of emotion is even more gripping, but the novel really needs its own separate analysis and that might be a story for later. I'll be bringing in pieces of the novel though to highlight or contrast certain portions of the film, but really this is just going to be an almost embarrassing gush fest about how much I fucking love The Crow, and why you should love it too.
Let's take it step by step. It'll be easy. There's only three of them.
A Perfect Goth Film.
No I will not be taking questions, at all.
Dark clothes, dark city, dark hearts and an exceptional use of black lipstick. I mean Eric Draven came back from the dead to brutally murder everyone who helped create the horrific and brutal end of him and his beloved fiance Shelley. Is that not the very essence of Gothic media? Like from the first two minutes of the film, you're in it. There's no easy wade in towards the meat of the movie, I mean you're there at the crime scene watching the beloved anti-hero's corpse being covered and his true love painfully slipping away. The viewer knows from the get-go that there won't be a "happy" ending or restorative justice (there certainly is retribution). There's a little girl who is all too familiar with unfairness and loneliness, and understands very well that this is the end of what she had held so dearly. A city is engulfed in flames and one man watches with the painful but well chewed over knowledge that it will continue to burn even past his time on Earth.
It's the way that this movie is very careful to ration out their portion of comfort in this film. The terrifying way Eric comes back, how cold and alone he is as he remembers what became of him and Shelley. Those flashbacks to her brutalization and his death were painful in how you could see that he badly wanted to save her. To stop her pain and humiliation, and had to suffer watching it as she endured it before he came to his end. In the graphic novel it's actually perhaps a little more merciful. Eric and Shelley are just random victims of circumstance, and Eric is shot twice in the head and killed first before he has to see what becomes of Shelley. In some way though, Shelley's fate sort of remains the same in both medias; lingering in agony, knowing that for the moment she is without Eric . . . in the novel she's killed by the thugs finally with a gunshot to the head, but in the movies she dies in the ICU after 30 hours.
It's always raining in that city lined with grime and bone, so in a literal sense it's quite dark. Of course, Crow doesn't work in the daylight- doesn't fit with his aesthetic, and Eric Draven is rather particular about aesthetic . . . as suits a dead rockstar honestly. More crying about his aesthetic will come in another section so let's move on then- I mean even the lighting! When possible it's minimal, otherwise it's so bright as to almost make Eric seem ghastly. Which, I mean he is . . . he's a . . . . corporeal ghost? This isn't a man who cares about mortal comforts anymore, he's here to stain the night with the blood of those who wronged him, and that's not really something you wanna do in bright light. Looks gross, not as cool.
I guess what I love so much about the atmosphere his how incredibly real it is. Like, the people aren't almost cartoonish in their despair and their grit. Nor is anyone really caterwauling or looking to the stars with overflowing hope. It's just . . . this is their home; it's dirty and grimy, and sure things kind of suck but that's life and they've found their ways to go through it. No wisp-of-a-dreamy woman looking forlornly out windows wishing for a better world, or a bitter man remarking on the evils of his life. The dreamer woman died horrifically and there are dozens of bitter men in this movie, which is likely how this all got started. His conversation with Officer Albrecht about their final fate, and Shelley's last moments, were so melancholy and a great viewing into the grief of a worn man. No matter what he's done, what he'll keep doing, and no matter what condolences or words someone can give him, the reality doesn't change that he couldn't save Shelley or himself. He never got to get married to his true love. The happy ending would have been the two getting their wedding and living happily ever after. I won't classify successful revenge as a happy ending, but it certainly is satisfying.
I say that, and yet . . . ! Yet there are moments of lightness. There are moments of tenderness. Eric's care for Shelley and the obvious struggle he feels knowing he'll have to leave her alone. Even as a spirit sent only for death and pain, he never once fails to grasp the emotional complexity of his resurrection. He hesitates, but ultimately accepts the last loving moments he can share with Sarah, and does his best to ensure she can be taken care of even after he's left. He advises Albrecht to reconcile with his wife if he still loves her, because time is never a guarantee. There are moments in this film where we can kind of infer that, just maybe, Eric is gaining some closure about his and Shelley's fate . . . but maybe I'm just projecting. Maybe finding soft moments doesn't have anything to do with that, and it's more just Eric's ability to find the good in a situation. He's always saying, "It can't rain all the time."
Probably one of the greatest soundtracks of all time, and continues to age flawlessly. A film without music is strange nowadays; music gives us a sense of timing, of mood and structure that goes even deeper than what our eyes perceive on the screen. Johan Johannsson, prolific film composer who worked on Sicario and Arrival, has a very fitting quote for this:
"When I make film music, I'm a filmmaker first and foremost . . . You tell the story with the most appropriate themes."
And the most appropriate themes here were, dark, grungy, iconic rock bands. I mean you're talking about a finely crafted soundtrack here- The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, Stone Temple Pilots, and so many other absolute legends?! The whole soundtrack is just a work of art unto itself. In combination with the movie, it damn near leaves me breathless. This soundtrack is 90% rock tracks, and it's perfect that way because Eric is a dead rockstar. The thing that so captured him in life would of course perfectly encapsulate his death.
The Cure stays winning at all levels, but whooo! They did something with "Burn". In fact it's almost a little too seductive, but we'll allow it on account of the already suspiciously alluring leather and rain.
Oh it doesn't matter how you hide/ We'll find you if we're wanting to . . ./ So slide back down and close your eyes/ Sleep awhile you must be tired.
Are you kidding me? You know how good this song hits during a summer storm? Or in the dark with one candle on?! I'm speechless. And the lyrics of this are so close to what it is that The Crow represents. Unstoppable vengeance, a dark spirit full of malice, and shadows that won't hide you. Ugh, my little goth heart just loves it!
I think why there is such a uniquely beautiful relationship between the music and the film in this movie that's so rare in others is owed in part to Alex Proyas. His work in music videos for bands like Sting and INXS, I think, really shown through in how the film came out. It was like the actors, and especially Brandon Lee, moved to the music . . . for the music, if that makes sense? There was almost this feeling like the movie was made for the music, rather than the music being made for the movie. Which, fun fact, James O'Barr was heavily inspired by The Cure and Joy Division while writing The Crow graphic novel.
So it all just kind of melded together so wonderfully. The bleak atmosphere of the film was supposed to inspire the kinds of moody, dark feelings that The Cure and Joy Division inspire in its fans, and luckily enough there were plenty other bands who could carry that feeling even further and give it another delicious edge. That edge carried through even in the parts without music, or parts that weren't action packed and yet still held weight due to the music and the juxtaposition of soul baring music with seedy city underbelly- for example, like when Medicine's Time Baby III was being crooned out to a grooving audience, yet just upstairs the crime boss of the city was being skeevy and pretentious. Like, yes, sometimes it rains inside my head, but some dude really wants to set everything on fire so . . . contrasts. We love it.
Also, shoutout to the writers for always adding little tidbits of the importance of music in Eric's life instead of just going, "Yeah he was a . . . a rockstar . . ." and never mentioning it again. Love that plotline follow through, flesh out my characters, please.
The only time there's an orchestral piece is the song that's supposed to be for Eric and Shelley. That sweet, lilting piece that plays whenever Eric thinks of Shelley, or when you're reminded of the blazing love that colored their lives until the end. Which is honestly a perfect decision, because if I recall correctly that's the only orchestral piece in the movie? So most of it is rock, there might be one synthesized track during the gang massacre scene, and then Eric's sweet love is given the sweet violin piece. It's even the last thing that plays at the movie, when Eric finally returns to rest with Shelley, and Sarah can walk away without being drenched in rain and at peace with the loss of her friends. The music direction in this movie was just phenomenal. Immaculate, I'd even go so far to say.
Eric Draven's Aesthetic
Yeah, you're damn right I made this a separate reason on its own!
No, the sum total of Eric Draven's aesthetic is not Brandon Lee's jawline or facial bone structure. Have some decency, really.
It's the hair.
Jesus Christ on Saturn's rings, the fucking hair and makeup team had fun. Those . . . perfect waves?! I've never seen water bless someone's hair the way that rain did Brandon's hair, and I don't know that I ever will again. I'm. I'm actually upset at how his hair can start off plastered to his skull but then about just before jaw level they burst into perfectly chaotic, lustrous waves? What hair product was doing that?! Was it Keracare? John Paul Mitchell?
Personally I go back to when he found Funboy, because that's where I feel you're getting the best angles to look at his hair. Runner up scene is the Albrecht discussion; listen the hair falling in front of the heavily shadowed eyes is just something I think should be immortalized. Whatever.
Really the majority of the aesthetic comes from Eric's, I suppose you could say charm? His charisma.
For example: On his first excursion out, he breaks into Gabe's Pawn Shop with arms outstretched and quotes a stanza from Edgar Allen Poe's poem "The Raven". Like, alright dude, you got the facepaint on and hella leather but we're going even further? I love the ambition! The drive! Following that up with telling Gabe it was Tin-Tin who "confided in me before his last breath." Sir! No need to wax poetic to this scumbag but we sure do appreciate it! This is absolutely a man who knows that the only things he had left to lose were viciously ripped from him, and therefore, very little matters at this point except to fulfill the mission he was brought back for. So, if that's the case, why not truly enjoy the opportunity?
That's sort of direct from the graphic novel where Eric was one of maybe two characters in that whole novel who were practically poets in comparison to the rest of the characters. Which, actually, is one thing I'm really grateful they didn't keep for the movie because- well, that was one negative criticism I had with the novel, read it and you'll see why. Still, even with everyone else kind of keeping the normal lingo of the 90's, Eric makes sure to stand out with some splendid repartee that added a sinister charm while he was allowing people to come to the slow realization that they couldn't kill him. This movie was here I heard that Christ joke for the first time, and I was almost scandalized with every other aspect of that scene combined.
It's the unapologetically dramatic way Eric comes into a scene. Perched, bird like, on some rickety railing or a rooftop waiting for his next target. Magnificent. Randomly deciding to use his forehead to caress a lightbulb and look down his cheekbones at someone? The artistry. That thing he did where he crossed his legs mid-jump to sit on top of a table?! Come on, Draven! Stunt on 'em!
I don't know folks, I just really vibe with his aesthetic. Man really used a lightning rod, looking like some kind of makeshift keyblade, to battle a katana-wielding drug kingpin. Eric Draven would have some of the wildest pinterest boards ever. His Tumblr would be Hello Kitty mosh pits and freestyle jam sessions on Tik Tok, no one question me on this. Also his choice of calling cards is just exceptional, done only by someone with an artistic eye. Do y'all think he painted? I think he was a hobby painter.
Like, the overdose for Funboy? Outlined a whole crow with the man's own blood in between the deeply imbedded needles. The fire-made outline of a crow made after he blew up T-bird in his own car- I mean it was just inspired of him. The pure dramatic flair of goading a whole gang meeting to shoot him up, then playing hide and seek for the first three kills is almost disgusting in its smugness and I'm here for it. I just bet the live shows for Hangman's Joke were incredible. Lots of audience interaction, improv guitar solos, the works.
It's just . . . sort of amazing what Brandon Lee was able to do with this movie. You know how there's this sort of joke where some people were born to play some roles? Like, Ryan Reynolds was born to play Deadpool, or Chadwick Boseman was born to have played Black Panther. Well I think Brandon Lee was born to play The Crow, and I don't know what other role could have fit him more perfectly than that (Husband. Most definitely).