The Crow (1994)

Directed by Alex Proyas; Written by David J. Schow and John Shirley

When camp and goth collides.

At its best, The Crow is a cult hit. At its worst, it’s something seen though cringing eyes with second-hand embarrassment prodding at your innards. I imagine which camp you fall into depends on your given mood, and/or how deep in the bag you are.  

It’s a story of revenge, with Brandon Lee starring as Eric Draven (The Raven, get it guys!?), the lead singer in a moody boy band who is murdered alongside his girlfriend the night before Halloween by a bunch of drugged-out thugs, but is brought back to life under supernatural circumstances to exact his satisfying revenge. 

Suddenly invulnerable, skilled in hand-to-hand combat and gunplay, and wearing discarded Kiss makeup, he stalks the night as a menace to those who wronged him, only stopping intermittently to cry over his lost love so that we don’t forget the tender humanity that’s at the root of all this carnage. 

The Crow is an adaption of James O’Barr’s comic book series of the same name, and some parts of this film naturally inherits some of the medium’s mannerism: larger-than-life characters whose extravagance has no room for nuance and gives birth to questionable dialogue, which is overacted by a vast majority of the cast. There’s an overflow of gratuitous violence that is well-choreographed, and it’s wrapped in a hellish cityscape that falls someplace between Gotham in Batman (1989) and Dark City (1998), the latter also by director Proyas. It’s a film of excess, and credit to the filmmakers: The Crow is a B-movie with A-movie production quality. 

Comic book films are allowed the excesses described above, because they are daydreams committed to paper, or in this case, revenge fantasies. They don’t, however, get to take themselves seriously to the point that The Crow does. Director Proyas frequently flashbacks to the heady moments of love between Eric and Shelly in order to lend some substance to the film with the tragedy of what was lost, but he also has a scene where Eric gets up on the roof of his apartment building to shred on his guitar as the city burns around him.  

It’s always a letdown when the presentation is what a film has going for it rather than the content itself, and in the case of The Crow, it’s sad boi goth wrapped in camp theatricality asking you to treat it like it’s Gladiator. Nothing good comes from revenge, and The Crow is unwittingly proof of that. 

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