The 101 Action Movies brings this dark, goth, ultraviolent actioner based on the comic by James O’Barr.
A film now infamous for and overshadowed by the death of its lead actor, Brandon Lee, on-set, it is still, in fact, a wonderfully made film, taut in its script and characterizations, and brutal in its action sequences.
Eric Draven (Lee) and his wife-to-be Shelly (Sofia Shinas) are beaten, and murdered on Devil’s night, the eve before Halloween, and their planned wedding. However, as we’re told in the film’s opening voiceover by Sarah (Rochelle Davis), sometimes there is so much sorrow, and love tied to a death, that a crow will escort the soul back to extract its revenge on those who ruined its life.
Climbing from his grave 1 year after his death, Draven seeks to wreak vengeance on those who destroyed his and Shelly’s lives, stalking each member of a gang of thugs, dealing out death in an increasingly violent way, until at last, he faces off against the criminal leader of the city’s underworld, Top Dollar (played by the gravelly-voiced Michael Wincott) on the roof of a church.
The film is viciously violent, as Draven walks the streets of this altered Detroit, taking down Tin Tin (Laurence Mason) with his own knives, Funboy (Michael Masse), Skank (Angel David) and eternally cast as a villain, David Patrick Kelly as T-Bird.
Top Dollar listens to the stories of this undead avenger with skepticism, though his step-sister/lover Myca (Bai Ling) puts more weight to it, while Grange (Tony Todd)), as his right hand man, watches impassively from behind his glasses.
The film deals with some tried and true subjects, love and vengeance, and framing it with the supernatural bent of Draven returning from the dead, makes it almost a ghost story, something that both Sarah and Sergeant Albrecht (Ernie Hudson) comment on over a hot dog dinner.
Draven actually does very well taking down his enemies, until Sarah is grabbed by Top Dollar, and has Draven’s accompanying familiar, a crow, shot, turning the previously invincible Eric mortal again.
The film is beautifully shot, with fantastic model work, fantastic rooftop sets, and a dazzling performance by Lee, hinting at what may have followed had he lived.
Proyas has a knack for making noir goth-heavy films as both The Crow and Dark City illustrate, and he makes it look beautiful. In the case of The Crow, one could imagine that the framing of the shots, could echo the panels of a comic book, and the images are perfectly captured moments – Eric playing guitar against a blood-red sky as the sun sets, the crow flying far above the action, giving us a bird’s-eye view of a deadly car chase, lighting up a flame-soaked silhouette on the pavement…
This is still a highly enjoyable, if very violent action film, that has stood the test of time very well, and still works to this day, I think because it embraces those basic concepts that we as people know so well. Although, I think it’s time we have a female crow return from the dead and extract her vengeance…