The history surrounding The Crow is wrought with tragedy. The story itself is devastating, but knowing how the narrative came to be and the subsequent death of Brandon Lee during filming of the adaptation gives The Crow an upsetting uniqueness.
Inspired by the tragic loss of his fiancé at the hands of a drunk driver, writer James O’Barr wrote and illustrated a comic book named The Crow in an effort to cope with the horrific loss he endured. O’Barr first enlisted in the Marines as a way to deal with the tragedy, but began work on the comic book whilst stationed in Germany in the 80s.
The comic book centres around Eric Draven, a young man who is brutally assaulted alongside his fiancée Shelly by a gang of street thugs after their car breaks down. Eric is paralyzed after being shot in the head, having to endure watching Shelly being viciously beaten and raped, both being left for dead. One year later, Draven is resurrected by a crow which acts as a guide for Draven’s need for retribution against those who killed his fiancée and himself.
In 1994, director Alex Proyas expanded upon the narrative through a film adaptation of the same name. Here the story differs somewhat. The murder/resurrection/vengeance plot is still there, albeit in a different form. In the film, rock star Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and his fiancée Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) are murdered by a gang in their Detroit apartment on Devil’s Night (October 30) the night before their wedding, which was to be on Halloween.
A year later, Eric is once again resurrected by a crow. The crow leads him back to his now derelict apartment and proceeds to have flashbacks to the murder of himself and Shelly. He remembers who is responsible; that being T-Bird and his gang: Tin Tin, Funboy and Skank. He goes through the pain of seeing Shelly being beaten and raped once again just as he enters their apartment. The gang proceed to kill Eric whilst he tries to save Shelly, and is ultimately stabbed, shot and thrown out their apartment window.
At this point, a montage ensues leading to Eric’s realisation that any wounds he sustains heal immediately due to his unique connection to the crow that resurrected him. From there, the film plays out mostly to the same beat as the comic book, with the crow acting as Eric’s guide to avenge his and Shelly’s deaths.
Dirty, grungy, and mixed with a gothic rock aesthetic, The Crow is one of the most remarkably distinctive comic book adaptations of the 1990s. Brandon Lee is phenomenal as Eric, who would most certainly of gone on to be a hugely successful actor if it weren’t for his tragic demise on set. But I don’t want to dwell on that. The Crow acts as a final showcase to his talents, and cements his legacy as a remarkable actor in his own right rather than just the son of Bruce Lee.
The film itself is stunning. It’s obvious the amount of time and care that Proyas and his team put in to create the atmosphere that O’Barr created, with the added melancholy of Lee protruding out of every frame. The narrative is fast-paced and to the point, without leaving you hanging. Eric methodically killing his and Shelly’s five perpetrators takes up the majority of the plot, leaving just Eric’s devastation of losing Shelly and him being able to properly say goodbye to Sarah- a young girl that Eric and Shelly used to take care of due to her mother’s drug habit.
There is nothing in this film that I can fault. Watching the newest DC film, Suicide Squad reminded me of The Crow in a lot of its aesthetics, and especially the way in which it tries to incorporate its soundtrack in every frame. The Crow also does this, using songs that not only match the aesthetic, but actually lend a hand at setting the scene rather than producing an hour and a half long music video. It sticks to one genre – industrial rock – to fit the grimey streets of the industrial and disregarded inner city of 90s Detroit.
A remake of The Crow has been in talks since 2008. If they successfully go through with it, I’ll be heartbroken. How on earth studios think this needs a remake is beyond me, but the tragedy that surrounds this film and its original source material can only be made once. It’s not something to monetize like they did with its abysmal sequels.
Do me a favour. If The Crow is eventually remade; don’t see it. Stay at home, read the comic book and watch the original instead. You’ll be better for it.
Watch how the film and comic book flow seemlessy into each other below (Spoiler warning).
The Crow (1994), directed by Alex Proyas, is distributed by Miramax films, certificate 18.