The Crow (1994): Brandon Lee’s Swan Song

Cover of "The Crow (Miramax/Dimension Col...
Cover via Amazon

The Crow originally started life as a 1989 graphic novel by James O’Barr. The novel was darkly Gothic and had an almost ‘punk rock’ edge to it’s already  heavy metal dressing. That O’Barr is a genius goes without saying and it was only a matter of time before someone realized that his novel needed to be brought to life on the ‘big screen.’

Using the graphic novel as a starting point, David J Schow and John Shirley co-wrote the screenplay that Alex Proyas would work from as he directed the film. The cast was of a good calibre. Brandon Lee (in pretty much his best ‘starring’ role to date as Eric Draven) Ernie Hudson, Michael WincottRochelle Davis, Bai LingDavid Patrick Kelly and Tony Todd.

Perhaps best known as the film that Brandon Lee died on (he was accidentally shot  by a ‘prop’ gun that had been handled incorrectly) the film has gone on to become a cult favourite. It is arguable as to whether the film would ever have reached the heights of popularity that it enjoys had Brandon Lee not died during the filming. I personally believe that the film would have still built a firm fan-base just because it captures O’Barr’s world so well.

Eric Draven and his fiancée Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) are just two more casualties of Detroit’s Devils Night, a night that Top Dollar (Wincott) and his gang attempt to burn and destroy as much of Detroit as possible. They also terrorise the local inhabitants in their pursuit of destruction.

On the one year anniversary of their deaths, Eric claws his way out of his grave and follows a crow (who as his talisman, makes him impregnable to pain and death) back to his and Shelly’s apartment. Once there Eric gets flashbacks of what happened that night. He puts on the make-up of a black and white harlequin and goes to exact revenge on the gang who raped and murdered his fiancée

Along the way he bumps into police Sargent Albrecht (Hudson) and street urchin Sarah (Davis) who both recognise him as the deceased Eric. As he hands out personal retribution to each gang member on his way to Top Dollar (Wincott), Dollar’s right-hand woman, Myca (Ling) discovers that Eric’s power comes from the crow. Top Dollar and Myca work out an ambush where they intend to destroy the bird and Eric.

The Crow is darkly beautiful. It’s Gothic imagery reaches out to you from the screen. The inhabitants of this dark, wet and depressing world ane bigger than life and just as jaded. Everyone except for the films ‘good’ guys are in search of excitement and meaning to their lives. Cop Albrecht lost a crucial part of himself on the night that he watched Shelly Webster die, Sarah the street urchin lost her mother (figuratively)  and the only people who cared about her, Eric and Shelly.

The villains of the film are all in search of excitement via destruction and death. They inhabit this world vicariously through drugs and boredom and a certain level of insanity.

Brandon Lee as Eric Draven aka The Crow RIP

The soundtrack of the film is probably the best I’ve ever heard, including songs from The Cure (whose song Burn became the films main anthem and was not included on the soundtrack or on The Cure’s album as a sign of respect for Brandon Lee), Nine Inch Nails, among others and the overall feel of the music was like the film dark, gritty, and Gothic.

My only complaint about the film would be that actor Tony Todd could have been in the film a bit more. Just a personal preference of mine, I hasten to add and I adore the man’s work.

Overshadowed by Brandon Lee’s death, this Independent film has managed to overthrow the stigma and continues to gain in popularity. At one point it was listed as one of the top 500 films of all time (468th). Some of the actors were not so lucky. The young Rochelle Davis who performed so outstandingly as Sarah has never worked in the industry again. She was extremely close to Brandon Lee and his death affected her the most.

Brandon Lee
Brandon Lee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Actor Michael Massee who actually discharged the pistol that killed Lee was so upset that he took a year long sabbatical from the entertainment world to get over it. When investigations regarding the incidents that led up to Lee’s death concluded, it appeared that a series of errors and misunderstandings combined with poor prop control all contributed to Lee’s death.

There was talk at one point of re-making the film with more emphasis being placed on realism and giving the film an almost documentary feel. This has apparently been shelved indefinitely as most of the main players involved with the intended re-make have dropped out of the project.

Another reason a re-make may not happen any time soon is the fact that the film has been beleaguered by several lawsuits that are still outstanding. Not only affecting the profit margins of the film but also hindering the chance of re-imagining the film.

Still, the original is just as great to watch now as it was when it was first released in 1994 and I cannot think of a better epitaph for the fine actor that Brandon Lee was becoming before his untimely death. Definitely a classic and a worthy film to have in your library.


Author: Michael Knox-Smith

World traveler, writer, actor, journalist. Cinephile who reviews films, television, books and interviews professionals in the industry. Member Nevada Film Critics Society

10 thoughts on “The Crow (1994): Brandon Lee’s Swan Song”

  1. Ah, at last we come to it, Mike. You’ve found a favorite of mine! 🙂 So much to be said about this film, and most of my friends practically worshipped the thing back in highschool. I didn’t find out until much later that the film was based on the graphic novel by O’Barr, and that the graphic novel, in turn, was inspired by several tragic events. O’Barr’s fiancee was killed by a drunk driver, and the loss was so unbearable that he’d hoped that by creating the artwork in the book, it would serve as a sort of therapy. Later, he read about a newly engaged couple having been murdered in Detroit over some cheap engagement ring, which clearly acted as inspiration also. Apparently, he’s never been able to get over what happened to his fiancee, and even in the film adaptation the loss really shows. It’s dark and brutal, but such an excellent movie. I’m afraid to ask though: How were the sequels…?

    1. The sequels ranged from forgettable to puerile. David Boreanaz was in the last one and apart from his presence there was no reason to watch the film. The first was the best and most watch-able. O’Barr was a truly fascinating character. He had more than his share of bad luck and rather than let it destroy him, he used his natural bent towards creativity as a therapy tool. 🙂

  2. This is another addition the the list of movies that don’t seem to have made it to this side of the pond, or if they did, got so little play time that most of us never heard about it. It isn’t a movie that seems to play on cable, either. Sounds interesting, rather like many of the books I read.