Wikipedia calls The Crow an American superhero film, but for me, it’s more a gothic horror/romance film. The Crow isn’t really a superhero, he’s an antihero who becomes like that because of circumstances. He reminds me more Darkman than Clark Kent.
The Crow is largely famous because it was Brandon Lee’s final motion picture due to his tragic and unnecessary death onset. But it also has a large cult following because of its style, storyline and the incredible performance Lee gives in the title role. The Crow is actually a great example of a gothic Neo-noir. The character of Eric Draven AKA The Crow, is like a gothic and a film noir character. Dark forces are at work in a world that he finds himself in not due to his own choices, but the actions of others. There are no ghouls, goblins or demons in The Crow, but the murderous criminals who kill Eric and his fiancée are no less evil and bloodthirsty.
The film tells the story of Eric, who along with his fiancée, Sally, is brutally murdered in his apartment by criminals who work for the occult obsessed Top Dollar. Eric rises from the grave to seek vengeance on Top Dollar and his gang of predatory thieves, as well as help the little girl, Sarah, who he and Sally cared for in life. Eric’s quest leads him to breaking the backbone of corruption in the dark, crime ravaged city, and avenge the death of his beloved.
I first watched The Crow with my older brother when I was in my mid teens, and I’ve loved it ever since. I was an emo teenager with a love of the gothic, and my brother knew that. He loved Bruce and Brandon Lee, and so it was a film that appealed to both of us. Even then I realised what a deeply layered performance Brandon Lee gives, and how the film is made all the better because of it. A lot of things work in The Crow, but it is Lee’s tragic and pathos infused portrayal of a man literally brought back from the dead to set things right, that anchors the entire film. I deeply lament the loss of both of the Lees, but especially Brandon, as he shows in this film that he was an extremely talented actor.
One of my favourite scenes in the film is when he says to Sarah, “It can’t rain all the time.” It could be a throwaway line, but the way Lee delivers it, it becomes a key phrase of the film. In the gothic, there is much darkness and death and pain, but there is also usually hope, forgiveness and the brightness of the future. The Crow, like many gothic novels such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, shows that the past cannot be changed, but the future can be if we choose for it to be so. The character of Darla shows this, too. Eric makes sure that she realises that she needs to stop neglecting her daughter and making poor decisions in her life. She changes because he gives her the opportunity, and the hard wake up call, to do so.
The Crow also illustrates gothic elements in its portrayal of the supernatural. In early gothic literature, such The Monk, the supernatural is an integral part of the story, and in later gothic novels, the supernatural still plays some part, such as Rochester and Jane Eyre’s psychic connection. In the film, Eric cannot die until he has completed his mission. There is a very memorable sequence where a two bit pawnbroker tries to shoot him, but Eric gleefully shows the bullets do him no harm. Also, Eric, of course, has a preternatural connection with the crow, a harbinger of death, but also a creature that, like Eric, exists in the plane between this life and the next.
Top Dollar’s lover, Myca, practices black magic and is seen to murder young women. She also tries to kill Eric’s familiar, the crow, but is bettered by it and killed. But she and Top Dollar both seem to harken the evil of times gone past, but combine it with the evil of the present. Their power seems to be both mystical and actual, due to their heavy involvement in dark forces and their control of a crime empire. The manner in which they both dress makes them appear to be involved in evil and black magic as well. The character of Myca is clearly a dark witch, as she seems to almost instantly understand the forces that compel Eric from his grave. The part is played excellently by Bai Ling, whose performance is both menacing and laconic, as if she is made heavy by her dark powers and also her lack of conscience. The combination of she and Michael Wincott as Top Dollar makes for truly disturbing villainy, as well as intensifying the gothic elements of the film.
The location of the film is that of Detroit, and it is city of darkness. The constant rain and darkness are reminiscent of both film noir and the gothic. The film takes place on Devil’s Night, which is the night before Halloween, a time of year when the veil between the world of the living and the dead is at its thinnest. This makes sense, as this is why Eric is able to rise from his grave and exist in the world of the living but also not comply with rules of the living world. The style of the film is a wonderful combination of the gothic and Neo noir, as is the character of The Crow, because Eric wears a long black coat like a male character from a 19th century gothic novel and clothes are like that of the 90s goths. Eric is also like a character in a film noir, especially a detective, because he is violent and disillusioned, but he is a symbol of justice in a world that seems to be devoid of it. There is also the character of Sgt. Albrecht, played by Ernie Hudson, who endeavours to maintain law and order, but the corruption and ineffective nature of the police force is also shown in the film, like that of film noir. In the gothic, a lack of order according to law, but usually laws of nature, are explored.
Overall, I think that The Crow is one of the finest cult films made, and also a very important film in both modern gothic and Neo noir. Lee’s performance is extremely poignant, and has rightly been praised in the years since the film was made. This film can be viewed at any time of the year, but it is perfect for Halloween and November. Critics praised the film highly upon its release, and so I will leave you with those positive reviews of this excellent film:
Roger Ebert: a stunning work of visual style
Rolling Stone: dazzling fever dream of a movie
New York Times: a genre film of a high order, stylish and smooth
Washington Post: [Lee] haunts every frame
This is my final review for my Gothic Horror Blogathon, please click here to read all of the other contributions by the wonderful bloggers who have taken part with ink stained fingers and cobwebs on their brow.