This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “The Crow.”
The Movie: “The Crow”
Starring: Brandon Lee, Michael Wincott, Ernie Hudson
Director: Alex Proyas
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A man brutally murdered comes back to life as an undead avenger of his and his fiancée’s murder.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 82 percent
Froemming: Alright, it is October. The leaves are turning colors and are falling from trees, people are carving grotesque images into pumpkins and all this means that Halloween is just around the corner. And since Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, we decided to make this month “Halloween Month” here at the JOE-DOWN.
And for the first pick, I decided to go a little easy on Brown, who made two critical mistakes in life: One was telling me he doesn’t care for horror films. The other was making me sit through a film about magic pants. I decided to revisit the film that turned me (briefly) onto an insufferable goth phase in my early teens, and also helped introduce me to some amazing bands of the time (Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, Pantera, Rage Against The Machine, to name a few on this soundtrack). I picked “The Crow,” a film that probably has kept Hot Topic stores in business longer than they ever should have.
But before we fire it up, Fire It Up, FIRE IT UP! with this review, Brown, what was your first thoughts on this Brandon Lee vehicle (also, RIP Brandon Lee, who was killed on set of this film)?
Brown: My experience with “The Crow” is nil. Yeah, I listened to Nine Inch Nail, Rage Against the Machine and Stone Temple Pilots, but that was the result of having an older brother, not a man/zombie/bird person in face paint.
As far as the character of The Crow, the only thing I could think of this entire movie was late ‘90s WCW, with professional wrestler Sting rappelling down from the rafters in black and white face paint and eerie theme music. In fact, I kept getting mad that The Crow wasn’t jumping onto his foes and demanding a title shot against “Hollywood” Hogan.
With all that out of the way, I’ll let you open this up, Froemming.
Froemming: The film opens up with Detroit burning, which was refreshing to see that city hasn’t changed in 22 years. The city is on fire because it is Devil’s Night, where gangs burn down buildings and cause a lot of trouble for Ernie Hudson (Sergeant Albrecht). We also see the brutal aftermath of the murder/rape of Shelly Webster and the murder of her fiance, Eric Draven at the hands of T-Bird and and his gang the night before their wedding.
Yeah, they were getting married on Halloween, something almost straight out of a Cure song.
We then cut to one year later, when Eric Draven rises from the dead with the help of a crow, who aids him on his revenge upon those who wronged him.
Brown: A couple things about my notes in this movie. First, I didn’t realize it was Detroit until I saw a synopsis of the plot. I thought it was Los Angeles and kept noting that there would be massive floods in LA if it rained as much as it does in this movie. Second, I did not remember Ernie Hudson’s name at all in this movie. I know The Crow referred to it at one point, but I didn’t remember it. Knew it started with an A, though.
Now, we get this weird premise with the crow (the bird, not our hero. I’ll name the bird Skarsgard from here on out, because why not?) with an intro about a crow taking a soul to peace. But sometimes, that soul is not at peace, and sometimes the crow returns a soul to a body to undo any injustices. … Right. Dumb hero origin story.
Also, and this bugged me the whole movie: Our main character is named Eric Draven. Draven. Take out the D. RAVEN. Call him The Raven. He even quotes Edgar Allen Poe later in the movie (26 minutes in, to be exact). But no, we need to shoehorn our mythology of crows to put Skarsgard into the film.
Froemming: Yeah, but calling it The Raven would be a little too on the nose I guess.
Now, we see T-Bird and his crew (Funboy, Skank, Tin-Tin) at a bar drinking booze and bullets. Now, I understand they are supposed to be psychopaths and whatnot, but passing a bullet while going to the bathroom sounds like a hell I don’t even want to imagine.
But they are celebrating Devil’s Night, their night to reign chaos upon the city. We also see Albrecht at a hotdog stand telling the vendor how to properly garnish a dog. Look, Albrecht, Micky there doesn’t come to your job and tell you how to get demoted. Don’t tell him how to do his job.
Brown: It bugged me more that the hot dog guy was going on about how terrible the world is like he was Glen from “Wayne’s World.” Dude, just make Ernie’s processed “meat.”
We are also joined by Sarah, who was, you assumed, orphaned a year ago because Shelly and Eric were the ones taking care of her (we learn Sarah’s mom is alive, but she’s an unreliable junkie).
And Ernie’s just sitting there with Sarah, a girl who’s skateboarding late at night in a city that goes up in flames every year. I think she would be better served in the foster care system.
But wait! Skarsgard lands on a headstone and Eric Draven is allowed to rise from his grave like the “Altered Beast” guys. Good to know our hero is a zombie.
Froemming: It is also good that Eric Draven’s stuff is still at his apartment A YEAR LATER. I don’t know how Detroit renting works, but I’m pretty sure that place would have had new tenants a week after the murders.
Brown: Absolutely! That is a roomy apartment with big windows that look over the city. If Patrick Bateman’s landlord could clean up his murder condos in “American Psycho,” this landlord could have cleaned this place up and sold it. Then zombie Eric could have interrupted some WASP family’s dinner.
Froemming: This odd plot hole aside, I did enjoy his painted face montage here to the tune of The Cure’s “Burn.” There are some pretty great images in this film, and this scene has a few of them that now adorn every mopey teen’s (who is really into Joy Division) wall as a poster.
Brown: And aside from rising from his grave and getting cuts on his hands (stigmatas!) when seeing the window he fell out of, we get our Jesus symbolism out of the way.
Now, we find out he ripped off Wolverine’s powers of healing when the stigmatas go away almost instantaneously. But then he has the ability to see what Skarsgard sees as well? This is where I debated if The Crow was pretty cool or lame as hell.
At least when Brandon Lee acts, the character is actually pretty magnetic and has an aura of cool around him. When The Crow is quiet and conveying moody, he’s very lame. Also, when he threatens the Macho Man and the NWO with a baseball bat, he’s really… wait, I got my Crows mixed up again. Sorry.
Froemming: To touch on that a bit. Lee is very charismatic at moments in this film, and there are scenes when he comes off as human and likeable, especially later on in Albrecht’s apartment. And I think Zack Snyder should take a note here: You can have a very dark film and have moments of lightness/humor. This film is dark in tone and is actually always dark on screen because everything takes place at night and is always raining, because that was the ‘90s. Also, I believe this was the first R-rated comic book film I saw.
Now, Skarsgard works as Draven’s eyes in the sky, because Detroit is a big city and he can’t randomly know where the people on his kill list are. The first one Skarsgard sees is Tin-Tin, a knife-wielding member of T-Bird’s gang, who is pestering Gideon at his pawn shop.
Brown: In this, Tin-Tin treats Shelly and Eric’s murder like it was any other day, which is always a good villain monologue (it was better then it came from Raul Julia in “Street Fighter”). And with revenge burning in his zombie heart, Eric kills Tin-Tin… by putting a knife through Tin-Tin’s organs in alphabetical order. First off, that’s premeditated murder, not a crime of passion. Also, Eric is pretty well-versed in the human body for a guy who plays in a rock band. Wouldn’t have expected that. Last, how are the cops supposed to know he stabbed Tin-Tin’s organs in alphabetical order? They showed up afterwards with a bunch of knives plunged into Tin-Tin’s torso.
Froemming: Well, it was T-Bird who said the alphabetical order thing, and that was to his boss Top Dollar. I assume he was just being dramatic.
But Tin-Tin’s knife-riddled corpse is not all they find. Smeared in blood on a wall is an outline of a crow. Draven does this a lot, and leaving a symbol for only the police to find makes very little sense, since he is trying to strike fear into the gang that started this whole mess.
Also, what got the ball rolling that ended in Draven being shot and thrown out a window was that he and Shelly started a petition fighting tenant eviction. Remember folks, standing up for other people will only get you tossed out a window with a few rounds in your back. It is not worth it.
Brown: Yes, The Crow has to be a goth kid begging for attention with his blood crow drawing. You know what’s more effective? What he did immediately after: Go to Gideon’s pawn shop, get back Shelly’s wedding ring and blow up Gideon’s shop. THAT sends a message. Not graffiti that’ll wash off in this constantly-raining city.
Perhaps the most upsetting thing here was Eric taking a guitar from the pawn shop. Because we’re subjected to these weird musical interludes where he plays guitar on the rooftop of his old apartment. Not only would the neighbors kill him for that, he’s giving away where he’s hiding. But I guess T-Bird (who is played by David Patrick Kelly, the same guy who played the main antagonist in “The Warriors.” Thumbs up) isn’t that observant. He’s got buildings to burn down tomorrow, after all.
Froemming: We are also introduced to Top Dollar and his sister, who are intimate with one another and kill women to eat their eyeballs.
I totally forgot about that part, and man it is creepy. Not in a “horror movie” way, but in a “Deliverance” kind of way.
See, when Draven blew up the pawn shop with gasoline and wedding rings from the barrel of his gun (I’m no gun expert, but while that scene looks cool, I’m not sure the science is there on that one), it was a building burning not approved by Top Dollar. Now he wants answers, and probably some penicillin from the night before.
Brown: The Crow finds another T-Bird hench in Funboy, who is shooting up morphine with Sarah’s mother. To continue with his M.O., The Crow kills Funboy by injecting multiple needles into his torso, killing him via overdose. And it was here that I realized that all of these bad guys came from what had to be a ‘90s beat-’em-up video game name simulator.
Something I want to mention quick: The fight scenes and shootouts are pretty good in this movie. But did the stock sound effects throw you off as much as they did me? They stand out like a bad kung-fu movie.
Froemming: Not really. That is probably more to me having seen this film growing up and not recognizing stuff like that at the time.
Funboy’s death scene also carries some dark humor. I love how Draven plays on the guy’s drugged out state (freaking him out with his guitar), and when he causes Funboy to shoot himself in the leg, Funboy’s only concern was that he now had blood on his sheets. Again, Lee played this role pretty damn well.
We also have this scene just prior to Draven giving Sarah’s mom a moral shaming on motherhood in the bathroom, and he causes the morphine she was shooting up to ooze out of her track marks.
But now T-Bird and Skank are paranoid as word is spreading that their crew are dropping like flies.
Brown: Now, my favorite image of this movie: Ernie Hudson in his underwear STILL wearing his cop hat while reading over the Draven case file from a year ago. The Crow even points out how ridiculous this is. Anyhow, the big point of this interaction is Draven finding out that Ernie was by Shelly’s side the whole 30 hours she tried to stay alive in the hospital before succumbing to her wounds. He can apparently read Ernie’s mind (???) and feels Shelly’s pain in that time (???). At times, I think The Crow’s powers are made up on the spot like a six-year-old playing “The Avengers” on a playground. Hulk can fly now!
Froemming: Well, it was established pretty early in the film that anything related to the night he was murdered gives him flashbacks. But reading Ernie’s mind from events after he died, well that was just plain weird.
What is also weird is that Top Dollar’s sister, Myca, somehow figures out how Skarsgard and Draven are connected. No evidence or reason as to how and why she came up with this shockingly spot-on hypothesis, but she nails it right on the head. Take out Skarsgard, Draven loses his powers.
Brown: The only thing she has to go on is Gideon saying (before he is unceremoniously killed via sword in the throat) that there was a bird with Draven. Should have been a raven, but I digress. It’s such an absurd leap in logic to determine the bird’s super powers go to Draven. Also, birds don’t have powers, this isn’t Pokemon.
Froemming: Now T-Bird and Skank are out and about, and are preparing for the night’s festivities of burning the (REDACTED) city down. While Skank is getting some road beers, Draven carjacks T-Bird, and they go on a wild car chase with the local police and a very determined Skank, who should not have survived any of this.
This is the only scene where it really struck me that it was filmed after Lee’s death. As Draven is duct taping T-Bird to his car, and about to send him off to the fiery death he rightly deserves, you never see Lee’s face or hear him talking. It still works for the scene, and it was a great way to mask the situation with clever filming and editing, but it still stood out to me.
But hey, forget the dumb bloody logos of before. Here we get a huge fire outline of his calling card.
Brown: As someone who never saw “The Crow” before this week, I never caught the switches for when it was and wasn’t Lee. You having seen this movie, you probably had a keen eye for it. As a first-timer, the way they shot it, never stopped me in my tracks. So kudos, movie. Kudos.
After fiery crow logo, Eric has one more person to catch before he can end his zombie reign of terror and return to the afterlife: Skank. But he’s in hiding with Top Dollar, who is in the middle of a meeting with all the gangs of Detroit. Apparently Devil’s Night isn’t fun for him anymore, lighting 200-or-so fires in the city. Instead, he wants one BIG fire…
For as cool as The Crow is (most of the time, thanks to Lee), Top Dollar is such a cookie-cutter villain. He gives his Joker speech about how money and looting isn’t as fun as chaos and anarchy on Devil’s Night, so he wants it to be mayhem. OK, whatever. His arc seems so tacked on because a super hero going after a low-level gang of flunkeys would be unfulfilling, so he has to be our pipsqueak head honcho. If they devoted more time to Top Dollar, maybe it could have worked. But in what we got, he’s just kind of there.
Froemming: For sure, Top Dollar wasn’t much of a villain here. They tried to mix Joker-esque anarchy with a crime boss, and it really doesn’t work.
But hey, Skank is all sped up and freaking out. And Draven wants him dead, like 90 percent of the people watching so we don’t have to see this character anymore.
But Top Dollar has other plans. With this room filled with gang leaders, they will….shoot a man who has proven time and time again bullets do not affect him.
Brown: This is a man who has beaten gangsters, mouthy pawn-shop owners, junkies, Ric Flair, Big Van Vader, Cactus Jack … wait, wrong Crow again.
Anyhow, we get a decent gun fight here where I kept asking when someone was going to reload. Top Dollar, his sister and his henchman Grange (apparently. I looked it up on Wikipedia) get out alive, but Eric finally gets his revenge by hucking Skank out of a window.
The Crow finally has his peace and can finally die. … OR CAN HE?!
Froemming: Not yet! Because Top Dollar can’t let things go, he kidnaps Sarah and wants to kill a man who is already dead. Frankly, this end scene makes very little sense, but whatever, it still looks cool.
So Eric and Skarsgard have to go and save this little brat who should really be at home yelling at her junkie mom about eggs again. And Grange maims poor Skarsgard with a bullet, and Top Dollar’s sister tries to take it so she can….I don’t know, eat its eyeballs or something?
With Skarsgard cut down in his prime for the time being, Eric is now vulnerable to bullets and cannot heal right away, leveling the playing field for Top Dollar in a rooftop battle of the ages.
Brown: A few things before we go atop the building. First, Ernie Hudson shows up to help level the playing field… only to get shot in the gut. He wouldn’t have missed if he used a proton pack.
Next, yeah, what was the sister planning on doing with Skarsgard? I think she used the same logic that is used by Rafi from “The League” when he goes bear hunting: She’ll kill the crow, eat its heart and gain its wisdom? Who cares, she gets her eye pecked out and dies.
As far as the rooftop fight goes, I wrote this in my notes: This movie will be my favorite if one decapitates the other with a sword and says “There can be only one!”
Froemming: Well, we don’t get that, but we do get Eric giving Top Dollar Shelly’s hellish last hours coursing through his brain and tosses him off a…..
There are a lot of people being tossed off buildings in this film.
But Top Dollar dies, his sister gets her eyes ripped out and Eric gets to share a smoke with Hudson before he is allowed to finally rest in peace.
I don’t know about you, but I think it is time for us to fire it up on over to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Absolutely. The film has its flaws, but I think it has aged decently over the years. Lee is fantastic in it and the soundtrack is great. I’d rather sit through this than another Snyder-led DC film any day of the week.
Brown: Just off Brandon Lee’s performance alone, I’d recommend it. If you think too much about a movie (like we do here on the JOE-DOWN), then you will get annoyed. But regardless, this is a good ‘90s action flick/popcorn movie.
Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: