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Empire List #468: The Crow

With the DVD market slowly crumbling away to make way for Blu-ray, you can sometimes find a really good movie at a cheap price while browsing at HMV. I made such a find last summer in Quebec City while I still had money left from my tax returns. In hindsight, maybe I should have been saving every cent I had for college, but sometimes you just can’t argue with that voice in your head that says “Buy it, it’s on sale.” Plus, we’re talking about “The Crow” here and I had wanted to see this one for years.

From Alex Proyas, the director of “Dark City” and “I, Robot,” the crow is infamous for being the last movie starring Brandon Lee, son of legendary martial arts expert Bruce Lee. An accident with a stunt gun cost the life of the late actor, but that did not stop Proyas from making a successful adaptation of J. O’Barr’s comic book (or graphic novel, take your pick).

Lee plays guitarist Eric Draven who, like all heroes in comic books, suffers the loss of a loved one sending him on the road to vengeance. His fiancée Shelly (Sofia Shinas) is brutally raped and murdered by a group of thugs on the day before Halloween, also known as Devil’s Night. But here is the twist: Draven is murdered as well. No radioactive spiders give him superpowers, no gamma bombs turn him into a green giant, and he doesn’t have billions to hunt down criminals in batmobile. However, one year later to the day of his murder, a crow lands on his grave and Draven arises from the dead.

From the point of view of the criminals who wronged him this is a horror story. Bullets cannot kill Draven since he is already dead and the crow that brought him back to life guides him to murderers. He shows no mercy as he kills them all with their favourite objects. When the police find the knife wielding killer, he resembles a pincushion. It is as though the angel of death has decided to pay the criminals of the city a visit right before Halloween and make them pay for the sins they committed the year before.

The police are baffled by all of the corpses suddenly turning up all over the city with crow-shaped bloodstains in the background, but one officer has a pretty good idea of what is going on and decides to help along. Ernie Hudson (Winston Zeddemore in “Ghostbusters”) is Sergeant Albrecht, who seems to be the only honest cop in the city. He was there the night Draven’s fiancée was murdered and when the killers start dropping like flies he easily connects the dots, although he is initially shocked to see a dead man walking the streets.

The story’s main villain is a gangster called Top Dollar played by Michael Wincott, who is best known for playing an array of villains with a deep growly voice back in the 90s. This particular gangster is one screwed-up maniac. He has a penchant for swords and black magic, and seems to have an incestuous relationship with Myca (Bai Ling) his half-sister. He sees Devil Night as an opportunity to wreak as much havoc as possible in the city. His plan for this year: burn the city to the ground. I can’t think of any way to make money out of that particular plan, so Top Dollar is obviously a sadist who enjoys chaos and destruction. Imagine this guy teaming up with the Joker.

The movie is beautiful to look at, as it does a very good job of conveying a dark and broody atmosphere with each powerful scene. Rain drenches the city as Draven rises from his grave, and as he mournfully plays his guitar on the rooftops, the sky in the background is blood red. There are visual elements of film noir, which were also used in movies with crime-filled cities such as Tim Burton’s “Batman” and “Blade Runner.”

A wikipedia article states that the Devil’s Night referred to in “The Crow” was not invented for the movie, since from the 70s to the 90s it was associated with a series of arsons and acts of vandalisms that took place in Detroit, where the film takes place. I don’t how I would have felt if I had been a citizen of Detroit back in 1994 when the movie first came out. Would I have been offended to see my city depicted as a cesspool of crime in a comic book movie, or would I have thought that it was a fair depiction?

I have never been to Detroit, and seeing “The Crow” has had no impact on whether or not I will ever go there one day. The only difference is that now I have another movie I can watch every month of October right around Halloween. It goes very nicely with “Blade II,” “John Carpenter’s The Thing,” “Land of the Dead,” and “Corpse Bride.”

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