If the tragic mythology of Brandon Lee’s on-set death or one of the best 1990s soundtracks isn’t enough to have turned you onto The Crow in 1994, then maybe the current resurgence of comic book and graphic novel adaptations will do the trick. For a film steeped in a dingy combination of mid-90s grunge, steam punk, and goth culture The Crow has a surprising amount of staying power.
Alex Proyas released one of his two best films (alongside 1998’s Dark City) in 1994 and for impressionable comic book nerds, this author included, around the world it proved a watershed, picking up where another Alex – Alex Cox – left off in the early ‘80s with the punk rock wackiness of Repo Man and dystopia of Sid and Nancy.
Proyas’ music video background shows through in The Crow. Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, and Pantera were not only staples of the decade, but appropriate audio aids for Lee’s Eric Draven – a resurrected vengeance-machine – to leap over Blade Runner-like rooftops and play guitar solos against apocalyptic orange skies.
The Crow is violent, and that violence extends off-screen in heartbreaking ways with Lee’s accidental shooting. There was a sick pleasure among teenage viewers in trying to pinpoint the moment where Lee met his actual untimely death, not unlike, in another late-millennium classic that presciently looks ahead to the future of video, Bart Simpson pointing out to Lisa the exact video-frame where she ripped Ralph Wiggam’s heart in two.
The Crow is so unabashedly ‘90s without actually being set in the decade – quite different than, say, the satire of Clueless or the Americana of Forrest Gump. It’s a post-Burton-Batman world, but with a thinner layer of irony, and ahead of its time in that way. No wonder a reboot is being planned. It did self-serious neo-noir comic book long before the current trend.
The film made tight leather cool again, rebounded from painted-face KISS parodies, and had a youthful optimism couched in angsty melancholy (“It can’t rain all the time.”). It’s a kinetic ride, with Proyas’ camera sometimes putting us in the midst of pierced, tattooed mosh pits, other times moving us over chaotic, torched alleys and roofs.
If The Crow was timely in 1994 maybe it’s because the film’s dark world at once combines the fervor of the new alternative musical mainstream and the anxiety of the early 1990s recession. True to the critique of that generation, Eric Draven would just shrug it all off: “Victims, aren’t we all.”