Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time 09.13.12: The Crow Franchise Breakdown

September 13, 2012 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

Welcome to A Bloody Good Time.

Last week I looked at supernatural superheroes. Let’s see some feedback.

Guest#9482 said: Everything you said about Blade is dead on true. Without it and the success it had, Batman and Robin would have been the last comic movie we had for quite some time. We definitely would not be at a point now where we had the Nolan Batman Trilogy just finish and the first Avengers having been a new release.

That’s why it really was smart to test the waters with a minor, obscure character like Blade. If it failed, they could point to the fact that Blade wasn’t a popular character while working on something else. It gave them the confidence to put out X-Men, which really kicked the door open for the glut of superhero movies we’re now in.

hombre replied: Really looking forward to next week’s Column. The Crow is one of my favorite films ever (easily Top Five of all times) and even the horrible sequels couldn’t destroy the awesomeness of the first film.

But man they sure do come close.

Benjamin J. Colon added about Hellboy 2: Even more amazing is that it did that well mostly in it’s opening week, getting VERY regrettably swallowed by The Dark Knight, which happened to open the week after. Had it come out at a different time in 2008 or maybe even a year before or after, it might’ve had much more sustained success in theaters, which is a damn shame because it’s one of Del Toro’s best, second only to Pan’s Labyrinth.

Yeah the success it had even in the face of the juggernaut that was TDK speaks volumes about the love of the character and the strength of Del Toro’s work. Which is why it’s even more puzzling that it’s been four years now and still no sequel.

This week, I am taking on the entire Crow movie franchise. This resulted in me having to refresh my memory and suffer through the sequels again. If there’s one thing you can seemingly count on Dimension for, it’s the destruction of a franchise. They did it with Hellraiser, they made the Prophecy films worse than they are (not really a fan) and they somehow took a somewhat simple story (person is wrongly killed along with loved one, comes back to get vengeance) in The Crow and never seemed to get it right more than once.

I’ll admit right now to never having read James O’Barr’s work. Since this is a film column, I don’t think I’m required to, but I do regret not having some perspective when it comes to the source material. But with that said, I’m not sure many people have ever read the source material. I know that it’s popular and has a cult following, but most people know this franchise by the first movie. It’s not like say, The Avengers when people have probably seen those characters before. I’m not disparaging the comics in any way, just pointing out how when something becomes popular, sometimes the adaptation erases the source from the public consciousness, which is more likely to happen if the source wasn’t well-known to begin with.

O’Barr’s original story focuses on Eric (he wouldn’t get his last name until the film) and Shelley, who are killed by a group of criminals after their car breaks down. Eric is brought back by a crow and begins to murder them one by one to “put the wrong things right”. O’Barr wrote the comic after his girlfriend died because of a drunk driver. When I said it wasn’t as well-known as the film, I certainly didn’t mean it wasn’t popular. It still has a following today and IDW has begun publishing a new series. All I meant was that the film has taken on a life of its own.

I sometimes wonder if all the people who slam The Dark Knight and say it’s only popular because of Heath Ledger’s death say the same thing about The Crow. Both were big successes and both featured the death of the star before the film was released, in what was arguably their best performance. Sometimes a good movie is just a good movie and the fact that someone died shouldn’t affect your opinion one way or another.

But it doesn’t change the fact that Brandon Lee dying during the filming of The Crow does affect the movie. He’s playing a dead man who comes back to life to avenge a wrongful death. At one point Eric Draven actually says “I’m dead, and I move”. It gives the entire film a haunting vibe that for better or worse no other film in the series was able to match. Better because, obviously, no one else died. Worse because it’s impossible to manufacture that kind of tragic tone that Lee’s death gave the film. It’s sad to say, as the film should be judged on its own merits, but it’s true.

But Lee’s death isn’t the only reason this film is popular. It’s a part of why the film was good, because of that sense of tragedy you get from the mood, but it’s not all of it. Alex Proyas direction and ability to set up brilliant shots adds a lot to this. It’s a style he would perfect in Dark City and one that none of the other filmmakers were able to replicate. Lee’s performance, even if he didn’t die, is still really, really good. You could tell Lee had a charisma if you’ve seen any of his other films, but it’s nothing compared to the fun he’s having here. He just owns the movie every time he’s on screen and this is clearly a part he was born to play. Speaking of fun roles, I’m also a huge fan of Michael Wincott as Top Dollar. A combination of a witty script and a man playing a villain role with just the right amount of scenery chewing makes for a great time.

The Crow‘s legacy is more than just ruining every Halloween party for years and years to come. It’s a dark superhero done 100% right. With Hollywood screwing up other really dark properties like Spawn and Ghost Rider, they did get this story right once and the film still stands the test of time. And even with all the killing and violence, there is still an overwhelming feeling of hope at the end and the message that love is more powerful than anything. You didn’t see that in The Avengers.

The film itself was a huge success. Critics loved it; as of today it has an 83% on RT. The critical consensus is: Filled with style and dark, lurid energy, The Crow is an action-packed visual feast that also has a soul in the performance of the late Brandon Lee.. Financially, it made $144 million on a budget of only $23. It managed to earn back its budget six times over, which is impressive.

But as things often go in Hollywood, that meant a sequel would happen.

I’m not exactly sure what went wrong with The Crow: City of Angels (1996), but I’ve read that it had to do a lot with studio involvement. You would think that for a story like this, it’s easy to make a sequel. Wrong another person, bring them back, make sure you’re not ripping off the original story. Yet, not a single one of these sequels (and I’d argue the TV series too) manages to do the original story justice. While City of Angels isn’t the worst in the series, it’s a great example of how the first film could have ended very, very badly. At some point I’d love to see the workprint version of this film just to see how badly it was destroyed in the editing room.

This film focuses on Ashe Corven, who is killed with his son when they witness a murder. He is guided through his mission not only by the crow, but by Sarah (the little girl from the original), who has grown up to be Mia Kirshner and works at a tattoo parlor. The film depicts Los Angeles not as a real town, but a post-apocalyptic wasteland out of a fairy tale. Compare this to the original, set in Detroit, where it’s just a normal city where crime is out of hand. The Los Angeles of this film is more like something out of Mad Max.

One thing that City of Angels manages to get right is Vincent Perez, who does his very best to make his own mark in the role. He doesn’t succeed all of the time, but the moments where he is alone and mourning are very good and make me wonder what could have been. Iggy Pop is fun too, but in the wrong movie. It’s a shame he turned down a role in the first film because he would have fit right in.

This movie just feels more like a rehash of the original and a blatant cash-in. It doesn’t have the hopeful message at the end of the original and it never once manages to establish any kind of dark mood. Things just sort of happen. The final fight between Judah and Ashe is very ridiculous as somehow a murder of crows arrive to make Judah disappear from the face of the Earth. It also manages to kill off Sarah for no real reason other than to show that she is prophetic. It’s mostly a mess. But hey, it does have the Yellow Power Ranger as a villain. So there’s that.

Financially, it only made $25 million from a $13 million budget. It was only a minor success, which along with the panning by critics ($12% on RT), pretty much doomed any more sequels to straight to video releases.

Between the second and third films there was The Crow: Stairway to Heaven. A show about the series is something that again, could work, if you stretch out the victim’s hunt over the course of several episodes. This series focuses more on the quest for redemption, when if you’re adapting the story of Eric Draven, doesn’t make much sense compared to the first film. The series seeks to turn him into something of a superhero or Sam Beckett character, helping others instead of working on his own unfinished business. It’s fine for a TV series, I guess, but it’s not exactly the point of the story.

If you ignore that, the series is okay. It unfortunately decided to tell the tale of Eric Draven and as such was never going to live up to the first film and Brandon Lee’s performance, no matter how good Mark Dacascos may or may not be. I know why they picked Draven (he’s more well known, and Ashe Corven’s movie bombed) but they could have easily told the story they wanted to tell with new characters.

The show ran for one season of twenty-two episodes, and was cancelled even with decent ratings and a positive reception from fans. You can, however, watch the entire series on Hulu if you want.

The next film in the series happened in 2000, The Crow: Salvation. Truth be told, it isn’t that bad. It’s certainly not what I would call good, but it’s okay. The benefit of this film is that it tries to do something different and it has a large cast of character actors that really make it better than it probably should be. Dale Midkiff, Fred Ward, Walton Goggins and William Atherton are one strong supporting group of characters. Midkiff in particular seems to be having fun as a corrupt cop.

I enjoy the story of a man who is wrongly convicted of his girlfriend’s murder being executed then coming back to find out who did it. I like the fact he’s tricked into thinking his mission is complete so that he loses his powers. These are new twists on the story, something that sets Salvation apart from City of Angels. It tries to tell its own tale and that helps.

What doesn’t help is seemingly everything else. Eric Mabius isn’t that great in the role. He switches from somber to hamming it up at the drop of the hat and never really seems to pick a tone. The script itself has some bad dialogue and decides to make Mabius more of a one-liner spewing anti-hero than a serious vigilante trying to clear his name. Then there’s the supporting cast. They’re good, but they don’t have much time to show that. Goggins in particular, who has since proven he can act the hell out of a scene, is just a bit player. Atherton is quiet and reserved and doesn’t get much time to shine.

Salvation is more of a mixed bag. It’s not as bad as either sequel before or after it but it doesn’t come close to reaching the original. It’s just mediocre, bordering on average. Critics seem to agree, as it has a 22% on RT with the consensus: The Crow: Salvation adds nothing new to the series and is plagued by bad acting and dialogue.

Then there’s this.

This is not just a bad Crow movie, this would definitely make the list of some of the worst films I’ve ever seen. I have no idea what went wrong here and I have no idea if anything could have fixed it. This is a film that is so bad, it manages to drag its cast kicking and screaming to its level. For example, Angel has taught me that I can rely on David Boreanaz to give a fun performance as a villain. He starts out that way, but by the end of the film he’s just as annoying and bad as the rest of them.

Edward Furlong is the title character and…he never seems like he cares. Part of me wants to believe that is by design, that Jimmy Cuervo is so disturbed by being undead that he just wants to finish his mission and go back to the afterlife. But Furlong plays him as disinterested. He says his lines in a bored manner and never once do you sympathize with his character, something that the other films in the series were at least able to accomplish.

But it’s the casting of Tara Reid and Dennis Hopper that really confuse me. Reid because she’s a notoriously bad actress and Hopper because…he’s just woefully miscast. He plays a pimp who talks like a rapper with every line, calling people “homey” this and “shorty” that. He refers to Satan as the “O.G.”. It’s either stupid because it’s unintentionally hilarious or stupid because they meant for it to be funny and comedy does not belong in this kind of movie.

Going back to Stairway of Heaven, Jimmy Cuervo is a character who could have had the “redemption” storyline. He’s a murderer (killing a man who tried to rape his girlfriend) and comes back after he and his girlfriend are killed. Why is his mission just a mission of vengeance instead of redeeming his soul? The movie seems like it wants to go there, but instead goes right back into the formula of killing another bad guy, wash, rinse and repeat.

Wicked Prayer effectively killed the franchise and most people probably weren’t aware it was even released until years later. Like the later Hellraiser and Prophecy sequels, it was just dumped on to DVD after sitting in Dimension’s vault for years after it was finished.

Now there’s talk of a remake. Honestly? This series needs a reboot. The original is still there and is still great. If three disappointing to bad sequels couldn’t tarnish the memory of the first film then a remake certainly won’t. I think it has a chance to be good if it ever gets off the ground, but (again), like the reboot of Hellraiser (which is a movie that doesn’t need to happen), Dimension just can’t get anything going. I know there’s another great Crow story ready to be made into film. The series cannot end on Dennis Hopper’s impression of what white people think rappers talk like.

That’s it for me. Leave some comments here on or my Twitter. Next week, we will look at another franchise. This time it’s a ranking edition as I count down the Hellraiser series from worst to best. And as always I’ve got something extra special lined up for October so be looking forward to that in three weeks.

Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

A Bloody Good Time: The Store is now officially open! Like this design? You can now find it on most of my merchandise! Click here to find shirts, posters and more!


article topics

Joseph Lee

Comments are closed.