If you’re of a certain age, and lived a certain lifestyle (specifically born in the early in the early 80s and maybe fancied yourself a bit of a goth kid), there is a decent chance that Alex Proyas’ The Crow (1994) means just about everything to you. Proyas did a gorgeous job bringing James O’Barr’s comic series of supernatural revenge to the screen, but as you likely know, The Crow has come to symbolize something so much more to fans. The death of actor Brandon Lee, son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, due to an on-set accident has come to set The Crow apart as a film that exists as much as a eulogy as it is a reminder of all that Brandon Lee could have been.
More than a film anchored by a beautiful performance from Lee, and a fabulous supporting cast including Tony Todd and Michael Wincott, The Crow is a reminder of a time when gothic culture, and the supernatural, were so much more the norm. We can look back at the original Crow film as a time capsule of an era when alternative culture was more widely accepted that it is even now. Regardless of the mythos, The Crow would have, and still has, scores of dedicated fans that loved it for its style, its theme, and its star. Yet, when Lee died on set, The Crow became part of Hollywood mythology, and as the studio system can’t help itself from doing, it began clamoring for sequels to a phenomenon that could never (and would never) be re-created.
The Crow: City of Angels came just two years later, with an entirely new character out for revenge, and an entirely new “Crow.” The mythology of the original stories was kept, but Brandon Lee was replaced with Vincent Perez, who may have had some of the physicality of Lee but absolutely none of his charisma. City of Angels was atrocious, from beginning to end. A cast of villains including Iggy Pop and an unrecognizable Thomas Jane (who dies while servicing himself in a peep show booth), turned this sequel into more of an unintentional comedy than a supernatural horror film. Even the story anchoring the film is ridiculous, as Perez’s Ashe Corven is seeking revenge for the death of his son and himself when his son ran toward gunshots to investigate instead of away from them and got them both killed. Every minute of this film is torture, but there was at least the promise future sequels to The Crow couldn’t get much worse.
Boy, was that a mistaken assumption. More on that later though.
Next came The Crow: Salvation in 2000, starring Eric Mabius as Alex Corvis, aka Crow #3. I just assumed Mabius would be the worst possible casting choice for a role like this, given his extensive background in Hallmark movies and Ugly Betty. But Salvation turned out to be the least offensive of the Crow sequels. If you had completely removed the Crow mythology from the story and started it from scratch as its own film, it might not have been terrible. Salvation had a fabulous cast of horror veterans and soon-to-be stars, including Dale Midkiff (Pet Semetary), Walton Goggins (Justified), Fred Ward (Tremors), and William Atherton (the asshole in every 80s movie you love). The story was solid and interesting, and you get to watch Kirsten Dunst get her mouth sewn shut. If you’re anything like me, that’s a huge plus. The Crow: Salvation is still an entirely unnecessary sequel to a borderline perfect film, but it is by leaps and bounds the ONLY one you should watch if you feel the morbid desire to watch one of these movies.
And then it became clear they saved the worst for last. The Crow: Wicked Prayer starred Edward Furlong as Jimmy Cuervo (it hurts)/The Crow and… Tara Reid. And uh, Tito Ortiz. I don’t even know where to begin with how hilariously awful this final (HOPEFULLY) Crow sequel is, that I suppose I will just start with the plot. Based LOOSELY in Aztec mythology, Jimmy Cuervo is in love with a Mexican girl, but a Satanist gang leader played by David Boreanaz and named Luc Crash (seriously, I’m getting a migraine) isn’t down with that for some inexplicable reason, so he and his girlfriend Lola, played by a typically confused Tara Reid, kill Cuervo and his girlfriend so Luc can be the devil? Within twenty minutes, I had NO idea what was going on, Danny Trejo showed up with a shotgun, Dennis Hopper came out of nowhere talking like Tupac, and Macy Gray was cast… to make Tara Reid look focused and grounded I suppose? It all felt awkward and tremendously offensive and Furlong as The Crow looked more like Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. All I can do is suggest that if one of your friends says they want to watch The Crow: Wicked Prayer, you gather your things, leave the house, and start looking for a new friend immediately.
There has been word buzzing for years that a reboot to the original The Crow is in development, but with every step forward that makes, it seems to take two backwards. So we can all only hope that it remains where it belongs: in development purgatory, next to the Gremlins reboot and the Suspiria remake.
Individual film ratings:
The Crow: 5 Blissful Happy Faces 5
The Crow: City of Angels: 1 Pair of Angry Eyebrows out of 5
The Crow: Salvation: 2 and ½ Resigned Sighs out 5
The Crow: Wicked Prayer: 0 Exploding Scanners-style heads out 5