Why The Crow deserves a comeback

The Crow’s a different kind of superhero movie – a supernatural fantasy horror hybrid that puts an undead rock musician up against a band of merciless thugs in order to avenge his murdered fiancée and pass on to the next life. Because of its unique premise, compelling source material, and overall legacy, The Crow has never died. Over almost three decades, there have been three sequels, a TV adaptation, and multiple failed attempts to get a reboot off the ground. Now, a new movie is in the works; a ‘reimagining’ that promises to be a faithful adaptation of the comic book. And yet, the question remains: do we need a new version of this story?

At the franchise’s root is a comic book like no other. The Crow, written and illustrated by James O’Barr, was first published as a limited series from Caliber Press in 1989.  The story sees Eric Draven and his fiancée Shelly murdered by a group of criminals when their car breaks down. Eric is killed first, unable to do anything as Shelly’s shot In the head and her body necrophiled. A supernatural crow brings Eric back from the dead to avenge their deaths so his soul can finally rest. 

The comic wasn’t created for the world to see – O’Barr didn’t care whether it got published or not. When he was just 18 years old, his fiancée was killed by a drunk driver while on the way to pick him up from work. Wracked with guilt and anger, O’Barr created The Crow in order to cope. He blamed himself for the loss, much like Eric Draven blames himself for not being able to protect Shelly, and the result is a devastating love letter that explores the darkest parts of grief. The comic takes frequent breaks from the narrative to incorporate mood-setting song lyrics and poems, and intercuts scenes of painful flashbacks and memories of Eric’s life with Shelly. There are tears, train rides, horses, cowboys with skulls for faces, and a trail of ominous cats that follow Eric everywhere he goes.

The Crow

(Image credit: Miramax Films)

While the premise is more or less the same, Alex Proyas’ 1993 movie is not a faithful adaptation of O’Barr’s work. Taking place in O’Barr’s native Detroit, the film makes Eric a struggling musician who lives in a housing project, where he and Shelly are killed. The death scene is wildly different and much less intense. In the comic, Eric is guided through his temporary return to earth by the Skull Cowboy (relegated to a deleted scene in the film) and a talking crow (actually kind of a dick). Eric’s descent into complete and total madness is much more toned down in exchange for a hero who is undoubtedly sad but still laser-focused on the task at hand.

Though Brandon Lee – the son of legend Bruce Lee – was not the ‘6-foot tall vampire’ described in the comic, he was more than perfect for the role of Eric – so much so that it’s hard to imagine anyone else taking his place. Lee had significant martial arts training and an astonishing emotional depth – two things needed to play a grief-stricken vigilante. Yet, Lee tragically died on set, in a freak accident where a prop gun dislodged a real bullet and killed him. O’Barr remarked that losing Lee was like losing his fiancée all over again, and he regretted ever writing the comic in the first place. The sequels would later follow different storylines, different men who become The Crow, and no one else has touched the character of Eric Draven (save for the short-lived Canadian TV series adaptation). Who could do it better than Lee?

That, however, has not stopped filmmakers attempting to adapt The Crow once more. Jason Momoa was once in line to play Eric, and a behind-the-scenes photo of the Aquaman actor in Crow makeup was even posted online before Corin Hardy’s production was shut down. Norman Reedus, Luke Evans, Bradley Cooper, Sam Witwer, and Tom Hiddleston have all been considered for the leading role, with Kristen Stewart once rumored to have been cast as Shelly. 

Fast forward to 2022 and it seems The Crow will almost certainly be flying back into cinemas. Bill Skarsgard, best known for playing Pennywise in IT, has been cast as Eric, with FKA Twigs tapped to play Shelly. Skarsgard’s casting is exciting; the actor showcased his emotional range in Netflix’s Hemlock Grove, in which he played a troubled heir thirsty for blood. He lurked in the shadows, descended into madness, and managed to play creepy and lovable all at once – much like the character of Eric Draven. 

But, given the film’s tragic history and multiple failed remake attempts, do we need this? Does The Crow even fit in with the superhero movies of today?

The Crow

(Image credit: Universal)

The original was released during a darker, grittier era for the superhero genre, when Tim Burton’s Batman and Sam Raimi’s Darkman reigned at the box office. Both erred on the side of camp, with the former fully leaning into the inherent absurdity that comes with any caped crusader (really, no one can tell that Bruce Wayne and Batman have the same lips?), and the latter taking itself a little more seriously in hopes of becoming an action/horror classic. This combination of dark and camp continued throughout the ‘90s with movies like The Shadow, Spawn, and Blade, and leaked into the early 2000s with Hellboy, Ghost Rider, and Watchmen. Now, with the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Extended Universe in the 2010s, superhero movies (and their TV spin-offs) have taken over Hollywood. They’re bright, funny, and worthy of Oscar recognition. Any new version of The Crow needs to honor the dark, twisted, and melancholic nature of the original – it cannot be another Spider-Man: No Way Home or Avengers: Infinity Wars.

Look, though, once more to the Bat-signal. The most recent incarnation of The Dark Knight, Matt Reeves’s The Batman, is the most Crow-like superhero movie of the last thirty-some years. The movie offers a different look at Bruce Wayne, painting him as a broken man destined to make something important out of his pain and privilege. Gotham is a bleak, ruined place and everyone is corrupt. No one can be trusted. And yet, despite everything, Bruce, forever haunted by the death of his parents, is determined to change the city for the better. The film is dark, gritty, and hopelessly melancholic. It’s everything I want from a big-budget Crow adaptation.

Maybe we don’t need a reimagining of the original film, but the comic deserves the blockbuster treatment. There is so much to pull from, so much to explore, and so many creative and artistic directions to potentially take. A faithful adaptation may be tough, but it’s entirely possible. Plus, it could renew interest in what is still such an underrated comic and make a new generation revisit Brandon Lee’s work. That’s perhaps more valuable than anything, and justification enough to bring back The Crow. Besides, it can’t rain all the time.

For more horror content, check out our list of the best horror movies of all time.

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