The Crow: Salvation (second review)

The producer I always associate with THE CROW is Edward R. Pressman. That’s a guy with a storied career – his name is on everything from BADLANDS to CONAN THE BARBARIAN to BAD LIEUTENANT, and he played Mr. Trend in CRIMEWAVE. He died last year but will have his credit on the upcoming THE CROW movie.

Apparently not involved in that new one was the guy who brought the project to Pressman in the first place, Jeff Most. According to a 2005 interview with Clint Morris at Moviehole, it all started when the young producer was looking for a comic book artist to do illustrations of a John Shirley script he was trying to get made. Someone told him to look at James O’Barr’s recently published The Crow and he was so impressed he reversed his plans and had Shirley write a script based on the comic. But getting someone to finance an R-rated comic book movie was difficult. He says 51 people said no before Pressman said yes.

Most got Shirley’s THE SPECIALIST off the ground in the same year as THE CROW, but his only previous credit was on the syndicated music video package Top 40 Videos. That might be why he told Pressman to look at music video and commercial directors. Part 1 director had done some short films and the feature SPIRITS OF THE AIR, GREMLINS OF THE CLOUDS, but also videos for INXS, Crowded House and Yes. THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS director Tim Pope’s massive catalog included three David Bowies, a bunch of Neil Young, a bunch of Psychedelic Furs, 14 for Soft Cell (including “Tainted Love”), four for Siouxsie and the Banshees, and two dozen for The Cure. If those last two don’t qualify you to direct a THE CROW sequel I don’t know what does. And I think the backgrounds of those directors explain why their movies are so overwhelmingly stylish and musical if also, in my opinion, a little empty. Especially the second one.

Though nobody seemed to like that first sequel, Most immediately got to work on the next one. In the February, 2000 issue of Cinefantastique, he’s quoted as saying “the idea was to move ahead… it is often the case that the second picture in a franchise does not live up to the expectations of the first. Franchises have been saved, numerous times, by their third pictures and gone on to blossom into bigger and bigger success stories that stand for years and years. Decades.”

(Not important, but the closest I can think of to what he’s describing is A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3. He could also be thinking of INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE or possibly THE EXORCIST III, but neither was “saved” as a “franchise” at that point.)

The article promised a release for part 3 “nation-wide in the first quarter of 2000.” A full year later the same magazine reported that after test screenings they were dumping it to video on January 2nd. As the self-appointed DTV scholar of The Ain’t It Cool News at that time, I wrote a review that ran February 5th. Now here I am 23 years later giving it a second, closer look on this very prestigious websight, so in that sense he was right, it is a big success story decades later.

British-Indian director Bharat Nalluri broke the streak – he didn’t come from music videos, but from television (plus DOWNTIME and KILLING TIME, as discussed yesterday), as did screenwriter, Chip Johannessen (Married… with Children, Rugrats, Beverly Hills 90210, Millennium, The X-Files), though he was reportedly working from a story by Matt Greenberg (MIMIC, REIGN OF FIRE), who got a co-producer credit.

I will give those guys a little credit, because I think it’s a decent premise for a THE CROW sequel. When it starts, its hero Alex Corvis (Eric Mabius, rocker dude from WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE) is about to be executed for the brutal stabbing death of his girlfriend Lauren (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER, SHE’S ALL THAT). Nobody believes him but he’s innocent, and he saw a man there with a bizarre set of ritualistic scars on his arm. Once he’s strapped into the electric chair someone in the room pulls up his sleeve to show the scars, to taunt him. But neither he or we see who it was.

His corpse is thrown in a locker where a crow revives him and leads him to an office and a file of the witnesses who testified against him. So he goes down the list terrorizing those guys, in some cases using his psychic-touch powers to find out how they were involved and killing them for revenge, but it’s not just a kill list, there’s this mystery of who the scarred man is. That adds something.

His rebirth is also kind of cool. His face is all lumpy with burns from the electrocution, the skin tissue around his eyes forming the shape of the mime makeup. And then he starts picking at his skin, tearing it off, making a little pile of it on the floor, revealing his normal face but with the makeup, and scars for the vertical lines.

They attempted to repeat the success of THE CROW’s popular soundtrack, so they have songs by Filter, Hole, Stabbing Westward, The Crystal Method, and others. By which I mean Kid Rock. It also uses Rob Zombie’s “Living Dead Girl” (Naked Exorcism Remix) even though the original version had already been in BRIDE OF CHUCKY and Gus Van Sant’s PSYCHO. I laughed at whatever the groovy song was that played as freshly resurrected Alex fled the prison, discovered his healing powers and either dove off a tower and was off camera while we followed his crow friend, or turned into a crow to fly across town, I’m really not sure.

He visits Lauren’s grave and talks to an angel statue as if it’s her. This is where he runs into her younger sister Erin (Kirsten Dunst, who had already been in JUMANJI, SMALL SOLDIERS and even THE VIRGIN SUICIDES). She’s afraid of him and is suspicious of his claim that he knew Lauren but (like all the other characters) doesn’t recognize him as the guy she already knew and then watched on trial and in the execution chamber. She also doesn’t recognize her dad as William Atherton from DIE HARD, so she’s unable to assess who to trust.

This part was pretty cool. Crow overlooking crow-shaped blood puddle.

As is the tradition of the series, it’s kind of more grim than fun, with Alex discovering through psychic flashes that poor Lauren was not only murdered but gang raped for knowing too much about police corruption. This comes out in a BAD LIEUTENANT type scene where a toothpick chewing detective named Dutton (Bill Mondy, LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN) pulls over two young women and is gonna rape the one that’s passed out. Alex appears, taunts him and kills him.

Another throughline of the series is that the vengeful mass murderer is also a nice guy who tries to help a couple people. Here that manifests in an incredibly corny aside where he notices track marks on the arm of a stripper handcuffed to a pole, looks deep into into her eyes and tells her “you have one chance to value your life,” freeing her to live happily ever after and remember what a great and inspirational The Crow he was while hunting down the guy he wanted to kill at her workplace.

I love the weird industrial/tech/goth/S&M dance clubs of ‘90s and 2000s films (see also: HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH, BLADE, BLADE II, THE MATRIX). This one is pretty unimpressive except for the Tricky song playing and that the doorman is played by Michael Keaton’s BATMAN stunt double David Lea (also the fight coordinator). He has his hair in braids to fit in with the clientele but he still taunts Alex for wearing makeup.

I don’t really go for the Eric Draven aesthetic, but I think most of us will agree he was cooler looking than Alex Corvis, who’s kind of dorky wearing that makeup with a prison jumpsuit. Later he switches to an ugly sweater with a bunch of rips in it. His best look is when he steals a long black coat, upping his goth levels a little, and this is also when he starts a fire with a dashboard lighter and walks away from an explosion that blows up a helicopter and a couple cop cars. As I have stated previously, all movies should have somebody walking away from an explosion, so he gets my respect there. Good work, little birdy.

The most interesting of Alex’s victims is Stan Roberts, but only because I know Walton Goggins’ later work. At the time I didn’t recognize him from THE NEXT KARATE KID or SHANGHAI NOON, and I don’t know if I appreciated his weird teeth and jaw or not. Unfortunately the only one that gets to go very over the top is Fred Ward (FLORIDA STRAITS) as Captain John L. Book, who no one will be surprised turns out to be the main villain. But I was a little surprised that he had a secret evil room of some kind hidden behind the American flag on the wall of his office. I guess it’s used for taxidermy or witchcraft or something (?) and he abducts Erin and sews her mouth shut and his evil secretary (Kelly Haren, The Bold and the Beautiful) paints her toenails.

Intellectually I like that weird shit, which is in the spirit of the witchy business in the other two CROWs. But I think part of what made that stuff cool is that it was just another evil wrinkle in the heightened urban hellscapes of their Detroit and their L.A. Here it does not feel like a natural extension of the setting which, I should mention, is Salt Lake City. Or at least that’s where it was filmed. They don’t do anything distinctive with the area – I would’ve guessed it was just the same generic L.A. warehouse district that ten million forgettable TV shows shot at.

On the DVD commentary track Most says he tried to make this one stand out by being less “otherworldly” than the previous two, which seems about as wrong-headed as you could possibly be about how to do a THE CROW sequel. But it might just be an excuse – if Nalluri was going for gritty realism at any point, he sure missed the target. It pretty much lost me in the opening scene where various parties, including the actual murderers and a witness, are gathered with the protests and celebrants outside of the execution, and are interviewed by the news to explain the backstory. It’s just, like, who would do that, who would say that, what TV show would be like that? Things that ring false piled on top of things that ring false, and not in a fun way.

And there are times when the movie mimics the artificiality of the earlier ones: some too-brief model shots, blue-screened crow flying, lots of yellow-tinted fog. So I don’t think it’s an attempt to go in a totally different direction. I think it’s just not as stylish.

I do think Nalluri not being a music video director is a factor, and in his defense I’d bet he was working with a fraction of the budget of CITY OF ANGELS. But I suspect the biggest problem is that the brilliant part 1 and 2 production designer Alex McDowell had since moved on to FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS and FIGHT CLUB and would soon move on to MINORITY REPORT. Nothing against his replacement, Maia Javan (who would also have THE WAY OF THE GUN that year), but a THE CROW movie without McDowell turns out to not feel like a THE CROW movie to me.

And the sad thing is this came after a couple of years developing much bolder ideas with music video directors. When Pressman saw Rob Zombie’s video from the CITY OF ANGELS soundtrack he offered him the part 3 gig. Zombie wrote, and was scheduled to direct a weird post-apocalyptic sequel called THE CROW: 2037. It was before he directed HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES and I’m sure it would’ve been a mess, but it had to be more interesting than this, right? In an announcement at the time they said that Zombie would do the score with Charlie Clouser of Nine Inch Nails, and that the plot involved a boy killed by a satanic priest on Halloween, resurrected by the crow, then forgetting his past until years later while working as a bounty hunter.

Zombie worked for about a year and half, got sick of the producers changing their minds about what they wanted, and quit.

Then Pressman’s people started thinking of doing a hip hop oriented CROW, and pretty soon our friend Joseph Kahn was attached to THE CROW: LAZARUS, with DMX as the hero and Eminem as the villain. According to screenwriter James Gibson (NEVER DIE ALONE), Pressman’s company was all in, but when it came time for Miramax to get involved Bob Weinstein shut it down because “nobody wants to see a movie with two rappers.” So instead they made THE CROW: SALVATION, proving that nobody wanted to see a movie without two rappers either.

Since the failure of SALVATION, Nalluri has been successful back in the world of British television, and returned to the big screen for MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY (2008) and THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS (2017). He’s still working. Johannessen never wrote another movie, but has had much success as a writer and producer on 24, Dexter and Homeland.

Mabius’ later genre work includes RESIDENT EVIL and REEKER. He’s also been prolific on television, including as a main cast member of Ugly Betty and the lead of a Hallmark Channel show called Signed, Sealed, Delivered that was followed by more than a dozen TV movies. Dunst, of course, grew into a force on the big screen, fortunately having already filmed BRING IT ON by the time SALVATION hit video stores. You may have seen her in her Academy Award nominated role in THE POWER OF THE DOG, as “Metal Chick” in Beastie Boys: Fight for Your Right Revisited or “Kirsten Dunst (uncredited)” in THE BLING RING.

Most was also able to continue working in the movie business, including for one more CROW sequel, which we will discuss next week.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 3rd, 2024 at 5:09 pm and is filed under Reviews, Action, Comic strips/Super heroes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

13 Responses to “The Crow: Salvation (second review)”

  1. The 3 things that I remember about watching that movie something like 20 years ago:

    – I already had it laying around on VHS for a year or two when I did it and mostly checked it out because that night I suffered from a cold and my nose was so stuffed that I at times had trouble breathing and therefore couldn’t sleep at all. That night I also watched the original KING KONG and some soft porn with Julie Strain on TV.

    – As a NASH BRIDGES fan I was excited to see Jodi Lyn O’Keefe in it, but was disappointed that she got the murdered girlfriend part.

    – I actually liked that movie. Haven’t rewatched it since and I’m not sure if me being in my early 20s, being very sick or not being a THE CROW purist helped with that though.

  2. Funny enough I rewatched it recently and didn’t hate it this time. Maybe I’m more forgiving that it was obviously cheap and got dumped for it, but as City of Angels is practically unwatchable the dtv sequels are at least reasonable crow knockoffs, considering they shouldn’t have been made at all.

    I mean they obviously should have had the girlfriend come back to prove her boyfriend innocent but that would’ve been too clever.

  3. It’s so weird that they just kept taking shots at The Crow sequels and they never hit on ‘maybe the girl who got raped should get her own revenge.’ IIRC David S. Goyer’s first script for the second movie was supposed to have a female protagonist and be set in Victorian England which really seems like the best thing they could have done. Prime franchise for getting silly with it, imo. Maybe they’ll do something with the reboot’s sequel, if that happens

  4. This film is definitely in my top ten most boring film experiences. I thought after the second one they couldn’t go much lower but at least it was a hacked about mess. This film is simply tedious in all departments. At least number 4 is under-funded and odd.

  5. I can see why it took so long to make another one of these. You gotta wait around for a guy to resurrect who not only a. got murdered, but b. also had a loved one murdered and (and this is the tricky part) c. has a last name derived from a crow-related word. That can’t happen every day. It’s crazy that it happened so many times in the 90s and early 2000s.

    Part of own last name can be used as a synonym for “fox-like” so I would have to settle for being resurrected by a magical fox. Perhaps the “chaos reigns” guy. That seems like something he’d be into. Probably wouldn’t make me do the goth thing, either, which I appreciate.

  6. Oh shit, my last name is actually derived from an old French word for blackbird. And I got a tattoo of some feathers in part because of it. Am I doomed to be a Crow?

  7. @Mr. Majestyk
    Well, actually, I think the last name thing wasn’t there in the comics, so a mystical bird can still turn you goth, bro.

  8. I can’t say with any certainty, since the only Crow sequel that I’ve watched was City of Angels back in the 90s, but there’s just something about this series that seems to make it impossible to create a good sequel. Maybe there’s just not enough space to develop variations on the theme. I mean, what else can you do with a dead guy gets supernatural powers and avenges the people who killed his girlfriend? I suppose that’s why they finally went with a full on remake in an era where remakes fever has finally died down (although with the 2024 Crow and Road House maybe they’re coming back into style?)

  9. @MaggieMayPie – I am definitely rooting for you to not get murdered!

  10. But just in case, I’d start boning up on my poetry if I were you.

  11. Can I memorize some limericks? Be a different kind of Crow.

  12. I think after a year of being a regular old-fashioned Crow, you can paint your face in nWo Wolfpac red and start being more goofy with it. That’s what Sting did, so it’s probably canon.

  13. Technically the musical Cats is based on a long ass poem. I could strike fear in the hearts of men by going full Musical Theater Crow.

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