The Crow: Wicked Prayer


I don’t know why I never got around to seeing the THE CROW sequel from the director of SIX-STRING SAMURAI. Always was curious. Still took me 19 years. Lance Mungia’s THE CROW: WICKED PRAYER, just like the previous one, was meant for theaters, but I think it only played somewhere around here? Wiki(dprayer)pedia says its theatrical run was only in Seattle and only for one week, and I do remember seeing an ad for it and being confused, but I was thinking it was in Eastern Washington. Anyway, I didn’t go.

It’s the only THE CROW movie so far with a writer/director. Mungia wrote the script with THE CROW series producer Jeff Most, and then there was a rewrite by Sean Hood (HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION, CUBE 2: HYPERCUBE, Masters of Horror: Sick Girl, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, THE LEGEND OF HERCULES). Oddly it’s “inspired by” a circa-2000 THE CROW tie-in novel by Norman Partridge, who later wrote the book Dark Harvest that became a pretty cool movie last year.

What I didn’t expect is that it’s a little like what I picture the unproduced Rob Zombie CROW movie would’ve been like – loosely connected to the original concept but with a totally different tone and aesthetic. Zombie’s movie would’ve been more stylish, I’m sure, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had a redneck satanic priest villain, his gang each named after the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, driving customized vehicles with their names airbrushed on the side, tormenting innocent victims while wearing feathered skull masks. And Danny Trejo as a tribal council leader/Christian preacher.

WICKED PRAYER takes place in “the polluted mining town of Lake Ravasu,” which “sits on the Raven Aztec Reservation.” The tribe is about to close “the toxic mine to open a Resort Casino,” so just like the cities of the first two and the… generic Salt Lake City warehouse district of the third one this is a place with little hope. Polluted mine and casino both have negative connotations. In the opening scene people are protesting the mine (Why? Didn’t you just tell me they’re closing it?) while on the other side of the fence the miners chant “Save our jobs!” The title card says “the miners are at a breaking point.”

Then we see three different workers, seemingly sleeper agents, getting ready to do something big. They’re given freeze frame introductory cards telling us their names and also their motives. For example:

There’s War (Marcus Chong, THE MATRIX, PANTHER) hanging up his helmet and pulling out a shotgun, Famine (former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz) leaving his taco truck after poisoning a bunch of the miners, and Pestilence (Seattle’s own Yuji Okumoto, NEMESIS) pulling up in his El Camino, kicking some guys and spraying himself with toxic waste for fun. The cards are telling us what they’re angry about: War lost three brothers (working in the mine?), Famine was rejected from the tribe for being a “halfbreed,” and Pestilence has cancer from working the mine. So I guess they’re gonna go on a rampage against… everybody?

Meanwhile, by a nearby church, prisoners from the county jail are doing forced labor on the road. A sniper, Lola Byrne (Tara Reid, JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS) scopes out the cops from the steeple. When they get word that the protest at the mine is turning into a riot they try to gather up the prisoners, and put a bag over one’s head. Lola fires a shot that breaks the prisoner’s wrist chain and detonates an explosion (or maybe that part’s happening in another location?) and the prisoner beats down the cops and pulls the bag off to reveal he’s David Boreanaz, star of VALENTINE, as Luc Crash, a.k.a. Death, leader of the gang. Or actually as the card puts it…

Then we meet our protagonist Jimmy Cuervo (Edward Furlong, PET SEMATARY TWO), who lives in a rusty motor home filled with chicken feathers, empty Modelo bottles and live scorpions. Although Furlong is considerably younger than Boreanaz, Jimmy and Luc grew up together, but had a falling out. Even though Jimmy’s not evil like Luc, everybody in town thinks he’s a piece of shit because he killed a kid in a fight outside his high school prom. Even today people are freshly spraypainting “INJUN KILLER” on his home.

Things are looking up though because his parole ends at midnight and the one person who likes him, his radiant girlfriend Lilly (Emmanuelle Chriqui, 13), has agreed to run off to “the coast”. She just has a pure love for him, doesn’t seem like she sees him as a bad boy, but her dad Padre Harold (Trejo, DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN) and big brother Sheriff Tanner (Dave Baez, CASA DE LOS BABYS) strongly object to the relationship and keep trying to scare Jimmy off.

Here’s why this seems like a compelling THE CROW sequel at first: for the first time, they have a drastically different character in the lead. Eric Draven fit the urban gothic style of THE CROW, and the The Cure/Nine Inch Nails/Jesus and Mary Chain compilation soundtrack. Jimmy Cuervo exists in a world with more of a dusty spaghetti western vibe, a guitar-and-flute-centric score by Jamie Christopherson (BOA VS. PYTHON, John Woo’s Stranglehold), and songs by “The Gunslingers featuring Lance Mungia.” He doesn’t look like Eric Draven, doesn’t look like he could hang out with Eric Draven, probly wouldn’t give a fuck about Eric Draven’s band. He’s a working class, trailer park fuck up, trying to do better, and willing to look like a dork doing it. To run off with and propose to his girlfriend he puts on an old suit that’s way too big for him, like a hand-me-down. He owns a beaten up little hatchback painted like the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard, but the engine won’t start, so he takes his bouquet of flowers and rides a bike with a banana seat to go meet her.

On his way there, Lilly’s big brother side swipes him with his cop car so Jimmy falls down in the dirt. But he’s used to eating shit, so he holds his head high, lights a cigarette, has some pretty good wiseass comebacks.

Unfortunately Jimmy and Lola are targets of Death and his gang, because they want to do a ritual that requires sacrificing an Indian with blue eyes who has “redeemed a killer’s heart with love.” (Small world.) So before he can propose he and his sweetheart get strung up, she loses her eyes, he loses his heart, their bodies are put in an old refrigerator and dumped in a pond. Lola magically attain’s Lilly’s “shaman’s eyes,” a part of Lilly she has always envied, but ironically they cause her to remember the killings from Lilly’s point-of-view and be horrified by them.

They keep mentioning that the ritual is gonna make Luc become Satan, whatever that means. To give you an example of his sense of humor, he has them all eat deviled ham, deviled eggs and devil’s food cake “dusted with Lola’s magical peyote mix.” While they’re tripping out, Jimmy crawls out of the refrigerator, screams in anguish, and throws a toaster at the crow. As you or I would. When he finds Lilly’s body he says, “Oh my god, what have I done,” which I thought was interesting. Putting it on himself. He only realizes he’s unkillable because he tries to shoot himself.

I don’t know if he’s familiar with the previous CROW movies or what, but for some reason he decides he has to wrap black rags around his hands, put on lipstick, choker and trench coat, goth it up. The mime makeup is explained with a memory of Lilly making him up that way as a joke, and the twist is he draws it on with Sharpie. Now he looks like what we associate with The Crow as he sets his trailer on fire and walks away in slow motion and the crow (raven?) lands on his shoulder. I can understand why they felt they had to do this, but for me it kinda kills the movie, it doesn’t seem like the same guy anymore, he just seems like a total poser, so much less interesting and cool than when they were going out of their way to avoid a fake Brandon Lee.

Then he goes around bugging his eyes out like a crazy man, talking intensely to people, suddenly he does a little basic martial arts and jumps and stuff. There’s a scene I like the idea of where he tries to comfort a woman (Rena Owen, ONCE WERE WARRIORS, voice of Taun We, ATTACK OF THE CLONES), who’s suicidal because Luc killed her husband during an attack on one of those Vegas style quickie wedding chapels this small town apparently has for some reason. Then Jimmy’s looking around at her family photos and realizes this is the mother of the guy he killed back in the day.

But the reason he realizes it is that she has a framed article with his mugshot and the headline “LAKE RAVASU TEEN SLAYS LOCAL FOOTBALL STAR.” I personally would not want to keep a framed article about my son’s “slaying.” That’s one of the reasons I had a hard time taking the scene seriously.

When Jimmy flashes back to that traumatic day we can see that he only attacked the guy to stop a sexual assault. And it’s not like he kept beating on him too long, it was just a quick accident. So it seems much more justifiable than anyone ever acknowledges, and he doesn’t try to defend it.

One note about the wedding chapel scene: there’s a good joke where Lola tries to choose the bride for a virgin sacrifice but she turns around and is very pregnant.

For their own wedding/satanic ritual they go to a bigger church, one turned into a strip club called Iniquity where they get frisked by Macy Gray (THE PAPERBOY) and then visit El Niño (Dennis Hopper, WATERWORLD), a pimp on a throne wearing a coat with a big fur collar who agrees to be their officiant. Neither of those characters are in the movie much, but it’s kind of a thrill to throw them in there late in the game when we’ve already had a surprising number of familiar faces.

A lesser known face that I happen to recognize is that of Michael Keaton’s BATMAN fight double David Lea. He was the fight and stunt coordinator for WICKED PRAYER, as he was on SALVATION. In that one he played a doorman at a bar, here he’s a bartender at a place called The Black Moth (where bug zappers seem to be part of the theming and one is used to zap a human). I gotta assume it’s the same character taking whatever bar jobs he can get.

I think Furlong was really good casting for the alive part, but bad casting for the The Crow part. They should’ve let him do a fresher spin on it. If Mungia could make Buddy Holly with a sword cool I’m sure he could think of something better to do with Furlong than dress him as Brandon Lee. The rest of the cast fares better, with Boreanaz being especially lively. I can also say sincerely that Reid brings something unique to the character. The editing makes her a little inconsistent (seeming to delight in the murders moments after having misgivings) but I think she does a good job with Lola being jealous of Lilly, looking hurt by Luc’s attraction to her, and also being the only one who starts to show remorse, but not in a way that makes us think she’s supposed to have depth to her. She’s just kind of a dummy who got swept up in this shit with her asshole boyfriend. She also has a couple times when she gets to say funny things, so she’s not just an empty vessel, there’s more reason for Luc to want her around other than being able to use her.

I was too slow to realize that Cuervo means raven. So it is true that all cinematic The Crows have bird-derived names. And they work the crow theme in with the name of the tribe, who also have an annual party called Rave-N Fest that gets ruined by Death and friends. What a bunch of jerks and bums. The movie also implies that the THE CROW mythos are tied to Native folklore when Lilly makes a speech imploring people to remember “the old stories” where “We’re told that when someone dies the crow carries their soul to the land of the dead. Then sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back to release it of its burden. To put the wrong things right.” Luc and Lola are not present for that speech but they must’ve heard it on the radio because they quote it later and make the connection that Jimmy is “the crow, like in the legend.”

I think they have some pretty good ideas here, but the storytelling is muddled – it’s hard to parse Jimmy’s backstory, what Luc is trying to do, whether or not he actually turns into Satan (since he doesn’t seem any different), or some of the details about the town (for example the specifics of Jimmy’s “side of the road” that everyone keeps mentioning). But I could definitely forgive some of that if the story of Jimmy Cuervo was more compelling. I just think when he turns into The Crow he’s so profoundly uncool as a character that we can’t really get excited about anything he does. That righteous taunting of people he’s gonna kill already kinda grosses me out in the original. When we get to the fourth generation dub of it there’s no excuse. Even as home viewers we’re too embarrassed to be associated with this guy.

But I do think Mungia’s attempting to add some new layers to the standard THE CROW revenge scenario, and I respect that. In an interview with JoBlo he said, “I really thought it was interesting to take the most unlikely hero possible, a guy that everyone hated except his true love, and make him the savior this town has been crying out for. I like the underdog in Furlong. I also liked that the villains could have just as easily been ordinary people too at one point. That they chose the path they are on for good reason, all of them, because nobody thinks of themselves as bad.”

There are a couple problems with that. Most notably, it would never occur to me from watching the movie that the villains were intended to have some sort of nuance to them. Luc is introduced as a “Satanic Cult Leader” who makes a priest think he’s going to burn him alive, says “Just kidding,” then tries to shoot him. And of course he cuts out the eyes and heart of a couple old friends. I definitely wouldn’t have known his buddies had motives if it wasn’t written on screen. They still play their characters as thoroughly, cartoonishly, purely evil. That’s not a complaint, that’s what’s fun about it, I thought.

And as far as Jimmy being the savior of the town, I didn’t catch that. But the idea of having the hero be flawed is a good one. As Mungia puts it on the making-of featurette, “The other CROW movies were about an innocent taking revenge for a wrong. But my take on it is that you’re not an innocent. There are no innocents. It’s like, you do something, they do something to you, there’s still repercussions for that.” I suppose Jimmy does get to murder his killers, but the way the crow “puts the wrong things right” at the end is that Jimmy’s spirit (or whatever) gets to propose to Lilly.

So there still is not a good THE CROW sequel. CITY OF ANGELS is definitely the one with the best filmmaking (it looks gorgeous), but this is the one that’s the most interesting attempt to do something worthwhile. I will end with a few screengrabs that show that at the very least it’s not anonymous – it does in fact look like the followup to SIX-STRING SAMURAI.

P.S. I haven’t been able to figure out why, but there’s a “Kit Carson” credited as co-producer, and yeah, IMDb says that’s L.M. Kit Carson, the writer of BREATHLESS (1983), PARIS, TEXAS and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. He also produced BOTTLE ROCKET, both the short and the feature. Maybe he thought Mungia could be another Wes Anderson.

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 11th, 2024 at 3:59 pm and is filed under Reviews, Comic strips/Super heroes, Horror. 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.

6 Responses to “The Crow: Wicked Prayer”

  1. It sounds like an interesting idea to throw the whole Crow thing in the middle of racial and economic tensions on a Native American reservation, but then a cop-out to have the villains be a bunch of campy Satanists.

  2. I’m convinced that the main reason they can’t nail a decent Crow sequel is that few people other than Brandon Lee can unselfconsciously wear that get up.

  3. I think it’s a similar situation to Michael Keaton’s Batman in THE FLASH. That character design worked because it was of a piece with Tim Burton’s aesthetic as a whole. In THE CROW, Brandon Lee’s look functioned as another element of Proyas’ overall mise en scene. The sequels tried to change the look of the world around the title character but keep the character the same, and it just makes him look ridiculous and out of place. If they’d modified the character design to fit his surroundings, the movies might have worked better. But of course no suit is going to let that happen. To a suit, THE CROW isn’t about the themes of grief and revenge, it’s about a guy with specific face paint and a specific long black coat. And he’s probably right. As hated as these sequels are, they’d probably be even more hated if the costume wasn’t “comics accurate,” a term nerds trot out as if it means “inherently superior.” Nerds don’t give a shit about the concepts that power the things they love as long as everything looks exactly how they remember it from the picture on their Underoos. As I’ve mentioned before, when audiences buy a Big Mac, they want all the ingredients, not just some of them. You don’t go swapping out the sesame seeds for poppy seeds. You’ll have a riot on your hands.

  4. RBatty024 – David Tennant could do it.

  5. Majestyk–you pretty much nail it. There’s a reason why Vern keeps on mentioning the nondescript warehouse districts. The first film created its own version of “Detroit,”which was a grimier more bleak version of the post-industrial Midwest city. I think they tried to do that with LA in the second film as well, although I remember not particularly liking that one for some reason (it’s been twenty-five years since I watched it). And then they lost the budget and weren’t able to create their own messed-up, distorted goth take on American cities.

  6. I liked this one better than you because of its odd character beats throughout but it is very flawed. I do think the Furlong character from earlier does remain in the crow sections, as he is a character who has gone a little mad after dying but it could have been clearer in places. The ill-suiting make-up becomes a problem as they didn’t have the budget to make it good and it didn’t tie well to its leading actor. Nor did some of the fight choreography. The film would have been better off sticking to a more brutal, natural style of violence, more 70’s influenced and gnarly, avoiding the attempts at kung-fu. If it was pared back and been an expression of rage, rather than theatrics, it would have had more impact with its setting. More Charley varrick or the outfit, less kung fu. I think the costume should have remained the suit from the early sections and emphasising Furlong’s haunted face, playing off this guy is dead and reacting badly to it. It could have been simple to not even do the face, or only do it for the conclusion and have it take place in extreme darkness to protect the film from its budget limitations.
    I also think its villains started from a place of reality but by the time the film starts they have gotten theatrical and weird to go along with their plan, with a lot of denial, so to me it makes sense but I can see others not agreeing.

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