The greatest overall Halloween movie is John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween.  Of course the topic is open to debate, but probably not that much.  To take the name of the holiday itself, a horror movie’d have to be pretty definitive, and this one went as close as it gets. 

No matter what West Hollywood would tell you, Halloween isn’t about parades or naughty nurse costumes.  It’s about things that go bump in the night, that feeling you get up and down your back when you’re walking up to your front door at 3am and it’s dark and quiet and you wonder who might be out there. 


John Carpenter’s original has survived countless sequels and holiday-themed knock-offs and is still as creepily effective as ever.  People always talk about the Steadicam scene that opens the film, and that’s cool and all, but that’s not how the movie starts.  It starts with that slow zoom, and that score, and that eerie pumpkin in a sea of black, against the title.  And that sums it all up.


Meanwhile, tonight is Mischief Night, also and most notoriously known as Devil’s Night.  As a very much unofficial holiday, Devil’s Night doesn’t have nearly as many films to represent it.  Of those contenders, the leader has to be The Crow.  Here’s another smaller movie that looms large in the consciousness and did lead to its share of atrocious sequels and thematic imitators.


I’m not going to make a case for The Crow being an underrated genre classic.  It’s well-loved, if not as often cited, by a significant population of cineastes, and anyone who feels otherwise generally doesn’t want to talk disparagingly about it either, for well-documented reasons.  Me?  I happen to fairly love the movie because to my eye, it’s very emotionally raw.  It feels honestly felt, and to me, that counts for plenty.  I’d rather see that kind of movie than five others more traditional and more technically perfect.


Based on the comic book by James O’Barr, written by horror novelists John Shirley and David Schow and directed by Alex Proyas, The Crow stars Bruce Lee’s son Brandon Lee as Eric Draven, a rock musician who is killed along with his fiancée on Devil’s Night by a gang of low-lifes, and who is brought back for vengeance by a crow that serves as his guide. 


It’s pop art.  It’s all broad strokes.  It’s the perfect movie for a moody, smart, stupid teenager who sees the world as all doom and romance – which I entirely was.  [Still am?]  Every character speaks in song lyrics, which isn’t the same thing as poetry.  Characters say things that you feel like you’ve heard before, even if maybe you haven’t.  They sound like they’re speaking in quotes, even at times clichés, but it plays as a piece.  “It can’t rain all the time.”  Again, I have an affection for the dialogue of this movie, even as I recognize that it’ll never be taught alongside that of Wilder, Brackett, and Diamond.  On top of that, it’s wall-to-wall music, both orchestral and [at the time, current] industrial/alternative.


And the movie is dark.  Literally.  It’s as if someone in the editing room spilled ink all over the negative.  I knew a guy in high school who complained to me about not being able to see what was going on because it was so dark.  That guy was a pussy, but he’s not entirely off-base.  The cinematography is absolutely defined by blackness, with occasional reds.  I wouldn’t want to see many more movies like it, but the look works for me. 


On account of all the low light, it seems that the movie was cast for voices as much as faces.  The villains include such richly vocal character actors as Michael Wincott (“Caw caw, bang, fuck, I’m dead!”), Michael Massee (“Look what you’ve done, to my sheets…”), and legendary Warriors-taunter David Patrick Kelly (“You know Lake Eerie caught on fire once, from all the crap floating around in it.  I would’ve liked to have seen that.”)  The memorable voices of Tony Todd, erstwhile Candyman, and Jon Polito, Coen Brothers semi-regular, also make appearances. 


Also giving a mournful, typically grounding performance is Ernie Hudson.  As usual, he does plenty to sell the more ludicrous elements of an out-there movie, playing a good-hearted guy you feel like you know and wish you’d know more of.  Cops generally aren’t like this in real life, you know.


I really like what Brandon Lee does in the movie, what can be seen or heard of the performance, and I wish we could’ve seen more from him.  And that’s the thing – an overall pall of sadness hangs over The Crow, which makes it hard to watch as a guilty pleasure, a proud pleasure, or any much kind of pleasure.  Fifteen years later it’s still more pain than catharsis.  We can’t watch this movie without knowing that the universe sadly doesn’t work this way, that there is no spectral crow to help us right the grievous wrongs of the real world, and it hurts to think about.


But one thing the movie’s not is forgettable, so credit is due there.


My favorite acknowledgement of The Crow came on the American version of The Office.  Outside the office, the workers are talking about their picks for desert-island movies, and all of the girls are naming Legally Blonde on their lists.  Dwight, however, just has one movie on his list:  The Crow.  That’s just so perfect, tells you everything you need to know about that character.  And to some viewers, probably made him just a little more sympathetic than usual for a moment.

Tomorrow:  Halloween!