The Crow (1994) is highly regarded as a cinematic masterpiece. Whether you consider it “horror” or not (I personally do. We’re talking about a dead guy who comes back to life to brutally kill a bunch of people), it is at the very least a dark, gothic fantasy that few can match. I think a large part of its success stems from the stellar performance of star Brandon Lee (son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee). Brandon’s role as Eric Draven in this film is perhaps as exemplary as Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker in Dark Knight. These are actors who underwent a complete transformation for their role.
And unfortunately, Heath Ledger and Brandon Lee share another thing in common: their most exemplary performances, what would likely have been their break out roles, were also their last roles. This is one tragedy in a concept I have titled “The Three Tragedies of The Crow”.
The first Tragedy of The Crow took place before the story was ever penned by comic book writer James O’Barr. But, though this tragedy predates it, it inevitably led to its existence. In 1978, James had a fiancee named Beverly. It would not last, however, because then struck the first Tragedy. Beverly was killed by a drunk driver. James then joined the Marines to cope with his loss and, while stationed in Berlin in 1981, he began to write The Crow as a means to deal with the tragedy. The project continued after he was discharged. And, though he started it hoping for catharsis, it was inevitably a journey that only fueled his rage. When the Crow kills in the comic, in my mind, I believe that is James killing that driver over and over by proxy.
“As I drew each page, it made me more self-destructive, if anything….There is pure anger on each page.”
The comic was about a man named Eric Draven who comes back from the dead to avenge himself and his fiancee one year after they are killed by a group of criminals. It is the second Tragedy of The Crow. Fictional, in this instance, but based in real loss and inevitably leading to more of the same: the third Tragedy.
The comic The Crow was finally printed by now defunct Caliber Press in 1989. It was met with great success and the process to turn it into a film began. Horror legends Tony Todd (as Grange) and Michael Berryman (as The Skull Cowboy) were cast. Berryman’s scenes as The Skull Cowboy, a character from the comic, were later cut.
And Brandon Lee was cast as the titular character, Eric Draven, The Crow.
But strange things happened on set. There were injuries and accidents, even strange, unexplained fires. Some say that the set was cursed. The most damning evidence for such a claim is the third Tragedy of The Crow.
Michael Massee discusses the accidental killing of Brandon Lee.
There are a lot of rumors about what happened on set that fateful day. How it happened, during which scene. Simple research will tell you the answer, however. On March 31, 1993, Brandon Lee was shot dead due to an improperly maintained prop gun firing dummy cartridges that were handmade to save money. On a prior firing of one of the aforementioned home made dummy cartridges (created by purchasing real bullets and emptying out the powder from the shells), someone screwed up. Some primer was left in one, just enough to cause the bullet to partially fire and become lodged in the barrel of the gun. The bullet was never removed from the barrel. It stayed there as they prepared for the scene that would be Brandon’s last: the death scene of his own character, one of the last scenes to be filmed for the movie. They swapped out dummy cartridges for blanks, the camera rolled, Brandon entered the apartment to find his fiancee, Shelly, being beaten and raped by the group of criminals, and Michael Massee (playing heroin addict Funboy) fired the gun at Brandon. The exploding blank provided just enough power to force the bullet out of the barrel… and into Brandon Lee’s stomach. The third Tragedy has happened.
Brandon, who himself was engaged to be married, collapsed to the floor. At first, the cast and crew thought he was just acting his part. But then he didn’t get up. He never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at 1:03 PM at the hospital.
The footage of his death was destroyed. The production was fined a record amount of money for the negligent death. Production almost ceased, the film almost scrapped. But Brandon’s fiancee Eliza Hutton supported director Alex Proya to finish the movie so that Brandon’s death would not be worthless. And so, production resumed. A stunt double was used for the last few scenes (eg Eric Draven in silhouette on the roof with his guitar and Brandon’s face digitally imposed onto the double when Eric is falling out the window during his death scene). The film was released and dedicated to Brandon and Eliza.
The Three Tragedies of the Crow. The first leading to the next and the next. A line of dominoes falling, the reaper laughing as each tumbles.
Is the film cursed? I don’t know. What I do know is that when I heard they were planning to make a remake it bothered me immensely. Remakes get a lot of hate. I typically give them a chance. But remaking The Crow, a film where a great man and amazingly talented actor died during production, is grave robbery. This film is a memorial to all the loss and all the hurt that led to such an amazingly heartfelt film. Because Brandon’s death was not for nothing. He proved himself to be one of the greatest actors of all time and, with his performance, truly brought to life one of the most amazing characters ever to be put on celluloid. The film stands as a monument to him. He will never be forgotten.
The final interview with Brandon Lee before his death.
Rest in peace, Brandon.
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