James O’Barr created The Crow as a way to deal with the death of his fiancee at the hands of a drunk driver. Today, we may know it more for the death of its lead actor Brandon Lee. Take it from someone who was 22 when the original film came out and had already been a fan of the comic — it was the perfect movie for its time, a capsule ready made to be looked back on as I am now old and have so many memories around this time.
Eric Draven (Lee) has been killed after trying to save the life of his fiancee Shelley. One year later, a crow brings him back to life as he unleashes terror on the gang of Top Dollar (Michael Wincott, Strange Days).
It’s an incredibly simple tale of revenge, but the gothic look and soundtrack that reflects the time of its creation drive this movie beyond its simple origins. I remember being beyond excited when My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult was actually in the film, playing at Top Dollar’s club before his gang heads out to set Detroit ablaze on Devil’s Night.
Of course, there has long been discussion of the film being cursed. In addition to the accident where Michael Massee shot a live round — unbeknownst to the actor — a carpenter suffered serious burns, another worker was stabbed in the hand by a screwdriver, an equipment truck blew up, a stuntman broke his ribs, a rigger was electrocuted, a set sculptor flipped out and drove his car through the prop room and finally, a hurricane destroyed much of the set.
Another reason for so much of this — beyond fate — was that there was plenty of cost and corner cutting, with a crew member remarking that they were “trying to make a $30 million movie for $18 million.” As the movie was being shot in North Carolina, which is a right-to-work state, the unionized conditions of Hollywood did not exist. They switched schedules from night to day without the industry standard 24-hour break. Rumors of rampant cocaine use on set also exist.
Due to Lee dying, many of the scenes had to be reshot with a double and CGI. All of the scenes with Michael Berryman’s Skull Cowboy character had to be cut, too.
Despite the tragic nature of its creation, The Crow remains a movie that reminds me of a different time in my life. Its influence on culture remains.