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The curse of The Crow

Contributed by
Jun 4, 2018

As stories go, The Crow is pretty dark. Based in a city where it always seems to be night, the narrative follows a murdered man who has come back from the dead to avenge his and his fiancée's brutal murders at the hands of an extremely '90s gang. The inspiration for the story was based on tragic real-life circumstances, as creator James O'Barr's own fiancée had been recently killed by a drunk driver when he began work on the tale. That, combined with a story he read about a couple in Detroit being murdered for a $20 engagement ring, led to the story of Eric Draven, otherwise known as The Crow. O'Barr was an orphan, raised in the foster care system, and after losing his fiancée he began work on the comic in order to cope with the unfair hand life had dealt him.

It took seven years of shelf time before The Crow found a publisher in Caliber Press. O'Barr has admitted to feeling like there wasn't much mainstream appeal to the story, but continued working on it in his spare time. He ended the story of Eric Draven and his crow and moved on to other projects, only recently expressing an interest in possibly continuing the tale. His follow-up stories have shared much of the same bleak mood as the series for which he is best known.

With or without O'Barr's continued interest in The Crow, the film adaptation has borne its own subculture, becoming the subject of three sequels and a television series that ran for 22 episodes. The big screen follow-ups chose to focus on other characters rather than bring back the original protagonist, Eric Draven, while the TV series The Crow: Stairway to Heaven mainly revolved around on Eric Draven returning a year after the events of the 1994 film.

The story itself doesn't vary much across mediums and is essentially about a guy living out a really dark revenge fantasy against the cruel, murderous gangs that run the city, guided by a supernatural crow and petting a lot of cats along the way. The cat part is actually pretty cute, but the rest is very sad and angry. O'Barr was once quoted as saying that his original hope that working on the story would relieve some of his pain had been in vain; the brutal grief expressed on each page only served to make him feel even more self-destructive. It's certainly understandable. "The Crow" destroys his enemies brutally, despite occasionally showing kindness to people he deems “innocent.” Although initially created in the early '80s, main character Draven went on to be one of the prime examples of a very specific kind of antihero that defined a lot of culture in the '90s.

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By the time filming for the movie version of The Crow began in early 1993, actor Brandon Lee had been starring in various martial arts films for years, and this was widely considered to be the film that would make him internationally famous. It did, but, in a seemingly impossible accident, it also ended his life. From the beginning, Brandon Lee had expressed a desire to stand on his own as an actor and not be remembered as the son of Bruce Lee. The Crow enabled him to break away from that legacy, but at a steep price.

Considered to be one of the most unlikely and unlucky accidents in Hollywood, Lee's death required weeks of investigation for police to even fully understand what exactly had taken place. For some time, all anyone knew was that Lee had been shot in the abdomen during a scene and that he had spent hours on the operating table before passing away. The full story involves a complicated chain of events and many small mistakes across several days. The Crow was already over a week behind schedule. The person typically serving as the weapons master on the film had been told he was no longer needed, and therefore was not present on set to possibly have prevented the accident. Blanks were loaded by the prop master, but a slug had become lodged in the barrel when the gun had been dry-fired earlier, and shooting the blank propelled the slug.

As a result, on the 50th day of filming, one of the actors, Michael Massee, apparently chosen at random on the night of as the character who would deliver the killing shot, fired the untested gun at Lee. Massee, who played Funboy, was so traumatized by the events of Lee's death that he took a year off from acting. The Crow had been his second film and by all accounts, including his own, he never really recovered from it. Although he went on to play several roles in many genre films and TV shows, he claimed to still be experiencing nightmares years later and was apparently never able to bring himself to watch the finished version of The Crow. Even more upsetting was the news that if the shot had been slightly less well-aimed, Lee would likely still be with us today. Massee passed away in 2016 of stomach cancer.

The scene being filmed that night was the one in which Eric returns home to find his fiancée being brutally attacked by the gang, and when he goes to defend her, he is killed immediately. In another unsettling parallel to the story right down to the specific scene, Lee had been set to marry his own real-life fiancée later that month.

After the sad events described above, Lee's scenes were completed using then-revolutionary CGI technology, adding to the list of facts that make The Crow one of the most historically relevant genre films of the '90s.

Lee's death, unfortunately, wasn't the only accident to have occurred during filming. On February 1, the very first day of filming, 27-year-old carpenter Jim Martishius suffered serious burns over much of his body when live power lines collided with the crane he was in. That same day, a publicist working on the film was in a car accident, and an equipment truck mysteriously caught on fire. One crew member fell through a roof and broke several ribs, while one drove a screwdriver through his hand. A truck drove through the set, with stories differing about what exactly occurred. Many claim that it was an accident, while some have suggested that the driver was a disgruntled employee gone temporarily berserk and immediately fired and banned from the set. As with so much of this story, it's impossible to say for sure what happened, but it's said to have ended in the man colliding with his steering wheel and suffering injuries. Finally, on March 13, a storm destroyed several sets, costing thousands of dollars in damages.

On the day of Lee's life-ending accident, Entertainment Weekly ran an article listing all of these upsetting accidents entitled Bird of Ill Omen, obviously having no clue what was going to occur that very day. 

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In retrospect, some fellow cast members have mentioned that Lee would joke about his death, or that he was having premonitions about the end of his life. Jon Polito recalled that Lee had managed to cut himself up pretty badly on fake sugar glass during a scene in which Draven bursts through a window, and he warned the actor against putting his body on the line in that way. Only about a decade had passed since Vic Morrow and child actors Renee Chen and Myca Dinh Le had lost their lives to a falling helicopter on the set of The Twilight Zone, and Polito later claimed the incident remained fresh for many Hollywood actors even in 1993.

Regardless of everything, as far back as 2013, a proposed reboot has been in the works. After Luke Evans was cast and quickly dropped out of the project, a series of actors including Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, Nicholas Hoult, Jack O'Connell and Jack Huston were linked with the film before Jason Momoa began work on the role under director Corin Hardy on November 17, 2017, planning for a 2019 release. Momoa and Hardy both left the project officially on May 31. Momoa was quoted as saying that he'd be ready to play the character, which he calls “the role of a lifetime,” when and if the film is ready to be made.

Not everyone believes in curses, and we're not saying you should, but if you're on the fence, the many terrible issues on the sets of The Crow definitely make a case for it. Curse or no, the movie pulled in over $50 million at the box office and remains one of the most notorious films of all time — due to the reality surrounding it as much as to the story it's based on.

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