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'Cursed Films: The Crow': Brandon Lee's bizarre death and on-set tragedies point toward a family curse

Over the years, many have attributed Brandon Lee's death to the Lee family curse, where every first-born male child in the family had died
UPDATED APR 17, 2020
Brandon Lee (Shudder)
Brandon Lee (Shudder)

Jay Cheel sheds some light in Shudder's 'Cursed Films' on the Lee family curse and the slew of mishappenings on the set of the 1994 film 'The Crow'. The film was based on a comic book of the same name, written by James O'Barr, where a guy who was unfairly killed while trying to save his fiancé from being raped and abused, resurrects as a crow-shifter to exact his revenge.

The film was directed by Alex Proyas, who envisioned only one actor to play the titular role of Eric Draven — Brandon Lee, son of actor and martial arts legend Bruce Lee. The young actor had been trying to make a name for himself, breaking free of the influence that his father's name had brought to him. The world knew of him as the son of Bruce Lee, but was unaware of his potential and vast talent, that was yet to be tapped into.

Essentially, 'The Crow' was supposed to be Brandon Lee's claim to fame. Instead, it was marred by several on-set injuries and one fatal accident which resulted in Lee's death. 

The filming for 'The Crow' began in 1993, Wilmington, North Carolina. "Everyone has invested a thousand percent in trying to make a film that would stand shoulder to shoulder with any studio release on a fraction of the budget," said Jeff Most, producer of the film. Bridget Baiss, author of 'The Crow: The Story Behind the Film', recalls the pre-productions offices receiving an anonymous cryptic voicemail that asked them to not go ahead with making the movie because bad things would happen.

It was as if the voicemail had pushed a button for the tragedies to unravel, one by one.

'The Crow' by James O'Barr (Shudder)

The tragedies began on the very first day of shooting. A crew member who was driving a cherry picker to the set backed his pick-up truck into a high-tension live wire and caught fire. It carried the voltage to run all the lights on the set. He suffered major second and third-degree burns but didn't die. However, he lost his ears.

The second mishap took place when Hurricane Emily swept the outer banks of North Carolina and destroyed the set. Entertainment Weekly wrote an article about everything that had transpired in the filming area and labeled it as 'The Curse of the Crow'. A staff member of the production office then followed that with a badly-timed comment saying things have happened, but it's not like anyone had died. That might just have jinxed it all.

Brandon Lee was gearing up for a death scene in the filming process, and the next tragedy struck.

Michael Massee who played the role of Funboy, the antagonist, was supposed to shoot Lee's character. When he shot the actor from a very close range, the bullet pierced him and wounded him mortally. The prop .44 caliber handgun had been unknowingly lodged with a live bullet, and the prop master had been sent away that very day so nobody had checked the barrel before the filming.

Lee was rushed to the hospital and after a series of unsuccessful blood transfusions was pronounced dead at 1.04 pm. What was even more bizarre was the similarities with a Bruce Lee story. The legend died while making the film 'Game of Death', in which he played an actor shot after gangsters replace a fake bullet with a live one.

Brandon Lee and his fiancé Eliza Hutton (Shudder)

Although he was never charged, Michael Massee was scarred by the unfolding of this tragedy to the point that the guilt of firing Brandon Lee haunted him till his death in 2016.

The crew was devastated and the initial reaction to Lee's death was to stop filming, although the due date for the production was only eight days away. They just didn't want to continue the film without Lee and couldn't fathom moving forward with it. However, Lee's fiancé Eliza Hutton and mother Linda Lee convinced the crew to continue filming because Lee had been incredibly stoked about his performance and would have wanted it finished.

So they called in his stunt double, masked him to look a little more like Lee and completed the film with added CGI effects in post-production. 

His death triggered rumors revolving around the Chinese mafia and a 'death blow', but it aroused speculations of the wretched Lee curse that was also mentioned in the 1993 Bruce Lee biopic 'Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story'. The story goes that the first-born male in the Lee family was bound to die at the hands of a 'demon.'

Lee's death was connected to that of his father in 1973 who succumbed to death in his sleep after consuming a pain-killer. Later both their deaths were linked to that of Bruce Lee's oldest brother, the first-born male child of the family that hadn't survived childbirth.

'Enter the Dragon'(Shudder)

The episode garnered some positive insights from fans of Brandon Lee, 'The Crow', and also those who have followed the baseless Lee family conspiracy. They took to Twitter to share their opinions on the same.

"Just finished the new episode of Cursed Films on Shudder about THE CROW. My word that broke me. That took me back to my teenage years and broke my heart all over again. Also, such an inspiring and touching end speech by Michael Berryman. Fantastic series. Bravo @Shudder @JayCheel," one fan commended the Shudder series for sticking to the truth.

"Cursed film episode of The Crow was devastatingly cathartic. It shone a lot of light on some dark places in the Curse of the Crow movie", said another.

A third user tweeted, "I wasn't prepared for the sobering experience watching THE CROW episode of Shudder's CURSED FILMS. What a crushing sucker punch."

Many got emotional with Michael Berryman's monologue at the end. This fan described it:  "Michael Berryman just spoke to my soul in @Shudder The Crow episode of Cursed Films. Enjoy every moment, even if you’re stuck inside, enjoy every second of life I’ve been hit in the feels yet again with this series."

Director Jay Cheel also took to the platform to relay his experience while making the episode.

"I really wanted to talk with Alex Proyas about THE CROW. He was not interested for obvious reasons. This was a big challenge overall while making this series. It's asking a lot for people to revisit these horrible events. I'm so grateful to those who did. #CursedFilms," said Cheel.

"I'm very happy so many fans of Brandon Lee are responding so positively to our episode on THE CROW. As someone who also sees this as an important film in my formative years, I made sure to be as respectful as possible to those who trusted us with their stories. #CursedFilms," he said.