phantom limb /ˈfan(t)əm’lim/ n. an often painful sensation of the presence of a limb that has been amputated.
Welcome to Phantom Limbs, a recurring feature which will take a look at intended yet unproduced horror sequels and remakes – extensions to genre films we love, appendages to horror franchises that we adore – that were sadly lopped off before making it beyond the planning stages. Here, we will be chatting with the creators of these unmade extremities to gain their unique insight into these follow-ups that never were, with the discussions standing as hopefully illuminating but undoubtedly painful reminders of what might have been.
With this entry, we’ll be delving into The Crow: Lazarus, which was intended to be the fourth theatrical installment in the Crow franchise before the series went fully straight-to-video with Lance Mungia’s 2005 sequel The Crow: Wicked Prayer. To have starred rappers DMX and Eminem, Lazarus was intended to have a larger budget and markedly different approach to the series’ core story of undying love and violent retribution, elevating the title back to theatrical prestige after the previous follow-up’s scant single-cinema release. Joining us to discuss this project is screenwriter James Gibson (Never Die Alone), who discusses how this sequel came about, what its story would have entailed, and why it ultimately didn’t take flight.
“We all know about the first Crow, and the second one was kind of a letdown,” Mr. Gibson begins, charting the origins of Lazarus. “It didn’t do as well. They thought it would, but no one was really all that artistically satisfied with it. So they were in danger of killing the franchise, and they had already started making the third one. It hadn’t come out yet, but they were in the middle of making Salvation, the one with Kirsten Dunst, and Miramax had already decided that was just gonna be straight-to-video.
“So it was like, they really needed to jumpstart this or they’re going to kill the golden goose, and there was a sense of needing to reinvent it. I was friendly with a guy who was a producer for Ed Pressman, who is really smart, really nice guy named Alessandro Camon, who’s actually gone on to be an Oscar-nominated screenwriter in his own right [for 2009’s The Messenger]. We had been friends, just one of those weird things.
“There was a book I had adapted for a friend of mine who was an indie producer, and he owned the rights to it. It was a pulp book named Never Die Alone by this author named Donald Goines. He was one of those guys, kinda like Iceberg Slim. You know, he put out a lot of like paperbacks, really pulp in the best sense. Crime books and stuff. I had written an adaptation of one of his books, because his writing’s great. Very noir, lots of twists. Very unsparing depictions of drugs, bad guys and stuff.
“So I had done a script and it was set in that world, and Alessandro had gotten it. He was like, ‘Oh, well maybe you can do something.’ They knew they wanted to do a Crow sequel somehow having something to do with hip hop, because the soundtracks had been a big part of those movies, and the first one … technically Eric Draven was a musician. It wasn’t necessarily integral in the movie, but he was a musician before he got killed.
“This is where it gets a little weird, because obviously I’m a white Jewish guy. I think nowadays if they were going to write something set in that world, you’d want to go out of your way to get a writer of color. And really probably should have in the first place. But for whatever reason, Alessandro put it to me. He said ‘Jim. We really want to do a hip hop Crow. Can you come up with ideas for that?’ I said, “Yeah, I’ll come in.’
“So the initial seed of the idea was, go back twenty years to the stuff that was in pop culture, you’d have the Tupac killing and the Biggie killing. And there were all these rumors that Suge Knight might’ve actually been behind the Tupac killing, even though they tried to blame it on someone else. By the same extension, Puff Daddy was always seen as kind of sleazy, and he might’ve had something to do with killing Biggie. There was all of this mystery. No one ever really figured out exactly what happened. The original story was that one side killed the other, so the other side killed their guy as retaliation, but no one was necessarily sure.
“The result was like this cult that came up around Tupac after he got cut down in his prime. And you had things like Suge Knight being a complete thug in real life, having been a gangster and still treating people that way. On the other hand, you had Sean Combs trying to become a lifestyle brand and sort of shoehorning his way into everyone’s projects.”
With the idea of the villains in place, Gibson notes how his hero would have figured into this world. “So it’s an artist cut down in his prime. The people who killed him have devious motives. So we thought, ‘Okay, let’s have it be kind of what this urban myth is, that it actually was an inside job by the guy he thought was his friend and partner.’ So it’s like a Judas angle to it. Then you’re able to have like a bigger-than-life villain with the record company, and you’re able to do kind of a satire of the music business. So there was a sense that everything was meant to be stylized, which is why some of the stuff is really broad, some of the humor. The other thing that I wanted to bring to it, because it was music industry. My favorite movie of all time is Phantom of the Paradise. I just love that movie, and Ed produced that movie. I love Ed, I love the guy. When I pitched him, I was so excited because he produced so many of my favorite movies. He couldn’t have been a nicer guy.
“When I went in to pitch them – and I wasn’t just doing it to be a kiss-ass – I said, ‘Look, my favorite movie is Phantom of the Paradise, and this has a lot of similarities, right?’ You have a musician, we’re setting it in the music world, guy’s getting killed by his label chief, he’s coming up with elaborate ways to get revenge. I mean, I want to make that part of the template, and a big part of that movie was that it was very satirical towards the music industry. So there were all these different elements like that, and that was kind of the point of departure, where we were going to go.
“In the pitch, basically what really made it happen was … I was giving story ideas, but I was really huge hip hop fan back then. I mean, I wasn’t one of those Michael Rapaport, ‘Yo, yo, yo’ guys, but I just knew my shit. I really was a genuine fan. So when they first approached me, it was maybe late ’99, the biggest star in the world back then was DMX. He had just come off of having two number one albums in the same year. They both went like quintuple platinum or something. He had an image which was really interesting at the time, where he was kind of flirting with goth imagery a lot. So it really seemed to me like this guy’s gotta be the guy. He’s starting to act, he’s got this amazing intensity, and he’s having songs where he’s talking to God and talking about being ready to die. There’s a spiritual side to his stuff.
“What sold it was, I brought in a copy of his second album, which had just come out and was like platinum. Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, where he’s standing naked in a bathtub covered in blood. I’m like, ‘This is the Crow, right? Look, this is your Crow.’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, he’s our Crow.’ They didn’t even really know who he was. I’m like, ‘Call it up, we’ll set up a meeting with his management. This is the movie, the movie is him. He’s the biggest star right now.’ It just seemed like a no-brainer.
“So they set up a meeting with DMX. He was in town, they called me, told me they only want me to come, and we were going to pitch DMX. He was staying in some hotel in Beverly Hills, and he’s the funniest, nicest guy in the world. There were all these bodyguards. We had to go down through this whole hall of different security checks. There are guys outside the room, we opened the door, and he’s just sitting on the couch with some friends, smoking weed. You can smell this weed. The first thing he says is [adopts gruff DMX voice] ‘You want some Cheetos?! Doritos?!’ I’m like, ‘No, we’re good.’ ‘They’re really good! Really good!’ ’No, we’re good.’ ‘You’re missing out! These are good Cheetos!’
“He’s just like, no nonsense. Doesn’t put on any attitude or airs. And we pitched him the idea. Then, because I was really familiar with his work, I was actually able to quote back lines from his own songs to him. I said, ‘You know, you’ve got this song here where you’re talking about feeling torn over whether you’re ready to go up to Heaven or not, because you’ve done some bad things. I mean, that’s what this character is.’ I think that really clicked with him. He really saw that I understood his work.
“I could tell that he was seeing it, and he was like, ‘Yeah, great. Let’s do it.’ Just like that, in the room, he was like ‘Let’s do it.’ So as soon as we had him, now we knew we had a movie. And he had just come off doing a small part in a Joel Silver movie, but they were going to start building movies for him, clearly. I mean, that was where his career seemed to be headed. So now it was like, ‘Okay, go write the script. You’re writing for a star, tailor the role as much as possible to DMX.’”
With his marching orders in place, Gibson began working on his screenplay. “When you’re writing for an actor, it makes it a lot easier in some ways. You know the persona, you know? I think there was an earlier draft that was a lot different. I think originally, they were going to try to go really low budget. DMX was really into motorcycles. He had that get that Ruff Ryders crew, so it had biker gangs. We went through a couple of different directors. Finally, they got Joseph Kahn [Torque, Detention]. Huge video director. He cut his teeth doing like Wu-Tang Clan videos, stuff like that, so he’d worked with a lot of rap people. He kind of knew the world, Very interesting guy, very smart. But really visual, very into pop culture, very into over the top stuff, very into like visual shorthand. He would always edit his own videos, do the effects himself. If you’ve seen Torque, you know what his aesthetic is when he has some money behind him. He was trying to go for that kind of … it is kind of comic book-y in a way, but in a way that’s hyperreal, and sort of defies the laws of physics and gravity. Everything’s candy-colored. But it’s an aesthetic, you know?
“We sat down, he said the things he wanted to do, and I was writing it. I was taking all his input, especially for the setpieces. He would give me visual ideas, or how he wanted to block an action scene. That’s why a lot of them were very detailed. We went through it, and we wanted to have this sense of … like, okay, it is the rap world, but it’s bigger, you know? So a lot of it, we were playing with hip hop iconography, or playing with ideas of drug dealers, but we were just sort of making it a kind of cartoon in a sense, but not necessarily in a disrespectful way. That’s what the aesthetic was, and some of the stuff he was wanting to do was crazy. You know, those inserts with the video game graphics and stuff. Some of it could have been cool, he might’ve pulled it off. So that was basically the template. Then it was a matter of just trying to make it work.”
”…for the great day of his wrath has
come, and who shall be able to stand?”
Prefaced with the above biblical quote, The Crow: Lazarus opens in an unnamed urban metropolis, winding through the city and showing us glimpses of its many walks of life. A massive billboard, untouched by graffiti, introduces us to LAZARUS RIDER, a 4x platinum recording artist for the aptly named Brimstone Records. In a grim voiceover, he intones a version of Sarah’s opening lines from the original ’94 film: ”Once upon a time back in the day, folks used to believe that when someone died, a crow would carry that person’s soul to the land of the dead…”.
At a massive sports arena overrun with fans, Brimstone’s Fifth Anniversary Jam is being overseen by the record company’s weaselly CFO “Brat” (“a parody of a much-reviled real-life movie and music video producer who shall remain nameless,” Gibson notes). Brat is in a panic, attempting to roust Lazarus from his dressing room to take the stage for his much-anticipated live performance. It’s here that we’re introduced to Lazarus himself, his head “pressed to the bare stomach of his beautiful fianceé MARY.”
We learn that Mary is pregnant, a revelation that’s led Lazarus to make the evening’s performance his last, as he’s ready to step away from the game and leave it all to his Brimstone business partner and childhood friend STONE. Arriving on the scene to Brat’s pleas over Lazarus, Stone is introduced with his imposing entourage (IKE, a “tough, soccer-hooligan looking Brit”; EVA, “athletic…ninja-like leather catsuit”). Boasting hard features and intense eyes, clad in white silk and white Gucci loafers, Stone cuts an impressive figure.
“So part of the idea was that in real life, Sean Combs – P. Diddy – his trademark was always wearing white silk,” Gibson points out. “Everything. He was always dressed in all white, that was his look. So part of it was, we were kind of gonna copy that so that it would add a little element of, ‘Oh, it’s just a riff on Puffy.’ You know, making him out to be a bad guy.”
On his way to Lazarus’ dressing room, Stone catches a televised interview with Mary’s reporter sister TASHA, where Mary’s pregnancy and Lazarus’ retirement are revealed. Stone visits with his two old friends, congratulating them both before seeing Lazarus off to the stage. Brat moves next to Stone, pointing out that Lazarus’ upcoming exit will spell doom for Brimstone’s planned expansion, and possibly the entire enterprise.
Just then, Stone gets a phone call from Brimstone arch-rival PAPA SMURF, an outlandish figure with a “processed flip, Jackie-O sunglasses, diamond-studded tooth caps.” Gibson comments: “The idea was that he had this super fast delivery. He would have been delivering them at a mile a minute. He had a very ornate speech pattern. He loved to taunt and fuck with Stone … we were just going for full absurdity.”
Papa Smurf and Stone trade barbs, with the former making a veiled threat just before two Smurf-masked men appear in the crowd and open fire, narrowly missing the performing Lazarus on stage. Chaos erupts in the arena, with Lazarus managing to escape alongside Mary. The two are separated outside into two limos, with Lazarus being whisked away by Stone, Ike and APPLES (a “badass Latino security guard”), while Mary is driven away by Brat and Eva.
Here, a horrible revelation: Stone has the limo stopped and orders Lazarus’ window rolled down just as another car pulls up alongside them, revealing gunmen within. The assassins open fire as Lazarus tries to take cover. Mary, seeing Lazarus in trouble, tears herself free of her own limousine and races toward him to help, only to be shot in the back by Brat.
Stone, having orchestrated the hit, escapes with his bodyguards into the other limousine as Lazarus fights for his life. Miraculously, even for his wounds, Lazarus gets the upper hand and kills his would-be murderers. He shares a quiet final moment with Mary before she dies, then takes the remaining limo and races after his betrayers.
Lazarus rams his limo into Stone’s. A battle ensues between the two, with Brat and Stone’s goons racing away. In a kamikaze-style gunfight, Lazarus and Stone take several bullets each, with the latter catching a bullet in the eye. The two old friends collapse alongside one another, their blood pooling together on the ground as they expire. As rivulets of Lazarus’ blood almost appears to be flowing into Stone, the larger crimson pool surrounding them take on the vague shape of the crow silhouette.
“In the other movies they would make use of like the crow silhouette, right?” Gibson asks. “Like all of a sudden, they light a match and the flame would go into the shape of the crow. You know, it probably doesn’t make any sense that when they haven’t even died yet, their blood is pooling in sort of a shape of the crow silhouette. But if you do that, it’s kind of spooky and it gives the audience a sense of, ‘Oh, maybe this is what’s happening here.’ If you see the the blood going in, it helps you understand what’s going to happen later…”
Shortly after, we see that one of the figures from the gunfight was revived in the hospital. Later, it’s revealed to be Stone, in rough shape but still quite alive. In his hospital room, face bandaged and leg in traction, Stone sees an albino crow make its way through his room’s window and to his bedside. It watches over him as he “breaks into a demonic grin.”
Gibson: “I forget if it was my idea or [Joseph’s]. When you have a director involved, you sit there and go, ‘What’s the movie you envision?’ It’s not just, ‘Oh, here’s the script, go shoot it.’ We were kind of reconceiving it from the ground up. So a lot of the ideas were the result of collaboration with him. Once we were playing with this idea of having the bad guy become a Crow, we realized that would be like a jawdrop moment that would totally fuck the audience up. Then it just became about contrast.
“And I think the sense was just that it would be just the polar opposite. So I think it was Joseph’s notion was just like, ‘Let’s have a white crow and a black crow.’ And it’s actually reversed, like the white one’s the evil one.
“But there’s a sense that the crow is somehow guiding him as well. It’s not necessarily his spirit guide to help him seek revenge the way it is in the actual story of the other Crows, or even how we use the crow with the DMX character. But it is sort of like … it tips him off about things. He’s able to see through the Crow-vision. The crow is sort of like his little spy.”
Cut to one year later, we discover that Papa Smurf was blamed for Lazarus’ murder and the attempt on Stone’s life. Brimstone Records has since expanded, becoming Brimstone Industries. Stone, his albino crow always by his side, has rebranded his image as the CEO of the company, which now peddles Lazarus toys, posthumous Lazarus albums, self-help tapes, clothing, alcohol – you name it, Brimstone likely makes it and emblazons it with their trademark “B” logo. He’s even taken to rubbing elbows with CEOs and Wall Street types, using his muscle to horn in on their turf.
As we should expect, the familiar black crow appears and resurrects Lazarus, leading him to the site of his death so that he can relive the experience via touch before he sets off on his inevitable mission of bloody vengeance. As he remembers Mary dying in his arms, his skin begins to corrode in all of the places where her blood had once touched him. He weeps, his tears leaving corroded streaks down his face. White marks on his skin, leaving him looking not unlike a traditional hero in a Crow movie.
“Part of it was obviously based on the fact that DMX was black,” Gibson says. “So there is a sense that … you know, the Crow makeup was sort of a stark white mask, but there was this idea of having it be kind of built in. It isn’t something he puts on his face, it actually becomes part of his skin. So it would end up looking like a version of the Crow makeup.
“The idea would be that by the time he came out at the end of that barrage of flashbacks, you’d see that his face had markings and scars, and different skin tones that coincided with where he had a bullet hole, or where he got shot, or where he had tears, so that his face would look significantly dramatic. You know, sort of in the vein of the Crow book, if not exactly like it.”
With his mission set, Lazarus makes his way to Stone’s men, initially unaware that his old friend is still alive. In a Brimstone club, Lazarus murders Ike in spectacular fashion, impaling the bodyguard on a meathook in the club’s kitchen walk-in freezer. Below the body, a pool of blood in the shape of the crow silhouette sits frozen on the floor.
“We played with little things,” Gibson says. “Like when he’d have left one of the victims, there’d be a crow shape somewhere. He’s not literally leaving his brand everywhere, but it’s just sort of as playing with the idea from the other movies … just sort of more like the tip off to the audience. ‘Okay. This is part of his revenge.’”
Arriving on the scene of the murder is a detective in his 50s, revealed to be a familiar face for fans of the series: ALBRECHT, the police officer who aids the resurrected Eric Draven in the original 1994 film. “The other big change we made was to bring back Ernie Hudson from the first movie. That was a decision made later on. We originally just had a sympathetic cop, and I was like, ‘Well, what if we have this connection? Since we’re making it so different in so many other ways, what if we had that character in this movie, too?’”
Albrecht, revealed to have spent time in a psych ward since the events of the first film, sees the crow silhouette underneath and steps back, shaken. He’s seen this before, and knows what he’s likely in for with this particular case. Worse still, he’s only a week out from retirement, and saddled with a jackass of a partner.
After kidnapping Brat and torturing him for information, Lazarus discovers that Stone is still alive. He kills Apples, then orchestrates an unexpected meeting with Stone, planting himself into a staged drive-by that the Brimstone CEO planned to bolster his persona (using Papa Smurf as the gunman, now a pawn in Stone’s employ).
In the city streets, a very real gunfight erupts between the invincible Lazarus and Stone’s men, seeing the undead avenger firing his guns atop and into Stone’s moving limo. Lazarus and Stone eventually find themselves face to face again and, in a visually dynamic sequence, the two enemies engage in battle – firing their guns at one another while dodging each others’ bullets, each able to anticipate the others’ moves due to their respective crows and their psychic link. Here it’s revealed that Stone has the same powers as Lazarus, provided to him by his own albino crow, a revelation which stuns our hero.
“This was the big thing where there was a switch in the orthodoxy,” Gibson says. “In the second Crow movie [The Crow: City of Angels], the villain tries to drink the blood of the crow, and he does temporarily gain the powers. So we figured, ‘Okay, we’re not that far off from that.’ But the leap we made was, somehow when they both killed each other, their blood mixed. So that when Lazarus has reawakened, somehow those powers transferred into the bad guy, too.
“It’s one of those things that if you try to explain it, then it probably doesn’t make sense. But if you just go with it, it works. I liked the reveal halfway through, where he’s like ‘Yeah, I’ve got your powers, too. You can shoot me all you want.’ And he couldn’t do shit. That was like a good ‘holy shit’ moment. Because you know something’s up, but you didn’t know he was invincible yet. If you have the bad guy have the same powers as your good guy, that’s conflict. Because if one guy can heal and have super strength and the other guy, where’s the tension? So that was the big gambit, buying that and buying the bad guy becoming a sort of reverse Crow. An anti-Crow.”
Albrecht arrives on scene, disrupting the battle and allowing Stone to go free. As the villain makes his exit, Lazarus make a horrible discovery: Tasha, Mary’s little sister, is now with Stone, having had his child in the year since her sister’s death. Lazarus makes his own escape from the police, leaving Albrecht certain that he’s once again dealing with supernatural forces while on his beat.
Now safe, and with his powers revealed, Stone uses his regenerative abilities to heal his wounds. He pulls out the teeth damaged by the gunfire and watches them reform before his eyes. He rips free his bad eye, only for a healthy one to reappear in its place. His scars even heal, though they leave behind “albino-white vitiligo-like patches”. Gibson notes: “I viewed him at that point … I was really thinking along the lines of the Jack Nicholson Joker. You know, getting more and more demented as it went on. That was at least an element of it.” This all in preparation for his appearance at a huge reception for Brimstone Industries and Mediacorp, a massive merger he had orchestrated to further extend his company’s reach.
Tasha sneaks away from Stone to visit Mary’s grave, only to find Lazarus there. A heated exchange occurs between the two, with Tasha explaining that Stone had been there for her in the wake of her sister’s death. Using his powers, Lazarus forces the firsthand memories of his and Mary’s deaths into Tasha, revealing Stone’s hand in their murders. Neither notice Stone’s albino bird, watching them both at a distance.
Meanwhile, Stone meets with a group of doctors he had employed to examine his blood and determine how it is that he’s still able to be walking around as one of the living. They note that there is something quite like a virus in his system, overtaking his cells. Stone asks them to work up antibodies to reverse the condition, hoping to weaponize the concoction against Lazarus. Gibson says: “We were desperately trying to come up with a way to have Kryptonite, and that was the only thing we could really think of, that they were somehow able to draw his blood and make some kind of antibodies.”
Later, Albrecht tracks down Lazarus to his last known address, an abandoned loft where the undead singer sifts through the remnants of his past life. The two talk, with Albrecht revealing his own connection to the crow, and what Lazarus’ real purpose is. “Since he has already seen something like this happen before,” Gibson says, “he’d be able to impart to DMX this speech about love and justice. That would have tied into the themes that O’Barr had originally dealt with, and try to make it more than just a straight vigilante/revenge movie. That there’s a sense that it’s not just that they killed him, but they killed the love of his life. So that would give a little bigger purpose to the revenge than just making it straight payback. If you add a little bit of a moral element to it, it makes it at least seem a little less bloodthirsty.”
Brat, having escaped from Lazarus earlier in the proceedings, orders a hit squad to attack Lazarus at his apartment. Infuriated, Stone kills Brat in front of the various bankers and CEOs at the merger. Tasha tries to escape, only to be restrained by Eva.
At Lazarus’ loft, the assassins attack. Albrecht takes cover as Lazarus takes on the gunmen in a scene written to be a visually unique action sequence. “Some of it got a little silly,” Gibson admits. “When Brat sends the hit squad to the apartment, [Joseph Kahn] wanted to have it be where it looked like the Brady Bunch, but with even more panels. Each panel was the point of view of one of the guys with the green night vision goggles. You would not actually see DMX shooting. You’d see the center panel, with him slightly moving his arms and craning his head because he could just shoot behind his back. Then each one would just sort of get extinguished as the guys died.
“So it was like a view of the Brady Bunch panels. Suddenly, Mike’s gone! There goes Cindy, there goes Jan! Then it’s just one square left with DMX. That would have been a really interesting way to see the gun battle, and it’s actually very inventive because you don’t have to have all the coverage that you would need on a normal thing. He probably could have shot that in a day. You know, there was stuff like that. Some of it was kind of bold. Again, with the comic book imagery, the weird freeze frames with the text, stuff like that. Some of it might’ve played, some not, but it would have had its own distinct style.”
As with the original film, the climax takes place in a church, this one on the cemetery grounds where Mary is buried. Stone and Eva hold Tasha there as bait, with Stone using the antibodies worked up by his doctors to cap off hollow points, creating “Crowkiller” bullets meant to sap Lazarus’ powers and make him mortal yet again. Lazarus arrives, kicking off a huge battle between he and Stone.
Stone uses his Crowkillers, unloading the entire gun into Lazarus, rendering our hero vulnerable. Just as things look bleakest, Lazarus’ crow seems to communicate a thought with him, revealing that it and the albino crow are linked, much as the birds are linked to the men that they’ve resurrected. “We played with the idea, because it had been part of the iconography, that if you kill the crow, the powers go away,” Gibson says. “So that was what led to that climax. The idea was that since they’re sort of mirror sides of the same coin and the birds seem to be linked, there was this interlocked fate. So that if you killed the one crow, the other one would die with it.
“So he realized the way to kill the bad guy was to sacrifice himself and make himself mortal, and in so doing he’ll make the bad guy mortal. Again, it’s stuff that, if you really start to think about the logic, it’s not gonna work. But if you’re invested in the movie, you don’t think about that. There are comic book movies that have even flimsier pretenses than that. A lot of it’s held together by chewing gum and Scotch tape, like a lot of logic in movies like that. You can kill yourself trying to make everything so perfectly logical or make yourself have to have all these scenes where everyone explains it, which are always a drag. You just go with it.”
Lazarus raises his gun toward a cocky, invincible Stone…then fires it into the black crow instead. The bird falls, as does its albino counterpart, rendering both Lazarus and Stone fully mortal. Stone’s teeth begin falling out, his eye oozes blood. He SCREAMS.
Albrecht arrives in time to save Tasha, who quickly dispatches Eva and retrieves her child. Lazarus gets the upper hand with Stone, finally killing his former best friend for good. Realizing that he’ll be denied an afterlife if he dies before making it back to his grave, Lazarus appeals to Albrecht and Tasha for help. Albrecht carries him outside to the cemetery, racing with him toward his grave. Lazarus makes it just in time to be greeted by a vision of Mary, who welcomes him back to the other side.
Albrecht and Tasha pay their respects before making their proper introductions. As they leave, Albrecht asks the name of Tasha’s three-month-old child. She considers it for a moment before answering: “Lazarus.”
“We wrote a draft. DMX loved it. They were trying to figure out who they were going to get to play opposite him. I think they were approached by Eminem’s people. And Eminem was just as picky as DMX then. 2000, 2001, he was blowing up huge. He said if DMX was going to be in the movie, he wanted to be in the movie. So we decided, ‘Okay, yeah. Let’s have him play Stone.’ Obviously, in that draft, it hadn’t been tailored to him yet. I think having that guy be white was going to change the dynamics somewhat. But it was nothing that couldn’t have been done with a few tweaks here and there. But he read the script, even though the character was written as black, he knew it was gonna be tailored to him and he agreed to do it. They had made a deal with him, they were going to pay him like $4 million or something to be in it. And this is like two years before 8 Mile.
“So he hadn’t been in a movie yet. This was going to be his motion picture debut. So it was going to be DMX as the good guy, the most badass guy in the world with a lot of heart. Eminem playing a mustache-twirling bad guy, the most villainous guy in the world. Obviously a gigantic, huge soundtrack. You’ve got the two biggest rappers, you know? It just seemed to me like it can’t lose, right? It just seemed like a no-brainer. We were all really excited about it, we were in pre-production, and … Miramax had this weird thing, where they were involved, but they weren’t involved.
“Like, I never had to deal with them. We never had gotten notes from them or anything, but the deal they had with Pressman is that the movie would be independently financed, but because they distributed the first one they had right of first refusal on distributing it. Basically, if they decided they didn’t want to do it, they could just tie up the rights and make it that no one else can distribute it because it was their right to do it. So they didn’t have creative input, but they had sort of a veto input, and in their minds the franchise wasn’t really good for anything more than a couple more straight-to-video releases.
“Which was partly their fault, because they did such a bad job marketing the second one, and they refused to release the third one. They only put it out in a theater in Portland or something, and then it went to video. So it became a self-fulfilling prophecy that it’s a diminished franchise that’s only worthy of straight-to-video at this point, and the whole point of doing this was to give it this giant shot in the arm with these huge pop culture stars to make it a theatrical thing again, to take it away from having it be so slavish to the first movie. That you could just really have a template of a guy who’s been wronged, getting the chance by the crow to set the wrong things. That can be anybody! That happens in all walks of life. So you could have really set it up to be where it didn’t have to be dependent on one character’s further adventures, and it didn’t have to be someone who looked exactly like Eric Draven. It didn’t have to have the same look that Alex Proyas gave the first one, with the same kind of goth sensibilities. You had a free hand.”
Here, Gibson reveals what exactly the Weinsteins had to say about the project and why it wouldn’t be going forward, which is somehow both shocking and entirely unsurprising. “This is what they were told, and just this kills me. They got a call from either Harvey or Bob Weinstein. It might’ve been Bob, because he was in charge of Dimension. ‘Nobody wants to see a movie with two rappers,’ was what he said. ‘Nobody wants to see a movie with two rappers.’ No one’s going to pay to see a movies with two rappers? Okay. They’re the two biggest fucking pop stars in the world at that point! Eminem was going to get even bigger, X was at his peak right then. And 8 Mile, when it came out a year and a half later, had like a $35 million opening weekend or something. And that was a drama. I mean, it kills me because I probably would have bought a house with the money that we’d have made, you know? [laughs]
“So what happened is, all of a sudden it was like ‘Oh, well now we don’t know, Miramax may not want to make it.’ Joseph was getting antsy. The fact that it was going to drag on became problematic for him.
“What they then decided to do, and at this point I was no longer involved, was they decided – ‘Okay, what if we make it not a Crow movie?’ They would just make it a movie set in the music business. A guy gets killed and gets revenge, have the same thing, but take out all of the crow elements and make it some other kind of supernatural origin story.
“They hired another writer to do a draft where it had something to do with … they went to a Chinese wizard, and a spell had been cast on them. I don’t know what the hell it was, but it was them trying desperately to make it so they could get it away from Miramax. But if it’s not going to be The Crow, what’s the point? If you can’t call it The Crow and you’re using the exact plot template of The Crow, but you can’t have any of the Crow iconography, you can’t have the Crow myth, you can’t have any of that – then all you’ve got is some kind of cheesy rip-off of The Crow. Then you’re going to explain everything away because of some kind of Chinese amulet, or a Chinese wizard cast a spell? It just seemed like it was doomed.
“They did manage to get it set up for awhile at another studio under that guise. They took The Crow out of the title and just called it Lazarus, but it ended up not going anywhere. At that point, I think Joseph got offered Torque and he bowed out to do it, and then the movie just kind of fell apart. At that point, I don’t think they were going to be able to keep Eminem, so it just fizzled. Just one of the things. It could have happened, but it didn’t. It’s a drag. But it was fun to write it, you know?”
Gibson sings the praises of his collaborator here, noting how much he enjoyed working with director Kahn. “It was fun developing a script with someone like that, really including the visuals, as opposed to just writing dialogue and leaving all of that to be done later. That was really fun for me as a writer to really kind of almost be involved in how it’s going to be shot and blocked, and the details of the setpieces. You know, that’s a lot of fun. It’s more than just writing snippy one-liners or something.
“It could have been a fun movie, but it’s not like ‘Oh my God, it’s some great loss to civilization.’ And I’m sure a lot of the diehard Crow fans might not been so happy with some of the changes made. I remember at the time, even some of the message boards, there was like, ‘Oh no, you can’t make it with a black lead. You can’t have it be hip hop. That’s disgraceful to Brandon Lee’s memory.’ There was always going to be that kind of faction. But I think it would have played. I think it would have been a big, fun kind of action movie, and I think Joseph would have shot the hell out of the setpieces because he’s really inventive. He’s the kind of guy that could stretch a lot of money and make a little look like a lot.
“I didn’t necessarily always quite understand where he was coming from with his aesthetic, although I trusted him. But then when I saw Torque, which is a completely ridiculous movie, I was like ‘Oh yeah, it’s totally a live action cartoon.’ I think very much that same kind of aesthetic is what he would have brought to this, because he did Torque right after this.
“I actually think even in that brief period between where it was no longer a Crow movie and it fell apart, I think it was with Warner Bros. for a while. And I think Warner Bros. was like, ‘Hey, you want to do this instead?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah.’ That’s it, he just sort of bailed. But again, I don’t blame him, you know? If you have a movie, it goes into pre-production and it gets shut down, how long can you stay stick around? You know? So that was that. It didn’t end up happening. “
Gibson points out here that, even though Lazarus didn’t happen, he was still ultimately able to make a film with DMX. “So when it fell through, they still wanted to do a movie with DMX, and DMX wanted to do a movie with them. What ended up happening is that script that I originally had written that was the kind of a writing sample that got them to call me in, somehow they got a copy of that to DMX, and he’s like, ‘I love that author, I want to make that movie.’ DMX had this short window open in the spring, and they wanted to do it for like $3 million. And they got Ernest Dickerson [Juice, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight]. I mean legend, right? He directed it. DMX was in it. David Arquette, Michael Ealy before he was a big star in it. So they ended up making the movie. It didn’t do so well at the box office. It’s a really dark kind of film noir, gritty thriller called Never Die Alone. It came out through Fox Searchlight in 2004. So we ended up making a movie with DMX, it just wasn’t The Crow.”
Mr. Gibson takes a moment here to look back on his time with his collaborator. “I was really sad when he passed away. He was just a really, really nice guy. Very much. I mean very troubled, obviously. That was tragic. But he was such a talented guy. In spite of the gruff persona, he was the sweetest guy. He was like a little kid. He was fascinated with remote control cars. When we were on the set of the Ernest Dickerson movie, and he’d be playing with his remote control cars and having them drive all through the set, through the trailers.
“He was the kind of guy, like … he was late to the set one day, and Ernest was mad. It turned out that it was Valentine’s Day, and he’d gone out and made sure he got flowers for every woman on the crew, you know? He came to set with roses for every single woman that worked on the crew, and that was why he was late. Ernest was like, ‘How can I get mad at that? The guy’s a gentleman.’
“I think if he had been able to do that movie, like a real superhero kind of thing tailored around him, I think it really could have pushed him over in terms of stardom. I don’t think he ever got to really do what he was capable of as a movie actor. Because even though he wasn’t a classically trained actor or anything, the camera loved him and he had just had this intensity. He had a great voice, and he just pops on screen.”
In closing out our talk, Mr. Gibson provides his thoughts on The Crow: Lazarus and his ultimate feelings on the screenplay he wrote two decades ago. “I literally hadn’t looked at it since like 2001. When it fell through and they told me I was being replaced … I just sort of moved on. And I looked at it the other night. Some of it I liked, some of it not. I mean, some of it is really overwritten. Some of it is silly. But I thought it kind of worked. I think it’s a little dated now, but I think it would have been fun. I think it would have been like an attempt to sort of fuse what they would call back then an ‘urban thriller’ with a kind of comic book aesthetic, which was kind of fun. I think it might’ve been a good hybrid.
“Ultimately, it was an assignment, really. I mean, I’m not like a total heartless mercenary, but you can’t get too attached to these kinds of things when it’s a job for hire, because you’re always expendable. It didn’t originate with you, you can easily be replaced, or it can not happen. Then if you get your heart set on it … I was afraid I was going to be embarrassed by it, and I wasn’t. I wasn’t embarrassed by it.”
Very special thanks to James Gibson for his time and insights.