The Crow Sequel that was planned but unproduced

The Crow Sequel that was planned but unproduced
The Crow Sequel that was planned but unproduced

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.

In our latest installment, we’ll be delving into the fascinating history behind The Crow 3: Resurrection, the planned but ultimately unproduced third entry in the supernatural action franchise. Joining us to discuss Resurrection are screenwriter Steven E. de Souza (48 Hours, Die Hard) and actor/screenwriter Phillip Rhee (Silent Assassins, Best of the Best), whose initial screenplay for an unrelated action film gave birth to this short-lived sequel. Along the way, the two will discuss the origins of the script, their noteworthy collaborators, and why it sadly never came to pass.

What happened here was, in a way, kind of what happened with Die Hard 2,” Mr. de Souza begins. “After the success of Die Hard, almost immediately, like the week after it opened, the studio said ‘We’re doing a sequel!’ This was at Fox. They rummaged around in their files and they found a script for a movie called 58 Minutes, which was based on a novel that involved terrorists sabotaging air traffic control.

“It was nothing to do with the Die Hard franchise. The hero was the head of air traffic control, and the plot was very different. It was Arab terrorists. It was an entirely different novel, but they had commissioned a script which wound up sitting on a shelf for a couple of years. And they said, ‘Hey, with some modifications, we can do this as a Die Hard script,’ which I did. So that was, I guess, in 1991.”

Cut to a few years later, when Mr. de Souza had written both Street Fighter and Judge Dredd for Edward R. Pressman, the producer of The Crow. “He actually came to me about getting involved in trying to finish The Crow after Brandon Lee had died,” de Souza reveals. “With writing some new scenes [involving] early CG at the time. But I was so overwhelmed with the work on the other two pictures [de Souza also directed Street Fighter] that I couldn’t get involved with that. But somehow, my reading the script and familiarizing myself with the Crow franchise over several meetings, although nothing came of it, put me on Ed Pressman’s radar for a Crow movie.

“And now if I can set the Wayback Machine and take you back to 1989. Oliver Stone approached me and said, ‘I really like your movies. I think action movies are kind of dimwitted, but I think your pictures are pretty smart, and I want to do an action movie. I have a story that is written by my martial arts instructor…’ He was taking martial arts lessons at the time from Phillip Rhee, a terrific actor and martial artist who was in the movie Best of the Best.”

Phillip Rhee as Tommy Lee in ‘Best of the Best’ (1989)

Well, you know, for me as an Asian American, I was very young and I wanted to make movies, but nobody would give me a shot,” Mr. Rhee says, discussing the origins of his original screenplay. “I knew that the only way that I could do anything is for me to develop it. So in the beginning, I would send out my black and white 8x10s to everybody, to casting directors.”

After dealing with several rejections, Rhee hit upon a new approach to create opportunities for himself. “I just thought that I have to do something different, so I started writing. I did a movie called Ninja Turf [aka L.A. Streetfighters] that got picked up, and then a movie called Silent Assassins with Sam [Flash Gordon] Jones. Right after that, I wanted to write about my background as a US Taekwondo guy going into competition with Korea. After I came back from Korea, I started to write about the experience, and that became Best of the Best.” For those unfamiliar with the film, Best of the Best is an action/sports drama which finds Rhee playing Tommy Lee, a member of an American martial arts team squared off against South Korean fighters in a Taekwondo tournament. Eric Roberts, James Earl Jones, Chris Penn and Sally Kirkland co-star in the film, which spawned three sequels.

“But in the beginning, I tried to send all of these scripts to various producers and directors, and nobody was interested. So, I had to do something where people would recognize [me]. So what I did was create a pamphlet. There was a Janet Jackson concert I was at, and she had these pamphlets. It was big, it was flashy, and everybody was buying this pamphlet. I said, ‘Wow, that’s really nice. You know what? I think I’m gonna make one like that.’

“So I sent out that pamphlet that I made. It was just gorgeous. All of a sudden, I got a call from [producer] A. Kitman Ho. He said, ‘Hey, Phillip, thank you for sending the pamphlet. It was pretty cool. Why don’t you come by our office and meet with my partner?’”

Rhee was unaware of Ho’s work at that point, and did not know who his famous producing partner was. “He goes, ‘My partner is a director/producer as well. His name is Oliver.’ And I said, ‘Who’s Oliver?’ A. Kitman Ho goes, ‘It’s Oliver Stone. Do you want to come in?’ And I said, ‘Oh, shit! Oh, absolutely, I mean!’ So Oliver Stone, A. Kitman Ho, and their partners, they said “Hey, Phillip. It’s pretty cool that you’re doing this all by yourself. We saw Best of the Best. Let’s meet.

“So we met, and then Oliver and A. Kitman Ho took me to the Warner Brothers. After the meeting, I received a three picture deal for Warner Brothers. And one of the projects I was working on was called Kato. It was not the Green Hornet Kato.”

“I think Phillip was either instructing Oliver, or giving him private lessons,” de Souza recalls. “He had written this story for a martial arts movie … Oliver said, “I think we have the bones of a story here. Can you come up with the new script with the basic idea and freshen it up? I want to make this for a modest price, and I know you’ve been directing lately. You can direct it.’ So I kind of reinvented the movie and tried to sever ties with previous films like this. I wanted to eliminate the usual scene where Steven Seagal does pushups.”

Rather than having a hero that nearly gets killed and “after lots of rehab he comes back better than ever”, de Souza notes that his lead character would suffer a far more grievous injury. “I had the scene where the villains double-cross the hero, who was an undercover cop, and they shoot him in the head and leave him for dead. [He’s taken] to the operating room. The surgeon opens his head up and goes, ‘Just close him up. This guy’s going to be a vegetable for the rest of his life.’ Then the film cuts to five years later. His partner is always visiting him, even though he’s like a vegetable, right?

“They put him in a wheelchair, in a room for rehab with the other people, hoping he will come out of his coma, and nothing works. Then one day, some criminals break into the hospital to attack the pharmacy. In the course of it, they attack his therapist who runs the group and is trying to get people to come out of their comas. Somehow, the sight of this woman who has tried to help him for five years, getting mugged, snaps him out of his coma. He gets out of the wheelchair, and karates the hell out of all these people. But, he’s still like Rain Man. And for the rest of the movie, he never gets in his right mind. So it was very funny. It was like Rain Man as an action hero, kind of misunderstanding metaphors, being almost like Madison the mermaid [from Splash], unfamiliar with how the real world operates. So it had a lot of dark comedy.

“So the idea here – Oliver and I were kidding around when I finished the script that we should title it My Left Foot of Death. Of course, he breaks out of the mental ward to track down the drug dealers. He spends the whole movie in hospital pajamas, barefoot.

So when we changed the movie with Oliver, we gave it a dozen other titles, including Ballistic. The poster was a backward figure, barefoot, straightjacket ripped apart. The tagline was going to be ‘Out of Control, Out for Revenge, Out of His Mind.’”

‘Ballistic’ concept poster

Once de Souza rewrote the project now known as Ballistic (“Terrific writing. It was terrific,” Rhee enthuses), the producing team considered bringing in a surprising choice to helm the action pic. “They brought in a Hong Kong director who had never directed in the United States,” Rhee reveals. “Oliver Stone and A. Kitman Ho invited John Woo [to direct Ballistic], and that’s how John Woo came to the United States.”

So. The star of Best of the Best, the producers of Born on the Fourth of July, the writer of Die Hard, and the director of The Killer and Hard Boiled. With that pedigree, one imagines Ballistic might very well have been an action classic that would still get talked about today. How did this not happen?!

“It takes a long time to develop projects,” Rhee explains. And [Ballistic] took a long time to develop. In the middle of that, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s team came in, and they had a script [Hard Target] and wanted to go right away. So they reached out to John Woo and [Woo’s producing partner] Terence Chang. So John went, ‘You know, I really want to do Ballistic, but it’s not ready.’ So he and Terence Chang went off to do the movie with Jean-Claude. After that, it just kind of lost momentum. So it’s never been made, unfortunately.”

At this point, your writer asks Mr. Rhee’s thoughts on Ballistic nearly becoming a Crow sequel, at which point he admits that he’d had no idea that it might have been. “I did not know about that! Actually, it would have been great, to have Ballistic made into a Crow sequel…”

“For a variety of reasons, Oliver ends up having a big fight with Warner Brothers over a movie [Heaven and Earth],” de Souza notes. He had a fight over royalties, residuals. He left Warner Brothers contractually, and my script was stuck in Warner Brothers.

“So somehow, because of his relationship with Oliver … Ed Pressman got ahold of the script and said, ‘Oh my God, this would make a perfect Crow sequel. What you did with Die Hard 2, where you took an existing script and retrofitted it … this is almost a perfect Crow sequel because he’s not dead dead. He’s just brain dead. He comes from back from being brain dead.

“So for several months, this was going to be a new Crow reboot for Ed Pressman. I did not sit down and write a Crow sequel. I spent two days tinkering with the existing script to bring it in line with the Crow continuity.”

So why didn’t this project happen as a Crow sequel? “All I can think of is that, at the end of the day, Ed was unable to get this script out of Warner Brothers. The turnaround price was several hundred thousand dollars to take it out of Warner Brothers, and maybe Dimension did not want to pay Warner Brothers the money to get the script released. So the plan to repurpose this script into a Crow movie was not realized. Whereas, in the case of Die Hard 2, Fox owned the script.”

So, what exactly would this take on Ballistic have looked like as a Crow sequel?

The script in question, titled The Crow 3: Resurrection and dated April 19th, 1997, opens with a bird’s eye view over a dark port city. The titular bird soars over nighttime San Francisco as a woman’s voice gravely intones a variation on the traditional Crow myth (“There’s a legend that when a body dies, a crow comes to escort its soul to the next world…”). However, rather than ending with its own take on the assertion that “the crow can bring that soul back to put the wrong things right,” this voiceover asks a tantalizing question for fans of the series: what if a victim’s soul dies, but their body keeps living on?

On a dark pier at San Francisco Bay, four well-dressed men (ACER, BRUNO, MORGAN, and their leader TERRELL) arrive to see out a designer drug deal for “number one bio-hack Lucien Rayner”. Meanwhile, a number of fisherman and homeless people milling about the dock are revealed to be undercover cops with the city’s anti-smuggling force. Amongst them is our lead, JOHN KATO.

One wonders while reading the script who might have played Kato, given that Phillip Rhee was originally attached to play the character when the project was still Ballistic. “I would think at that point, very likely he would have been the lead [of The Crow 3],” de Souza says. “That was about eight years after the script was written, and I don’t see how the movie could have been done without the relationship between Oliver Stone and Ed Pressman. So I imagine that very likely it would have been him.”

Phillip Rhee

Accompanying Kato on this stakeout is his partner, SARAH WELLER. Wait…Sarah? Given the name and its importance to the franchise, one has to wonder if this is somehow meant to be the young girl from the original film, last seen as a young woman dying heroically during the climax of the franchise’s first sequel. As Mr. de Souza tells it, the name was meant as more of an homage. “I’m almost certain that Sarah was deliberate there,” he says. While the character is surely different, the name acts as a fun nod to the previous films.

An inevitable gunfight erupts between the police and the drug runners once they’re caught in the act, with Kato exhibiting some impressive martial arts moves along the way. This big action sequence moves from the ship to the dock, from the dock to a car chase which culminates in a crash that sees Terrell’s vehicle teetering over a cliff, all as its owner and Kato do vicious battle. Terrell gets the upper hand, escaping with – unbeknownst to Kato – the cop’s hotel room key, which fell from his pocket during the scuffle. Terrell rendezvous with remaining henchman Acer and Rayner, here said to go by many names, including his current moniker BYRON. Terrell presents the key to the men, and plants the idea to seek revenge.

We cut from this to a large outdoor wedding ceremony at a Bay Area hotel. Kato is marrying the love of his life, ANNE. Sarah is in attendance, sitting alongside coworkers and friends, as well as the bride’s family. Her face betrays her emotions – she is clearly in love with her partner.

At the subsequent wedding party, the guests mingle before Kato spies a horrifying sight: a helicopter cresting above the hill at the party. Byron is glimpsed riding shotgun next to the pilot as Terrell wields an assault rifle from the ‘copter’s sniper’s nest. The script describes this sequence as moving into slow motion – not to detail the inevitable “cliché ballet of death”, but to focus on the victims-to-be, in the moment before the shots rings out.

The resulting attack is a bloodbath, seeing the various attendees brutally gunned down alongside one another. Anne is shot down in front of Kato, and dies in her newly minted husband’s arms. Kato, enraged, races up onto the tables, onto the bar, a flagpole, a tree – making his way to the helicopter. He climbs up onto the skids, making a valiant effort to bring the villains down before Byron shoots our hero in the head, sending him tumbling to the ground below – alive, but gravely wounded.

In an operating room, DR. BATISH (50, energy of a woman half her age) does her best to salvage Kato’s brain, to no avail. The doctor tells the surviving Sarah that her partner is somehow miraculously alive, but not at all lucky for surviving. We cut from this moment to two years later.

Kato is now an empty shell, the bullet wound and subsequent operation having “scarred him bizarrely, but there’s a perverse, savage beauty to the damage…his face might almost be considered arresting, or mysterious, like the Phantom of the Opera,” according to the script. “Because the bullet had gone through his head, he had a scar across the top of his head where the hair turned a different color,” describes de Souza. “So it was kind of like a zigzag scar. It was cool looking.”

Kato sits in a wheelchair, expression blank. He is no longer there. He can no longer feel “pain, heat, cold, or any physical sensations.” He is fully catatonic.

Nevertheless, Batish includes the former cop in a processing group for high functioning patients who have lost their “ability to process certain mental information” due to trauma or disease. The doctor hopes that by including Kato in these group sessions, he will eventually come to and begin making human connections again, starting with the group members. They include Oswald (a delusional conspiracy theorist), Fetterman (an ex-pilot who believes that Eisenhower is still president), and Julius, who has anterograde amnesia (a condition fans of the Christopher Nolan film Memento might be familiar with).

“I had a lot of fun with the therapy group,” recalls de Souza. “One guy was … it’s a real thing I’ve read about when you can’t hold a memory for more than a couple of minutes. There’s one bit where he says ‘I’m so glad to be in this therapy group. I hope I can make some progress.’ And they go, ‘You’ve been in therapy for four years.’ He says ‘Get out!’ Then after a five minute break, he forgets that. That character was funny.”

Sarah has continued to visit Kato every week since the incident, though she’s been saddled with a new partner. She is unknowingly shadowed by Byron’s men from his nest at Biodyne Pharmaceuticals. There – henchmen Pring, Acer and Terrell appear, each sporting “deliberate, exaggerated” changes in hairstyles and wardrobe. The team has surveilled Sarah to make certain she is not following up on their case. Byron, quite changed himself (“clean shaven now, hair marcelled back, body Armani-ized”) and more concerned with chasing a government contract for a sedative he’s developed which may or may not be lethal to patients, is satisfied Sarah is no longer a threat to he or his team, and calls his men off.

Meanwhile, a familiar figure from the franchise begins appearing to our hero. “I put the crow as an avatar into the movie,’ de Souza reveals. “The crow keeps visiting him. When they put him in the sunroom in rehab, the crow would periodically come when he’d be out, and the nurses were trying to shoo the crow away, not realizing he was trying to help.”

Back at the hospital, night falls as Kato sits in the sunroom, “head lolling, eyes vacant.” Just then, three addicts burst in on Batish to rob the pharmacy. The junkies beat her, then pull a knife. Things look bleak, until the men notice a figure “standing there on unsteady feet, face still a blank cipher.”

“Finally, the crow showed up the night that the criminals broke into the pharmacy and resurrects the new hero,” de Souza says. The men attack Kato, who beats the men brutally, even while showing no reaction to pain. No emotion. He’s blank the entire time, even as he dismantles his doctor’s attackers.

He comes to a bit, sifting through his memories as Batish speaks with him after. He remembers the attack, and believes the men might be after Sarah. He tries to race away, only for his legs to buckle beneath him. He admits to Batish that he can’t feel anything, and apparently cannot even remember defeating the doctor’s attackers. Batish assures Kato that his body still has the ability to function, then throws a punch at him. He catches her arm without so much as blinking. “See,” the doctor asks. “Your reflexes remember even when you don’t.”

Kato eventually breaks out of the hospital, led on by the crow and hellbent on finding Sarah, who is drawn back into Byron’s orbit when a whistleblower clues her in to the deadly effects of his company’s sedative. His men attempt a hit, which is thwarted when Kato arrives and makes quick and bloody work of them. Sarah is stunned at the sight of Kato, then pulls him in for a hug. The two partners reunited.

Kato and Sarah catch up, with the former cop conflating his old partner with his wife. Realizing that Kato still isn’t mentally well, she stages a capture that sees Kato brought down by orderlies, put into restraints, and returned to the hospital.

With Kato helpless, Acer and Pring sneak into the hospital to kill him. Oswald cuts Kato (mostly) free of his straightjacket, allowing our hero to dispatch the two would-be hitmen in spectacularly violent fashion. From there, Kato escapes and makes his way to Biodyne, followed shortly after by a SWAT team that converges on the building to apprehend this violent escaped mental patient.

Inside Biodyne, Terrell and his men attempt to stop Kato before he can reach Byron. What follows is a flurry of gunfire and martial arts action, culminating in the villains’ bone-breaking deaths, with Terrell’s final moments awakening memories of the wedding massacre that claimed Anne’s life.

Kato makes his way to the roof, where Byron is making an escape via helicopter. Kato pulls him free, then breaks his bones one by one before sending him to a grisly death at the hands (and, presumably, teeth) of one of Byron’s animal test subjects. The helicopter explodes, sending flames throughout the building’s penthouse floor.

Sarah arrives, just ahead of the SWAT team, and finds Kato standing on the edge of the building, considering the ground below. Something has awakened in him. He admits that while he cannot feel physical pain, the mental and emotional pain he is now faced with is overwhelming.

The SWAT team arrives, ready to gun down our hero, just before another helicopter moves into view – this one piloted by Fetterman, sporting his 1950s flight jacket. Oswald and Julius are in tow, there to save their friend. Kato and Sarah jump aboard, flying off with their fellow lunatics as the crow rises into frame behind them, trailing after them as the helicopter races toward the rising sun.

‘The Crow 3’ concept poster

“What’s interesting about the script – not just Ed Pressman, but many people over the years have tried to make this movie,” de Souza says. “It’s gotten a wide circulation, because people like martial arts movies. Also, anecdotally, if you’re in the movie business, you read the script and you realize there’s very few locations. Half the battle of making a picture on budget is not moving trucks and trucks of people from one place to another.

“So the fact that a third of the movie’s at the mental hospital, another third of the movie’s at the bad guy’s building. So it’s a very, very makeable movie. And that may be the reason that people come out of the woodwork. I’m telling you, it was like clockwork every couple of years. ‘I want to make this movie? Where’s it going?’ ‘It’s at Warner Brothers, you got to pay some money to get it out.’ And then, you know…everybody wants to be the second person to write a check.”

In closing out this look at this action movie that might have been (and might yet be), both men offer their closing thoughts on the project and its future. “I was totally thrilled with the idea,” de Souza says. “Like I said, I had pulled this off once before with Die Hard 2, retrofitting an existing script. In this case it was my own script, not a third party script. I was really looking forward to it, and I was disappointed when Ed got back to me and said, ‘We couldn’t work it out.’ He didn’t go into detail as to what the problem was, whether the problem was Dimension or whether the problem was Warner Brothers. Dimension, right at that time, had a big turnover in management.

“I think new people had just come in. A lot of times when there’s a new executive, they want to burn bridges with whatever was in the pipeline from the previous people, because presumably the previous people screwed up. So you don’t want to make a movie the previous people brought in, because if it fails – ’Why did you do that?’ If it’s successful, they start having second thoughts about why they brought you in to replace the previous people. So it’s kind of a lose-lose situation.”

Rhee offers his own final thoughts on the Ballistic and its crazy history as a potential Crow sequel: “Everything is cyclical. Right now, I think that it’s time to reboot The Crow, but who would be the star? You know what I mean? Because without an actor, you cannot make the movie, and vice versa.

As far as the original take on the material, Rhee points out that the likelihood of Ballistic ever getting made all comes down to the tangled rights issues. “It’s all mixed up … the rights are all scattered between Steven, between Warner Brothers. You’d have to go to legal to sort it out. But I hope it will still happen in some form.”

Very special thanks to Phillip Rhee and Steven E. de Souza for their time and insights.