PART THREE: THE SKULL COWBOY SPEAKS! THE CROW’S LOST CHARACTER.
By Ryan J. Downey
The Skull Cowboy appears in James O’Barr’s comics and nearly made it into “The Crow.” An other-worldly guide for Brandon Lee’s resurrected avenger Eric Draven, the mysterious figure would have provided a great deal of the film’s exposition, setting up the “rules” of the afterlife and Draven’s mission.
The character, portrayed under heavy prosthetics by actor Michael Berryman (“The Devil’s Rejects,” “Weird Science,” “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”), can be glimpsed in a deleted footage montage on the collector’s edition DVD of “The Crow” and longer scenes, including one with dialogue, have made their way online. The Skull Cowboy would have first appeared as Draven emerges from the grave.
The absence of Berryman’s character from the final cut of the film subsequently caused a bit more footage to be left out, most notably, an extended fight sequence with Funboy (Michael Masse).
In this deleted scene, Funboy slashes Draven several times with a straight razor. Because he went momentarily off mission by helping Darla (when he drains the morphine from her arm), his powers are diminished, making him slower to heal. This would have been explained by the Skull Cowboy. Draven bandages his wounds in the black electrical tape he is seen wearing for the rest of the film.
Michael Berryman (“Skull Cowboy”): I was asked if I’d be interested in the role. I knew [writer] David J. Schow and I was familiar with [comic creator] James [O’Barr’s] work. And I said I would be delighted to work with Brandon. I went to Wilmington, North Carolina and started working. It was incredible. I started with getting the head cast, which fit over my entire head and face and was bolted together. It took about four hours to get all of it together and then I’d start my day.
John Shirley (Writer): The Skull Cowboy was just a cool, morbid concept. There was something very William Borroughs – another O’Barr influence, I think – about the character.
Jeff Most (Producer): The Michael Berryman character was really there to explain the rules. The Skull Cowboy appears in the comics. The same thing had befallen him [as Eric]. He was there to make sure he knew he was given an opportunity to put the wrong things right and if he went off mission he’d end up walking the earth in purgatory.
Michael Berryman: When Brandon died, we got the calls right away when the accident happened, of course. And later, there was a call between [director] Alex [Proyas] and [producer] Ed Pressman and myself. My vote was to do the three scenes where there’s a confrontation with Skull Cowboy and Eric Draven. There are three attempts where Skull Cowboy tries to tell him he has to kill the ones who killed them both, or he won’t be reunited with Shelly. And in the third confrontation, part of which is on the DVD, Skull Cowboy tells him he’s damned. And then Skull Cowboy disintegrates.
Jeff Most: We signed Brandon for three pictures. By going to save Sarah, he’s in effect cursed and he can’t return to Shelly. We used that theme in The Crow television series, that he couldn’t get back.
Michael Berryman: I thought [Skull Cowboy] was crucial to the story and Brandon would have wanted it for the story, and for James, and the integrity of the content of the story. The producers were saying because it’s a close-up in the loft, we’ll see his face and we’ll know it’s not Brandon. I said put the marquee makeup on him and light it the best you can and get someone who looks as much like Brandon as you can. There’s a lot more footage that’s never been displayed. When I summon him from the grave at the headstone and we have a conversation there. It just never saw the light of day, unfortunately.
Jeff Most: What was nice about the Skull Cowboy character was that it was kind of a fantastical element that we didn’t get to exploit and would have perhaps been able to integrate into sequels. But it was a conscious decision [to wrap things up for Eric Draven]. We didn’t need the Skull Cowboy to let him know, ’You’re done for, you’re going to be walking the earth like me.’ We couldn’t imagine going on with the character at that time with the loss of Brandon. It was impossible to fill his shoes. It was all too close to our hearts. It was very difficult to envision continuing with what would have been a franchise.
Come back to Splash Page tomorrow for the next chapter in our week-long look at “The Crow,” its origins and legacy. Here’s what we’ve covered already: